When flying 'First Class' isn't enough

For those who insist upon a higher level of upmarket air travel than is available in the so-called “first class” cabins of domestic airliners, travel aboard a private jet may provide precisely the right experience.

One doesn’t need to plunk down millions of dollars to have a plane and crew at their disposal; investors have already done that, and they make those assets available at literally any time, day or night, through charter services.

According to some charter operators who credit the recovering economy, more and more people are taking advantage of the opportunity to go “First Class-Plus.” As many as 1,500 private jets flew into the Twin Cities' three "reliever airports" - St. Paul Downtown Airport (STP), Anoka County-Blaine (ANE) and Flying Cloud in Eden Prairie (FCM) - for the Feb. 4 Super Bowl LII battle between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots. That was a marked increase from the 1,000 private jets that flew to the 2014 Super Bowl battle between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos.

Charter jet interior
Photo provided by BJA

Based at Dallas Love Field (DAL), charter operator Business Jet Access (BJA) recently reported that private jet charter demand has increased so significantly that it has added three new planes to handle the additional demand, bringing its fleet to an even dozen aircraft.

There are many reasons one would choose to charter rather than fly commercial. BJA’s general manager Brian Hoffman told TheTravelPro in an e-mail that most of the clients who engage BJA’s services do so for the following reasons:
  • Most private airports are closer in proximity to their final destination than the nearest commercial airport.
  • Avoidance of airline flight delays at major airports.
  • Speedier and less-invasive security procedures.
  • Flexibility in planning their travel around their schedule.
While many private airports are smaller than the airports most airlines use, most charter jets can operate on shorter runways than most commercial jets. That gives them access to a network of more than 5,000 airports in the U.S, while commercial airlines only reach 550, according to a 2013 article in Forbes magazine.

The additional flexibility comes from the distances required for take-offs and landings. A Lear 40 can take off in 4,700 feet at sea level, while a Boeing 737-600 needs slightly more than 5,300 feet. Upon landing, however, the Lear has a much more significant advantage. It needs less than 2,400 feet to land, while the 737 uses 4,380 feet, per Boeing data sheets, meaning the Lear can both land and take off from airports with 5,000-foot runways, while the 737 cannot.

With regard to luxury, domestic commercial airliners have about a dozen first-class seats. Many charter jets have half that many seats, meaning a much more exclusive experience at very little sacrifice of creature comforts. The Lear 40 provides its seven passengers with an enclosed lavatory, a mini-galley and microwave, map and flight information on Airshow, and CD/DVD player.

There is no sacrifice of speed with charter jets. A Lear 40 has a range of approximately 1,800 nautical miles at a cruising speed of 465 knots (535 mph). The 737 has a cruising speed of 0.785 mach, or approximately 458 knots (520 mph) at a cruise altitude of 41,000 feet.

Even on longer routes, the advantage doesn’t necessarily go to the airlines. The Lear 40’s range of 1,800 nautical miles (2,072 statute miles) easily exceeds that of the 737’s design range of 1,280 nautical miles (1,475 statute miles). Other jets available for charter include the Hawker 800XP, which has a 2,500 nautical mile range and a cruising speed of 449 knots (516 mph).

Bombardier Global 8000
Photo provided by Bombardier Business Aircraft

Certain charter jets can even provide a viable alternative for long-haul flights. The Bombardier Global 8000 can carry up to 13 passengers up to 7,900 nautical miles, enough to negotiate the 7,454 nautical mile, ultra long-haul route from Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) to Sydney, Australia (SYD), which is currently the world’s longest commercial route.

Except for the pilot and co-pilot, charter jets offer almost complete privacy for the passengers, or a flight attendant can be engaged to tend to passengers’ needs at an additional cost.

While prices vary from one operator to another, BJA’s charter base rate for the Lear 40 is $2,800 per flight hour, and $3,150 per flight hour for the Hawker 800XP. Another charter service, PrivateJets.com, quotes a range of $1,750 - $3,500 per hour for Lear jets from the Lear 23 to the Lear 75, which carry from five to seven passengers.

Again depending on the charter operator, other aircraft that may be available include business jets by Bombardier,  Gulfstream, Dassault, and Cessna, among others.

Additional charges may apply over an above the charter base rate, including a daily minimum use fee of two flight hours for every day the aircraft is unavailable, per diem and overnight charges for flight crew members, landing fees and ramp fees, Federal excise tax, flight segment fees, and customs and international use charges.

Finally, some jet operators occasionally offer special deals.

For example, BJA recently offered a special deal on an "empty leg" flight between Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport (TRM) in Riverside County, Calif., and DAL, and publicized the April 10 opportunity via its Twitter feed.

Major private jet charter service Clay Lacy Aviation, with 19 bases of operation across the continental U.S. and Hawaii, also offers one-way specials and allows potential passengers to sign up for an email list that will alert them when an empty leg becomes available for their favorite route or destination.  .

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

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