Embraer Legacy 500
(Photo: Mark Wagner)

Q&A: Bizav Basics

Here are answers to some questions you may have if you’re thinking about flying privately during the coronavirus pandemic. 

How much can I expect to pay?
Chartering a private jet will cost at least $5,000 to $15,000 per hour, depending on cabin size, and larger jets often have two-hour minimums, meaning you’ll be billed for two hours even if your flight is shorter. Turboprops like the King Air 350i and Pilatus PC-12—which are best for flights under 90 minutes and typically seat eight—are at least 30 percent less expensive than super-midsize aircraft that also seat eight. 

A round trip can cost less than the figures cited above, but that’s not what you’ll want if you’re trying to relocate from an area being impacted by COVID-19. So-called empty legs—repositioning flights that normally fly without passengers—can also cost less, but they’re not a good alternative if you’re looking to evacuate or address another emergency situation. If the customer who is paying the full rate changes plans, your empty leg could be canceled at the last moment. You could end up at a remote private aviation airport with few options.

Other seemingly bargain rates may not be available during high-demand periods or might not include repositioning fees, the cost of getting the aircraft to you, which you pay for, or other fees.

Are private jets safer than airliners during the pandemic?
One analysis shows that flying privately reduces exposure to coronavirus by more than 30 times compared with flying commercially. The analysis is based on the number of people you would be in contact with at less than the recommended six feet of social distancing.

In addition, many private jet providers are implementing more stringent cleaning procedures and other processes. To protect crews and other staff, some companies are requesting that passengers sign affidavits to indicate whether they have traveled to high-risk areas in the past 14 days. VistaJet is doing temperature checks for flight and cabin crew twice per day.

How many people can I fit on a private jet?
Very light jets like a Phenom 100 can carry four to six passengers and fly about two hours without refueling. Large-cabin jets like a Gulfstream G450 or Bombardier Global Express can fit as many as 18 passengers and can fly six to 12 hours nonstop. Keep in mind that configurations vary; a large-cabin jet can have as few as 10 seats.

Many charter brokers can access larger aircraft, including airliners, even 747s. JSX, which operates 30-seat Embraer 135/145s for scheduled flights, is also marketing them for corporate shuttles and groups that are too big for most private jets. 

If you’re chartering an aircraft, make sure to ask how many passengers it can accommodate. The same goes for jet cards. Different companies have different seat guarantees.

What’s the difference between a jet card and on-demand charter?
With jet cards, you buy now, and when you’re ready to fly, you can book your aircraft by phone, email, or even text in some cases. It literally takes seconds. Most jet cards work a bit like a debit card, so funds are drawn down as you fly. 

With on-demand charter, you contact the broker when you are ready to book, and the broker presents the best options it can find. This can take up to 24 hours. If you’re looking for a one-off flight in the next 24 to 96 hours, you are probably best off booking a one-off charter. 

Keep in mind, though, that if your on-demand charter is canceled, while you get your money back, you then need to arrange a replacement flight, and you have to pay the difference if there is a higher price. You may have to also front the new flight costs while waiting for your refund. 

By contrast, prepaid jet cards mean your travel is already funded; and most guarantee a replacement aircraft at no additional cost. Jet cards can help you prepare for future needs—and those needs could come up quickly during a pandemic. 

What should I look for if I opt for a jet card?
Look for guaranteed availability, which means that so long as you book outside the reservation deadline, you’re guaranteed to get an airplane. Look, too, for fixed one-way rates, which lock in an hourly figure, so you avoid surge prices. Also, make sure that programs allow you to book or cancel no more than 24 to 48 hours before a flight. 

In addition, verify that policies for pets and unaccompanied minors suits your needs. Make sure the service area where guaranteed availability is offered fits your plans. Most programs cover the continental U.S., but some are regional, and others cover the Caribbean, Mexico, and Canada. Some programs also can be used for transatlantic flights.

Finally, especially with financial markets in disarray, you’d be wise to review the stability of the provider and ask about an escrow account to protect your deposit. Ask, too, whether the provider has a pay-as-you-go option, where you pay a fee to join, but don’t pay for flights until you take them.

If I want to charter, how should I go about finding flights?
On-demand charter works best if you have a good broker. Since private jet charter brokers aren’t regulated or certified, it’s best to get a referral from a friend who charters regularly. 

Waiting until the last minute is not a good idea. Brokers are swamped with callers who are kicking the tires. When push comes to shove, their first focus is working with regular customers. 

What about jet sharing?
Several providers—including Wheels Up, Jet Linx, and XO—offer jet sharing. For people going to and from the same places at the same time, it’s an option. But don’t count on being able to share a private jet in an emergency situation like this.

What if I buy a jet card for use during the pandemic, then don’t need to use it?
Some programs will refund your unused balance. With others, while the rate is guaranteed for only 12 to 24 months, funds don’t expire. There are also programs starting at just five hours of time and $25,000 that offer fixed one-way rates and guaranteed availability.

Are private aviation companies subject to the same restrictions as airlines?
Yes. For example, flights from specific countries—such as those in the European Union—must land and clear customs and immigrations at specific airports. However, you do that at general aviation facilities, avoiding the crowds and congestion that airline passengers face at JFK, Chicago-O’Hare, DFW, and other major airports. So far, citizens and resident aliens have been allowed to return to the U.S. despite border closures.

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