Let’s be frank. Not everyone can afford to fly privately. But, if you can, or have the opportunity, it’s something not to be missed.
Once you do it once, you’ll never want to fly coach or first class again. For the average millionaire, flying on a private jet is about as close as they’ll ever get to being treated like royalty. From the moment you arrive at the airport to the minute you leave, there is no greater luxury than having a chance to fly in your own aircraft.
Private Jet Options
In the private jet industry there are a few different ways traveling can be achieved. Of course, one way is to acquire your own aircraft. A very expensive option since in addition to actually paying for the plane, you have to fund a crew, rent hangar space, pay all airport fees, not to mention the expense of fuel, insurance and ongoing maintenance. Unless you’re a pilot flying your own plane, these costs can add up quickly and for many new jet owners, it can quickly become overwhelming causing extreme flooding of your bank account, sometimes resulting in bankruptcy or negative credit.
Another, often less costly alternative is fractional ownership. This is similar to ownership, except you are buying into a plane, with a second, or sometimes even several other parties. While the costs are less, the options are as well. Of course, this means having to share your plane with other owners who have as much right to it as you. Scheduling conflicts can arise, but so can discrepancies as it applies to decor or even the hiring and management of crew. Thankfully, today there are a number of companies that offer fractional ownership, which can help to take the stress out of having to negotiate and/or communicate with the other investors. Often when you do own through a company, you will pay more, but sometimes the benefits outweigh the costs of doing business with them. For example, if your plane happens to be in use by one of the other owners, sometimes, the managing company will be able to send you another plane for use on that leg or trip.
A third option is what’s referred to as a Jet Card. This is comparable to a debit card, where you pre-fill the card with a certain denomination which gives you access to a certain type or types of jet, for a specified period of time. Often these cards are described in increments of time such as a 25-hour card, a 50-hour card, etc. Another descriptor often used is a membership level, where you pay a specified amount for a specific tier of benefits and services. As an example, you might pay $100,000 for a “silver” level which would guarantee you a certain type of aircraft, with a limited number of options for meals as well as other beneficial services such as ground transportation via limousine or helicopter transfer to a location of your choosing.
Finally, there is charter jet services which we’ll discuss in this particular article. Chartering a jet is one of the most economical and efficient ways of traveling privately, while obtaining all of the benefits of private aviation without any of the hassle.
The process for chartering a private jet is typically quite easy. Some charter companies require you to open an account, whereas others simply require a pre-authorized credit card or wire transfer of funds. Generally you can either book your plane over the phone or in some cases, online via the company’s website. In almost all cases, I recommend booking over the phone as often, but not always, websites will group you into a price category which can result in you paying more than you would if a human calculated the distance and requirements, rather than relying on an algorithm that bases the resulting price on generalized data.
How to Book the Flight
In order to provide you with accurate pricing, most charter companies will require some basic information about your flight. Some will ask if you have a preferred size or type of aircraft, whereas others will ask for qualifying information in order to recommend an appropriate aircraft. Qualifying questions may include the number of passengers, the distance to your end location, as well as any amenities you would like such as a stateroom, full galley or workspace.
In all situations you’ll be asked for your departing and arrival locations. This is not just to inquire where you plan on going, but to calculate distance, fuel charges and any other incurred costs of the flight for accurate quoting. Rest assured that you have flexibility. Most charter companies are happy to accommodate last minute requests, delays or changes to the itinerary. The one real benefit of chartering as opposed to flying commercial is that in most cases you don’t have to worry about the number of passengers, provided of course the passenger count doesn’t exceed the seats available on the size of plane you’ve chosen or that’s available.
Of course, in most cases, the charter representative will ask for a passenger count and if you are traveling through customs, identifying information may be requested in advance in order to facilitate and expedite any visa requirements. Of course, like commercial flights, you are still required to go through customs when leaving and/or arriving in the country. The benefit however, is that you won’t have to stand in line waiting to be interviewed. The customs officer assigned to your flight will either obtain the necessary information from the charter company, the pilot or in many cases, will board the plane prior to takeoff and / or upon arrival. It is important to note that just like normal custom procedures, they do have the right to search you, your baggage and the aircraft itself.
If you aren’t traveling internationally and are only flying domestically, one intrinsic benefit to private air travel is that you don’t have to go through security. There are no checkpoints and you’ll never have to worry about delays. It’s your plane so it won’t leave until you say so.
So aside from the extra leg room, what are the real benefits of flying privately as opposed to first class, business class or economy?
