- Private jets are expected to soon be in high demand after the pandemic subsides and travel rebounds, with private aviation firms preparing for an influx of the wealthy.
- Though there is a high cost in chartering a plane, the actual process of booking an entire aircraft is typically not complicated as long as the right questions are asked.
- Getting prices for and booking a private jet can be as simple as sending a few emails, DocuSigning a contract, and providing a credit card.
Flying on a private jet is often considering the pinnacle of luxury travel.
It’s a status symbol not easily attainable due to its high associated costs. But for those who can afford it, the process of booking a private plane for charter is actually quite simple.
Though it’s not as easy as going online to buy an airline ticket, the process can be done with a few emails, a DocuSign, and a credit card for the most seasoned private flyers. With the industry is expected to boom in the next few months, according to CEOs from leading private jet firms in the US and Europe, more wealthy flyers are expected to head to the private terminal instead of the commercial first-class lounge.
The private jet world, however, can be tricky as not all aircraft are created equal and the cheapest option isn’t always the best option, especially when it comes to aviation.
Here’s what you need to know when booking a private jet flight.
Finding the right private jet charter firm to utilize
The process of booking a private jet may seem daunting to a first-timer but it’s actually a simple process as long as you ask the right questions. Finding a private jet firm to utilize to is as easy as using Google to find one at a local airport and calling them up to request a flight quote.
There are two types of private jet companies: operators and brokerages. Operators are the companies that physically maintain and fly the aircraft while brokerages are merely intermediaries between customers and operators.
If the flight is out of an airport where they have planes based, an operator will quote their aircraft but if unavailable or outside of their normal coverage zone, they can call up other operators to check availability and book off-fleet options for their clients. Brokers, on the other hand, solely rely on outside operators to provide the aircraft and often do not have a direct connection to the aircraft their working with.
Choosing one is a matter of preference with some customers wanting to cut out the middle man by going straight to the operator and others not minding going through a broker. An operator can also act as a broker for a client if they don’t have a plane available for a requested mission.
For more frequent travelers, prepaying for flights by purchasing a jet card, opting into a membership-based program, or purchasing fractional ownership in an aircraft can be beneficial in the long run. Those spending greater than $500,000 per year on flights should consider purchasing their own jet.
For occasional flyers, on-demand charter allows all the perks of flying private without a long-term investment.
The process of finding the right aircraft
After calling an operator or brokerage, the following questions should be asked by the charter representative: where do you want to go, when do you want to depart and return, how many passengers do you have, what size aircraft are you looking for, how much luggage will you have, and what’s your budget?
The first two are simple as they are the basics of any trip but the rest will be key in ensuring the correct aircraft is chosen as one size does not fit all and the cheapest and smallest option is not always the best option.
The number of passengers may automatically determine the minimum required size of an aircraft. For example, when flying with nine people, a super mid-size aircraft will likely be required while a group of only two people can fit easily into a turboprop or light jet.
Luggage is also a determining factor in the size of the aircraft as certain oversized items like golf clubs, skis, and large suitcases can’t fit in every private jet. Unlike airliners, not all private aircraft have baggage holds and require luggage to be stored onboard the jet.
If excessive luggage and large numbers of passengers aren’t an issue, the size of the aircraft may not be important as most will often request the cheapest option, though some may prefer larger jets. Heavy jets, as they’re known, are preferred especially on long-distance or overnight flights so there is more room to stretch out and sleep.
Giving a budget upfront will also allow the charter representative to provide better-suited options.
Determining the safety level of each flight
Not all aircraft are operated at the same levels of safety as each operator has different standards for their pilots. To ensure a high-quality aircraft and crew in terms of safety, clients should ask for the safety ratings of the aircraft, crew, and operator that they’re flying on.
Safety ratings in private aviation are determined by two main companies, Argus and Wyvern. Having a rating from these companies means that a safety audit has been performed and that flight crews must meet a certain threshold to fly under certain safety ratings.
Clients, at the very least, should be requesting two pilots for their flights that meet either Argus or Wyvern status.
