As a professional pilot you may be able to deduct everything from dinner at the airport food court to dry-cleaning for your flight uniform. The IRS rule is that you can write off business expenses that are "ordinary and necessary." Expenses are ordinary if they're standard for pilots, and they're necessary if they help you do your job.
You can deduct job-related expenses your company or your client doesn't reimburse you for. Any union dues, training costs or license fees you have to pay are a valid write-off. If you have a work uniform, it may be deductible, but only if it's something you couldn't wear away from work. If you have to pay for a passport or a visa to travel overseas, the application fees are legitimate deductions too.
If you stay away from home long enough you need a night's sleep, whatever you pay for your lodging is a tax write-off. Transportation from the airport to a hotel would be a valid deduction too. A taxi ride to the nearest major league baseball game wouldn't qualify -- it has to be business travel. You can claim meals you eat when you're away from home, but only up to 80 percent of the cost. If you get a per diem, you can write off 80 percent of any spending above the per diem.
Odds and Ends
Keep track of little expenses because they add up. Internet fees for logging onto the company website are deductible, though not if you're just browsing the Web. Getting your shoes shined, paying out-of-town ATM fees, and buying a new travel case or small travel toiletries are all deductible when they're for work. Do keep receipts for your spending, because the IRS will want to see them if it audits you.
You can only claim employee expenses on your taxes if you itemize on Schedule A. Even then, you can't claim all your unreimbursed expenses. First you figure your adjusted gross income, then multiply it by 2 percent. Subtract that from your total expenses and whatever's left is deductible. If your expenses fall under 2 percent of your AGI, you don't get any write-off. If you're self-employed, you deduct 100 percent of your business expenses on Schedule C.
A Durham, NC resident, Fraser has written about law, starting a business, balancing your budget and fighting evictions, among other legal and financial topics.