– No security lines or checkpoints with the exception of customs when traveling internationally.
– Exceptional, dedicated service from a staff that is on board and on the ground just to make you comfortable.
– The ability to leave any time you wish and make changes to your itinerary on the fly.
– The opportunity to pull up and go. You simply step out of the car and onto your plane. Everything else is taken care of for you including the transportation of your luggage.
– Speaking of luggage, there are no limits to the amount of baggage you can bring both checked and in the cabin. The only limitation is weight restrictions and baggage size limitations of the specific aircraft. Best of all, your baggage will never be lost.
– Onboard amenities. Most people are aware of the increased legroom, but did you know that in some medium and large jets, not only are there captain chairs for you to sit in, but usually plush sofas and sometimes even full sized beds to sleep in.
– If you do need to wait for a refuel or while the captain does it preflight check, there are dedicated lounges at most airports reserved exclusively for private jet owners. Even if you’re chartering, you have unlimited access during your ground time at the airport. Many of these lounges will feature a variety of amenities from relaxation areas to complimentary food and beverages. Many will even have a car service or luxury sedan available for your use free of charge, should you feel like leaving the airport for a short excursion.
– If you have chosen an aircraft with a galley or crew, most flights will include meals and snacks which aren’t your ordinary packaged peanuts and pretzels. Often these meals are prepared by award winning chefs and the options are endless. Some of the most popular dishes served on board include sushi, lobster, steak and various local cuisines. Snacks can be anything you desire and of course alcohol is included. Most charter companies will include all food and beverages free of charge, unless it’s a special request that requires significant preparation or is difficult to procure.
– One of the biggest benefits is the ability to go farther, faster. Most private jets can exceed the speeds of any commercial airliner and the pilots are trained to ensure they get you where you need to be on time and in one piece.
How to Choose a Charter Company
A simple Google search of “charter jets” will net you pages of companies and agents offering what they self-describe as the very best in the industry. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and unlike hiring a plumber, you really don’t want to take any chances when it comes to chartering something that’s going 35,000 feet in the air at a speeds as fast as Mach 0.85 (562mph).
When it comes to finding a charter company there are series of basic questions you must ask, regardless of what kind of offer they make with respect to pricing. Let’s face the facts; if you can afford to charter a jet, do you really need to worry about a discount?
1. Are all of your operators (out of the United States) Part 135 carriers?
2. Does every jet meet or exceed all of the minimum standards set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for safety, security and service?
3. How many hours are required of your pilots before they can fly your jets?
4. How new are your jets and how often are they serviced and maintained?
Types of Jets
There are five primary types of aircrafts available for charter, not including ultra light jets such as the new Honda Jet, gliders, blimps and helicopters. While virtually any type of aircraft can be chartered, we’re going to focus on the primary five.
Turbo props utilize propellors to fly and can typically seat anywhere between four and thirty passengers. It’s without question, the most cost-efficient aircraft for short haul flights and can even be used for mid-range flights as well. They aren’t exceptionally fast, but can usually maintain a cruising speed between 280 and 315 mph with an average non-stop range of just over 1000 miles. These planes are great options for small groups such as a bachelor party or corporate team traveling domestically.
Light jets are the entry-level jet. They are the smallest in class jet but can still offer a glamorous flight to your domestic destination. Unlike turbo props these jets can usually only seat up to eight passengers and in most cases, don’t come with any additional crew members besides the Captain and Co-Pilot.
Their range is very similar to that of the turbo-prop, except in many cases, they are capable of reaching a faster cruising speed, sometimes in excess of 400 mph. These are the least expensive charter options if you are set on a jet and in most cases offer a much smoother and quieter ride than any turbo-prop. Seat configurations are limited however, and most will only feature a row or two of plush captain seats. Most do not offer a galley and if they do, it will be nothing larger than perhaps a bar fridge and microwave. In addition, they typically will not have onboard lavatories and aren’t mean’t for excessive moving within the cabin. While they may not seem as extravagant as the ones in the movies, these jets still come with the same service levels and ground support as their larger counterparts. They are also far more comfortable and convenient than any commercial airliner, save some airliners that have upgraded to modern first class pods.
For my list of recommended light jets, I would encourage you to read this article of mine published in JamesEdition.
