LONDON – Are private jets a solution for airline delays and cancellations? Can private jets avoid winter storms?
With thousands of cancelations and even more delays from the airlines so far today (FlightAware shows over 12,000 in the U.S. at 4:30 PM EST), the question is, are private jets a good way to avoid winter weather and airline problems?
A leading expert on private aviation jet card, charter, and membership programs says yes and no.
“Flying privately can definitely save your vacation or important business trip when airlines cancel your flight. However, it’s not cut and dry,” says Doug Gollan, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of private aviation buyer’s guide Private Jet Card Comparisons.
He lays out the pros, cons, and important differences between flying with the airlines and private jet travel.
“The key is before you spend tens of thousands of dollars on a private jet, you know what you are buying,” Gollan adds.
No lost luggage
When airlines have meltdowns, it can take them days and even weeks to return lost luggage, so even if they can rebook you, not having your clubs or sports gear can hamper your fun.
With private jets, if it fits, you are good. However, make sure to tell your provider about oversize luggage in advance because the weight has an impact on aircraft range, and smaller jets have limits on the size of items that can be stowed.
Still, when flying privately, you won’t have to worry about your checked luggage not making it.
Fewer carry-on baggage restrictions
With airlines running full flights, they are more diligent about enforcing carry-on baggage rules. In fact, they sometimes run out of carry-on stowage space.
If you are traveling with kids or typically have the maximum allowance – or a bit over, having to check luggage can mean a lost luggage situation or at least an extra hour at the airport when you land.
With private jets, you can bring your liquids onboard. Your kids can bring their video games and play them without earphones if you can tolerate the noise. You don’t have to worry about baggage sizers, either.
So, for those of you who have issues with the carry-on baggage restrictions of the airlines, private jets are a big perk.
Change airports to avoid delays
Many years ago, I was flying back privately to New York from Las Vegas with the chairman of my company. About an hour out of Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, across the river from Manhattan, the pilot came back to tell us it was closed by the weather.
The good news was we were able to land at Kennedy Airport in Queens instead. During that time in the air, the ground transportation was rebooked to our new arrival airport. We got back into the city without any delay.
Others who were attending the same trade show didn’t get back until the next day. When you are facing weather-related delays, make sure to ask your provider if there are alternative airports.
Keep in mind aircraft operating charter and jet card flights – Part 135 – fly under different rules than Part 91 (airplanes operating for their owners), including needing longer runways.
That means just because your friend used a specific airport for his or her own airplane; the runway may not meet the requirements for Part 135 or the specific operator. Yes, each operator has their own requirements.
Private jets get delayed, too
Private jet charter and fractional operators have the same operational issues as the airlines; the difference is while airlines plan their schedules six months in advance, charter and fractional operators are setting their schedules when you book.
Some fractional programs guarantee availability for domestic flights with as little as six hours’ notice. Jet card programs offer a guaranteed airplane at a fixed hourly rate with as little as 24 hours’ notice.
That means you can call your provider the day before and say you want to fly from Sioux City to Little Rock, and it’s their problem to get the airplane and crew there to fly you.
Still, private jets have mechanicals. Pilots, like the airlines, have duty limits. There are delays in getting airplanes refueled and repaired when something goes wrong. There are air traffic control delays.
Private jet operators face the same Covid-related supply chain and labor issues as the greater economy.
No sitting in a crowded airport terminal
If your flight gets delayed or canceled, you won’t be sitting in a crowded airport terminal. Yet, private jet terminals can get crowded during peak periods.
You also have the benefit of avoiding TSA lines and security barriers, so you can go out to a restaurant and grab lunch.
FBOs typically have shower and rest facilities for pilots. So, if you want to go out for a run or walk, ask, and you may be able to freshen up afterward.
If you are fortunate and your provider lets you know in advance, you can wait out your delay at home or in your hotel. However, providers don’t always know about or communicate delays far enough in advance.
Lack of onsite support
While some providers have their own terminals at select airports, for the most part, you are meeting your pilots at the private jet terminal.
If your airplane isn’t there yet, you will be dealing with FBO staff. They are employed by the terminal operator and won’t be able to help you with your delay. That means you will be calling and texting your provider for updates.
Like the airlines, when there is high demand, expect delays in being able to get through.