In the post-pandemic world, clients should also be asking how their aircraft are being cleaned to avoid contact with potential infectious pathogens. Some operators are taking special precautions to ensure a coronavirus-free flight.
Booking an aircraft and paying for the charter
Once all the information is conveyed on the desired trip and requested safety ratings, the charter representative will provide the client with options for different aircraft. The options will include the type of aircraft, the amenities offered such as WiFi, and the final price.
After an aircraft is chosen, the client will be sent a contract to fill out agreeing to the terms and conditions of the flight and any cancellation or change policy imposed by the company. The signed contract, which can be done over e-signing software DocuSign in most cases, locks in the flight, and then it’s up to the client to pay for the flight before the day of departure.
Payment is usually done via wire transfer but can also be done via a credit card or check. The method typically depends on what the company is most comfortable with, especially with new clients.
While putting a $25,000 charter on a credit card will net some serious cash back or points, a charge can be disputed potentially causing a headache for the company down the line.
If any optional extras are requested including catering or ground transportation, they will be put on the final bill.
What to expect on the day of the flight
Once the trip is booked and an aircraft is assigned, the charter sales representative or broker will provide the client with an itinerary or trip sheet. The itinerary lists three important details: the tail number of the aircraft, the departure facility, and the departure time.
The tail number is used to identify which aircraft a charter group will be flying on. Unlike the airlines, private flights don’t typically go by a flight number and the tail number is the primary method of identification.
The departure facility will often be a private terminal at an airport known as a Fixed Base Operator or FBO. Unlike commercial terminals, FBOs are typically small and act as a waiting room with lounges, chairs, bathrooms, and sometimes fun amenities including a popcorn machine or golf simulator in the more high-end locations.
The benefit of departing out of an FBO is that passengers can drive right up to the aircraft at most airports and have their car valeted. If arriving early, the facilities typically offer free parking and a short walk from the parking lot to the plane.
Once inside, the passengers will give their tail number to the front desk representative who will then connect them with their pilots or flight crew. A line service technician will then take any baggage directly to the plane. They’ll often expect a tip for the service but it’s not required.
After an identification check and quick pre-flight briefing, it’s off to the races.
Onboard the aircraft
The onboard experience largely depends on the type of aircraft, the optional extras ordered ahead of time, and if a cabin attendant is on board. Most aircraft will offer a complimentary self-serve offering of snacks and drinks including soft drinks and alcoholic beverages.
If catering was ordered ahead of time, it will be displayed in the aircraft’s galley for customers to indulge in. If a cabin attendant is on board, all food and drinks will be served directly to passengers.
Pilots very seldom serve passengers as their primary responsibility is flying the aircraft.
Entertainment depends on the aircraft with larger aircraft typically featuring DVD systems and audio systems to help pass the time. WiFi is available on most jet aircraft but if that is a must, passengers should stress that to the representative that arranges their flights.
After the flight
If passengers have transportation arranged ahead of time, the arrival FBO can typically arrange for it to be waiting plane-side, one of the benefits of private travel. A new trend for the wealthy, however, is just calling an Uber.
Ensuring a clean aircraft is also the responsibility of the passenger as they may be charged if the aircraft requires professional cleaning.
If the same plane is being used for the return flight, the flight crew may offer to give their personal information such as a phone number so that they can be contacted directly. While most changes will have to be done through the charter representative, having a pilot’s phone number can be useful to let them know if a passenger will be late or early.
Tip or no tip?
Private jet pilots typically do not expect a tip but, as with most service professions, any signs of appreciation are welcome. Though their job is to fly the plane, private aviation pilots are often performing tasks that aren’t usually required of airline pilots.
As the only on-the-ground representative of the charter company, pilots are the first line of defense when it comes to customer service and troubleshooting potential issues. Private jet pilots also often don’t have a flight planning team behind them and conduct most pre-flight activities such as route planning and filing flight plans.
Put simply, these pilots work hard and a tip would be appreciated.
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