Until recently, I thought that private jet travel was 1) the purview of corporate execs and 2) limited to domestic destinations. And then I met Kathryn Martone — a corporate flight attendant who had just returned from an African safari.
“We flew from New York to Kenya with a wonderful multi-generational family,” she told me. “The plan was that we would wait for them while they enjoyed a week at an exclusive bush camp, but when we arrived in Nairobi, they informed the pilot and me that they had booked a safari for us, too. It was separate from theirs — and probably not as deluxe — but we had a great time.”
Martone definitely had my attention — and held it while she listed the benefits of private jet travel:
Breeze through the airport: Private plane passengers are exempt from TSA rules about limiting liquids and won’t be asked to take off their shoes, submit to scanning, or remove certain items from their hand luggage.
Save time: No need to arrive early and wait in lines.
Go direct: Private jets provide access to ten times the number of airports served by commercial airlines (5,000 vs. 450), delivering travelers closer to their destinations and eliminating the need to change planes en route.
Fly with Fido: Pets are welcome on board private aircraft.
Take care of business: Busy execs can talk to each other and make phone calls without concern for being overheard by other passengers.
Dine in the sky: Flight attendants prepare meals on larger planes and passengers can order in or bring their favorite food on smaller craft.
Travel with your luggage: Strict weight limits don’t apply and passengers have access to their baggage while on board. Imagine being able to carry holiday gifts and sports gear “too big for the overhead bin.”
Enjoy the view: Private charters are not always bound by the same restrictions as commercial flights and can often fly over a sight at a lower altitude. Also, due to the customized nature of the experience, multiple flyovers and detours may be possible.
Snooze in the sky: Larger jets have divans that make into beds and fully-reclining seats.
I double-checked Martone’s info with Ian Ewing at Jet Source, a jet charter company at Carlsbad’s Palomar Airport. He concurred and also explained that passengers have the option of being dropped off at their destination or having the plane wait to bring them home.
“Our clients with homes in Cabo want us to come back and pick them up after a few weeks, but often our Hawaii passengers want the plane to stay with them so they can do inter-island flights. Ditto in the Caribbean. Also, folks with health issues prefer that the plane stays nearby.” (www.jetsource.com)
Schubach Aviation’s Kimberly Herrell also agreed with Martone. “The main reason people charter is to save time. This winter we’ll fly passengers to Aspen, Mammoth, Vail, Tahoe, and other popular ski destinations that don’t have direct commercial flights from San Diego. We can get skiers to Kalispell in 2.5 hours. That trip would take 6+ hours flying commercial with a change of planes.”
Schubach has been flying out of Palomar Airport longer than any other charter company and has the most diverse fleet. (www.schubachaviation.com)
The Cost of Comfort & Convenience
Private jet charter rates are determined by the size of the aircraft and the number of hours flown. Turboprops, the least expensive, cover up to 1,000 miles ($1,100-$1,500/hour).
Light jets carry 4-6 people ($1,800-$2,200/hour); mid-size planes hold 6-8 ($2,500-$4,000/hour); heavy (long-range) jets carry 10-18 people ($3,500-$7,000/hour). Fuel surcharges and the optional cost of catering and the services of a professional flight attendant are in addition.
For comparison, New York – London flight time of about 6.5 hours in a heavy jet, plus international fees, catering, and other costs would range between $90,000-$120,000 roundtrip. For 14 passengers, the per-person cost would be similar to a First Class ticket on a commercial airline. However, the per-person cost rises dramatically when the jet has only two passengers, which, Ewing assured me “happens frequently.”
According to Sherpa Report, “If you only fly private a few times a year, on-demand charters are the most economic option. If you fly more than 20 hours annually, it’s worth looking into fractional ownerships and jet card debit options offered by Flexjet and others.” (www.sherpareport.com, www.flexjet.com)
Best bargains? JetSuite — trying hard to be the Southwest Airlines of private jet travel — offers last-minute one-way fares on Facebook and Twitter. (www.JetSuite.com)
Speaking of Facebook, connect with Martone at “Cobblestones and Heels” or read her blog. (cobblestonesandheels.wordpress.com) ELIZABETH HANSEN
Photography courtesy of JetSuite, Schubach Aviation, Flexjet, and Jet Source