What’s more, the person you are speaking to likely needs to speak to other people to figure out your delay or getting a replacement aircraft, so it can be frustrating, but they often won’t have an answer, just, “I’ll get back to you as soon as we have an update.”
Pets will love you for flying privately
Your four-legged best friends will appreciate flying privately. You can take them in the cabin with you, and generally, they don’t need to stay in their carriers during the flights.
That said, each operator has their own policy as part of their FAA-approved operating procedures. That means it’s critical to provide accurate details on how many pets you are bringing, their size, and their weight.
Also, make sure to disclose the size of their carriers, as smaller jets have smaller doors. Based on size and number, they may need to be strapped into a seat for takeoff and landing, so again, providing providers with accurate information is critical.
It’s important to remember not all charter aircraft accept any or all types of pets. The owners of those airplanes, who charter them out when they aren’t using them, place any restrictions they want, no red wine to, no cats.
In other words, don’t think you can just show up with our cute little kitty, and it won’t be an issue. If the flight needs to be canceled because of it, you will end up losing your money per the terms of your charter contract.
Lastly, expect to be charged the cost of cleaning up after your pet if any extra cleaning is required.
The contract you signed allows post-flight charges for pet cleaning.
Know how private jet cancellations are handled
With fractional and many jet card programs and memberships, the provider guarantees recovery flights at no additional cost.
That means if your flight is canceled, the provider will secure a replacement aircraft.
Before the record surge of private flyers, when there was a surplus of available charter aircraft, this was typically a couple of hours.
With the weather, this can now range until the next day.
On-demand charter contracts and even some memberships and jet cards stipulate if the aircraft or crew designated to fly you cannot make the trip, your only entitlement is a refund when the provider cancels your flight.
That means if the replacement aircraft is a higher price – as it usually is- you can pay the higher price or get a refund.
Still, it’s not that simple. The contract may give your provider a window to secure a replacement offer before you are entitled to request a refund.
If you don’t want to wait and you cancel, you could find the provider implements whatever cancelations penalties are stipulated in the contract.
Beware of extra charges
You’ve probably sat on a delayed flight as they de-ice the airplane. Private jets need to be de-iced, too, when needed.
The difference is, unless your jet card, membership, or fractional program includes de-icing (Like pet policies and much of what is covered in this article, it is one of the 65 variables paid subscribers can compare from over 250 programs), it will be billed as an additional charge.
De-icing can range into thousands of dollars. The bigger the aircraft, the more fluid and the higher cost. It also varies by airport.
What’s more, if your airplane is repositioning and needs to be de-iced on both legs, expect a bill for two de-icing charges.
There is no Uber or Expedia of Private Jets
Despite what you read and what some brokers put out in press releases, you cannot book a jet at the last minute, like reserving an Uber, and with a few exceptions, it’s not like Expedia either.
Only a couple of online providers will let you book a jet at a confirmed price on the spot.
In most cases, they offer estimated prices that must then be confirmed, and this can take from minutes to hours or never.
Even sites that offer a confirmed price upfront, known as a hard quote, give themselves an out that even though they charged your credit card. That can mean up to 24 hours to confirm the actual flight or give you a refund.
Looking at one of the better online sites that normally offer instant booking through early January, when you get to the booking, it’s just a quote that needs to be confirmed.
While other brokers and platforms offer online interfaces that claim to be like Expedia, that’s false as well. They are simply passing your request to operators, who are receiving hundreds of requests.
If the operator has an aircraft and crew available and gets around to answering your quote, you can then click to buy. During peak periods, don’t count on it.
While once you join a jet card, fractional, or membership program, you can book in seconds at guaranteed prices, as mentioned, they typically have booking windows of six hours to three or four days.
These booking windows are longer on peak days. If your airline flight is canceled, the best thing to do is call a broker and speak to a real person.
They will be in the best position to tell you what’s available and when. They can also explain and answer questions you may have that can come back to bite you later, such as baggage limits, pet policies, extra charges, and so forth.
Private jet providers may promise a rose garden, but remember, roses have thorns. Our most recent research shows 94% of subscribers who started after Covid are sticking with private aviation. In other words, once you start flying privately, it tends to be addictive.
That said, flying privately won’t necessarily enable you to avoid the woes of the airlines, especially when there are weather issues.