Flying Off for the Holidays

Business Jet Traveler » December 2013
If you are flying on Christmas Eve, the sky can be a magical place. (Illustration: John T. Lewis)
If you are flying on Christmas Eve, the sky can be a magical place. (Illustration: John T. Lewis)
Thursday, November 21, 2013 - 4:00pm

Anyone who endured airline travel over the Thanksgiving holiday last month can tell you that the best time for a visit to Grandma’s for a turkey dinner is also among the worst times to fly “the scheds.” (It didn’t help that Hanukah arrived early this year, starting on Thanksgiving Day.) Major airports strain to handle traffic loads during normal times, and when all those passengers want to get off the ground at once, you can practically hear the terminals bulging at the seams. Naturally, anyone with the wherewithal to take advantage of private aviation for family travel will choose the holidays to play that card.

There are plenty of well-known, practical arguments for making the decision to fly on your own year-round. But here are five less-talked-about reasons why private jets can’t be beat for family and holiday travel:

1. You can fly in your jammies. I suppose you could do that on the airlines, but it’s just not the same. From my childhood, I remember when our family would launch the annual holiday road trip after my father got home from work — “to avoid traffic.” So we kids would begin our vacation snuggled up with a rolling slumber party. (Of course, the highways were swollen with other station wagons full of kids in their PJs.) With overnight departures in private airplanes, mom and dad can join in on the fun.

2. The family pets can come along. Finding someone to care for your dog, cat or cockatiel can be inconvenient, expensive or both. Besides, don’t you want to be able to give Rover his gifts on Christmas morning? Private flying makes that possible, without the torment of stashing him in a cage in the luggage compartment. There are rules of etiquette for pets riding in charter jets’ cabins, of course — the next passenger won’t appreciate wading through a carpet full of cat hair — but most operators can accommodate family pets. Just don’t let the dog try to hang his head out the side window at 650 mph.

3. “Good things” can also come in big packages. When you have plenty of space for the gifts you’re bringing, you don’t have to shop around for that perfect “little” something. Want to surprise Uncle Ned with a snow blower? Bring it along for the ride, with a big red bow on top of the box. And though ’tis better to give than receive, don’t forget that the freedom in selecting larger gifts is true for the return trip, as well. It’ll be nice to know that your relatives won’t be restricted by size when they do their shopping for your family, too.

4. You can use the time onboard for last-minute wrapping. No, it won’t be the same as gathering in front of a warm fire to wrap presents, but with the freedom to move around the aircraft cabin, you’ll have a few extra hours for gift preparations. As hard as it is to imagine, sometimes families do run out of time for such things, and having some leeway with the travel hours can be a godsend in reducing holiday stress.

5. The kids can keep an eye out for you-know-who. If you are flying on Christmas Eve, the sky can be a magical place. As you ascend and descend, you may see entire neighborhoods lit up for the holidays. From your lofty altitude in flight, you may be able to look down on remote specks of glowing lights and snow-covered mountains. And if your kids have keen, alert eyes, they just might be able to spot the telltale red glow of a certain reindeer’s nose.


Mark Phelps is a freelance writer and private pilot.

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Quote/Unquote

““When I made the film The Invention of Lying, they gave me a private jet for getting back and forth between New York and London. I thought, ‘I will never use it’ but I ended up using it every weekend. You turn up, right, and the airport is completely empty. I mean, there’s just someone at the desk and then the pilot, who says, ‘Are you ready to go?’ and you say, ‘Don’t you want to see my passport?’ and he goes, ‘Oh yeah, I suppose I’d better.’” ”

-—actor and comedian Ricky Gervais