Uggh, cross-country time. Such a simple concept, such a simple phrase, such an ambiguous definition.
Well, OK, the definition in FAR 61.1 is pretty simple and unambiguous: if you land somewhere other than where you depart, it's a cross-country flight.
Simple, right? Except that there are 6 subsequent exceptions that impose minimum distance requirements depending on the rating being sought and the category/class of aircraft being used, some of them requiring a landing and some of them not.
So to summarize, a cross-country flight is any flight where you depart and land somewhere else that is at least a certain distance away, unless you don't have to land and unless you don't have a minimum distance other than leaving the departure airfield.
In other words, the question of whether a particular flight is a cross-country flight is inherently unanswerable unless you provide the context in which the question is being asked. But a flight is just a record of the flying done; while you might perform a given flight with a given purpose in mind, most of the time you're accumulating experience towards multiple potential goals, even if at the time of the flight you are not actually pursuing any of them. So that flight you took may be cross-country for some of those potential goals, while not qualifying for others, and yet you are generally expected to log a cross-country flight as such.
It's enough to make one's head explode.
So here is how I recommend logging cross-country time:
- Do *not* bother logging anything for basic cross-country time. Why? Because this can be computed: if the route of flight is X-Y and X does not equal Y, then you left the departure airport (e.g., "KSEA" and "KSEA-KSEA" are both local flights, but "KSEA-KSFO" is a cross-country flight). So logging it is just redundant work on your part, and could muddy your cross-country totals that you want to demonstrate for a rating. If you search for "non-local flights", the resulting totals will be your cross-country time by this definition.
- Use the "Cross-country" field to capture cross-country time that meets any of the other definitions. You can easily cross-fill from the Total Time field by clicking the arrow next to it (website) or pressing-and-holding (mobile apps).
- If you're working for a rating in a particular category/class, log the time of the flight in the Cross Country field if it meets the requirements for that rating. E.g., if you're working towards your helicopter PPL, log it if you land 25nm away from your departure point. If you're working towards your PPL in a fixed wing, log it if you land 50nm away. In fact, since 25 meets all helicopter requirements and 50nm meets all fixed-wing requirements, then log any flight that has a landing exceeding these thresholds, respectively (depending on the flight aircraft, obviously) as cross-country. Note: the mobile apps will automatically fill-in cross-country time if they are detecting takeoffs/landings and see a 50nm distance between airports in the "Route" field, since this seems to be the largest threshold available for any purpose.
- You can also decorate your flight with properties to identify the distance threshold used for cross-country. There are three in the system that matter here: Cross-Country Over 50nm, Cross-Country Less than 50nm, and Cross-Country less than 25nm. By using these properties, you can distinguish the threshold used for a given flight and you can therefore search for flights containing these properties to do the math to include/exclude cross-country time depending on your purposes.