Since March, U.S. private jet charter flights have been at record levels. It’s putting an unusual level of stress on the system, especially around holidays. If you are new to private aviation, or haven’t flown in a while, here are some tips to make sure you have an extraordinary experience.
Do you like to travel spur-of-the-moment?
With airline schedules still slimmed down, if you are in a spoke city, making connections can be more difficult. Flying privately can cut door-to-door travel time from a full day to a couple hours. Private aircraft can fly into over 5,000 airports in the U.S. compared to less than 500 serviced by the airlines. You don’t have to worry about your luggage getting lost. However, with demand peaking, if you like to go on the spur of the moment, you may find prices 50% higher than if you book one to two weeks out. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy those last-minute getaways. Some jet cards offering fixed pricing allow you to book as few as six hours before departure with. You needn’t deposit six figures anymore. A number of providers offer pay-as-you-go memberships, while others start at $25,000 to $50,000, so possibly the amount you would spend on just one or two trips.
Is there a backup plan?
When there is a mechanical or the pilot gets sick, your provider normally gives you a re-quote. That’s the cost of a replacement aircraft. It can often be more than your original price. You can accept the new quote, seek another date with lower pricing, or ask for a refund. It may not be that simple these days. Behind the scenes, good brokers have a back-up aircraft in mind when they book your trip, just in case. Over Easter weekend, charter brokers say supply was stretched so far, there were no back-up aircraft available. Luckily, all flights they had booked went off without a hitch. However, these days it pays to ask about Plan B. The last thing you want is finding yourself with an expensive, non-refundable hotel booking, and no way to get there.
Traveling with pets
While many private aircraft welcome pets, it’s not automatic. If you are buying a jet card, make sure to check pet policy before you buy. Even then, most programs require you to notify them about pets when you make a booking. When booking a charter flight, you need to specify both the type of pets and weight. Dogs that weight over 150 pounds have to be belted into a seat for landings and takeoffs, thus reducing the number of passengers. If you are bringing a crate for your pet, make sure you provide the dimensions. Some larger crates don’t fit through the doorway of certain private jets.
Give yourself some extra time
Flying privately saves time. You don’t have TSA lines, and the private jet terminals—FBOs—are less crowded. Yet, around holidays, Friday afternoons and Sunday evenings, they can be packed. What’s more, they’re often located in remote parts of the airport, tucked between hangars, with minimal markings. Make sure you print out driving instructions. Even better, call the FBO to make sure what you find on Google is correct. Street addresses don’t always match the actual entrance to the lounge. In these busy periods, once you get to the FBO there could be a line of other travelers waiting for somebody at the desk to locate their pilots. In other words, leave a bit of extra time. There’s a good chance your pilots may have another flight after they drop you off. If you are running behind, call both your provider and the terminal to let them know. Also, keep your tail number handy. At airports where there are security gates and with ground staff, that’s how they identify your plane.
Before you click, make sure WiFi is included
When you get aboard your flight, right away the kids want to stream movies. The immediate inclination is to ask the pilot about connectivity. If WiFi isn’t explicitly included in your jet card or charter contract, it will likely be billed additionally. Read the fine print! While the little ones are watching their favorite cartoon characters, you could be racking up hundreds and possibly thousands of Internet charge.
Are you likely to change your plans?
While you probably are ready to get away no matter what, sometimes life gets in the way of the best laid plans. In some cases, you will find charter flights can’t be canceled after they are booked, and often there are penalties to cancel with less than a week’s notice. On the other hand, some jet cards allow you to cancel with as little as four hours’ notice, with many between 24 and 48 hours. If you will end up flying privately at least 10 hours in the next 12 months, a jet card could give you more flexibility for booking, canceling, and extra perks like free WiFi, catering and for winter weather trips de-icing, included in your price.
Doug Gollan is founder and editor-in-chief of Private Jet Card Comparisons, a buyer’s guide that helps consumers find the best private aviation solutions.