Later Abagnale decided to impersonate pilots because he wanted to fly throughout the world for free. He acquired a uniform by calling Pan American World Airways (Pan Am), telling the company that he was a pilot working for them who had lost his uniform while getting it cleaned at his hotel, and obtaining a new one with a fake employee ID. He then forged a Federal Aviation Administration pilot's license. Pan Am estimated that between the ages of 16 and 18, Abagnale flew more than 1,000,000 miles (1,600,000 km) on more than 250 flights and flew to 26 countries by deadheading. As a company pilot, he was also able to stay at hotels free during this time. Everything from food to lodging was billed to the airline company.
Abagnale stated that he was often invited by actual pilots to take the controls of the plane in-flight. On one occasion, he was offered the courtesy of flying at 30,000 ft (9,100 m). He took the controls and enabled the autopilot, "very much aware that I had been handed custody of 140 lives, my own included ... because I couldn't fly a kite."