This is probably my favorite size when it comes to jets. Not too big and expensive, but still big enough for comfortable long-haul trips. These are big enough jets to sprawl out in, allowing extra room for you and your guests to kick back and relax without feeling confined. Most of these jets will feature a galley, fully equipped lavatory that doesn’t require you to slink in sideways the way airliners do. They usually have a few couches and captain chairs throughout the cabin, most of which will fully recline or pull out into a bed. In addition, seating is prominent and most seats will provide comfortable access to inflight entertainment and climate controls. If traveling for business, they are suitable for hosting inflight meetings with in-cabin guests or remotely with your team on the ground. If you’re traveling for pleasure, rest assured you’ll have more than enough room to play games with the kids, hammer shots with the guys or cuddle up next to your significant other with plenty of privacy and room to spare. Often this class is broken into two sub-categories called “midsize and super midsize”. These classifications will often differ based on the manufacturer and the operator. Some manufacturers will classify their jets as a midsize when another might call it a light jet. For the most part, a midsize jet should seat between six and nine passengers comfortably with a range of around 3600 miles. Speeds can vary, but many can reach a cruising speed of close to 600 mph. For the most part, these are extremely fast and agile jets perfect for longer range flights due to the increased cabin space and fuel capabilities. Most charter companies will either include or recommend having a flight attendant on board to serve and cater to the passengers. A minimum of two pilots is required for this size jet, although avionics in new models are so superlative one pilot could easily handle the controls without difficulty.
For more information and my top picks in this and larger categories, check out this article I wrote for JamesEdition.
Without moving into a jumbo jet, this category is about as big as most charter companies offer. These long range jets are capable of holding between 10 and 15 passengers or more, traveling at a cruising speed of around 550 mph over a distance of sometimes close to 5000 miles. The cabin configurations are virtually endless as are the amenities and options. Many green jets are delivered as empty shells and owners will commission private design firms to outfit them according to their tastes.
The granddaddy of private aviation, these jets are costly to charter and sometimes hard to find. The best way to describe a super jet is to think of it as a commercial jumbo jet that has been designed for private use. These jets are exquisite and offer features unlike any other plane in the sky. Larger than many houses and apartments, they often feature separate sitting areas, full galleys, bedrooms, workstations, boardrooms and even entertainment areas. In fact, one jet even had a disco club installed. While many of these jets are previously owned commercial airliners, there are green (new) super jets being produced specifically for private aviation. One of the largest lineups is the BBJ (Boeing Business Jet) which features a lineup of various sizes with cabin configuration options and bespoke design services. For a green jet however, you can often be waiting a few years since they aren’t mass produced and typically are made one at a time. These jets as mentioned above are far more costly and do impose certain restrictions including runways they can land on and airports that are equipped to receive them. Unlike their smaller counterparts, super jets can’t usually land at small or rural airports or strips and generally require full length runways often only found at international airports. It’s important when chartering a super jet that you take into account the closest airport it can land at and have the charter company arrange helicopter transportation to your final destination. As of February, 2011 there was just over 100 BBJs in service, most of which are not available for charter. These jets are exceptionally large, some of which can seat upwards of 177 passengers in standard row seat configuration. To give you an idea of just how large a super jet is, the BBJ has a cabin area of 816 square feet in comparison to the heavy Gulfstream 650 which offers just 320 square feet. The width of these jets is so enormous that most offer private compartments with a bypassing aisle way separate from the compartment. For those extra long flights, super jets will have as many as ten auxiliary tanks. Most super jets feature separate crew areas, full galley, living quarters, executive stateroom, multiple lavatories with showers, onboard communication centers, private meeting rooms, private offices and a separate conference and dining space.
Unfortunately, the cost of chartering a jet can vary drastically based on a wide variety of factors including time of year, cost of fuel, location, timeframe, distance and availability. In addition, the operating costs of each charter company can differ based on the size of the outfit and whether they own the jets or use third-party operators to fulfill their orders.
It’s very important to do your research when contracting a charter company. Be sure to ask a lot of questions and try and obtain verifiable references. Many professional sports teams and associations charter jets so it’s often wise to try and find out who they use. In addition, many reputable companies will charter jets, even if its in addition to their own fleet. Large corporations have huge insurance policies on their senior level executives which means they have to be certain the operator is reputable. It’s a good idea to attempt to use the same broker or charter company as brand name companies. Never, ever charter a jet from a private owner. That’s one of the worst mistakes you can make.
Stay tuned for more articles about private air travel where we’ll delve deep into all aspects of private jets, turbo props and even helicopters. Also, be sure to check out our new series on yachts and sailing.