Private jet travel: What you need to know before chartering that plane right now

Aug 27, 2021

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Yes, flying commercial first class can be swanky. But private jet travel is more exclusive and, of course, more expensive.

“Think at least $5,000 to $6,000 per hour for a light jet and up to $20,000 per hour for a large-cabin jet,” says Doug Gollan, founder and editor-in-chief of Private Jet Card Comparisons, a site that helps consumers figure out the best private aviation product for their needs. By comparison, you can fly commercial first class from New York to Miami for about $500.

If you can afford it, flying privately offers plenty of advantages over commercial flights. You don’t have to get the airport hours ahead of your flight or, in most cases, go through a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint. And while there are fewer than 500 airports served by commercial airlines, there are about 5,000 airfields in the U.S. with runways long enough for private jets. “So, a trip that might be six or seven hours on a nonstop commercial flight could be just three hours door to door when you fly privately,” says Gollan.

While many sectors of the commercial aviation industry took a beating during the pandemic, bookings for private jets soared as individuals and families of means sought to minimize contact with other people while still having the freedom to visit relatives, conduct business, go on vacation or work remotely from their second homes.

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(Photo from Flashpop via Getty Images)

“After dropping in March and April of 2020, private jet travel rebounded and is now running around 10% ahead of pre-pandemic levels in the United States,” says Gollan, with some airports in Florida, New York’s Hamptons and other destinations seeing private jet landings and takeoffs running at 100% above pre-pandemic levels.

Sound appealing? Before you book a private jet flight, keep in mind that the inflight experience on a private jet can range from very “la-de-dah” to surprisingly utilitarian.

“If you want to fly like Kim Kardashian, you can charter large-cabin jets with a flight attendant and even order from some of your favorite fine dining restaurants,” says Gollan. But, he adds, until you get to those larger jets, don’t expect there to be flight attendants onboard. And be ready to further adjust your expectations when flying on smaller jets, which don’t have ovens or microwaves in the galley. “So, think fruit plates and sandwiches, a cabinet with drinks, and packaged snacks if you don’t order catering.”

Right now, there are even more reasons you may need to adjust your expectations when flying privately. “Private aviation is being impacted by the same issues as the airlines — and the entire economy,” says Gollan.

Luxury in the air: The cheapest ways to get the private jet experience

Fuel shortages and staffing shortages that have triggered delays and cancellations for some commercial flights are hitting private jet travel too. That can mean long waits for a jet to get refueled at a small, overwhelmed private airport or an extra fuel stop on a normally nonstop flight because there wasn’t enough fuel at the departure airport, notes Gollan. “Private terminals are overwhelmed and there are also traffic control delays.”

There are some other “new normal” conditions private jet flyers must now consider.

“There is a shortage of drivers. When a truck breaks, there is a shortage of parts. And when they have the parts to fix the fuel truck, there is a shortage of mechanics,” says Gollan. So, something that was a quick fix before the pandemic may mean a delay of hours or days.

When it comes to catering your order on a private jet, the catering kitchen may not be able to source special requests on short notice. “You might have to drink Evian instead of Fiji Water,” or settle for a brand of liquor that isn’t your favorite, notes Gollan. While it may be an irritant to someone flying business or first class on a commercial flight, it could possibly be a deal-breaker for customers paying $20,000 per private jet flight hour.

(Featured photo from Jupiterimages via Getty)

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