Let’s look at a scenario where a private flight is absolutely the best option and one where it is not.
Many of us have waited in line at the airport and wondered if there was a better way but have never really considered flying charter vs commercial. Movies and TV often have the characters flying between swanky destinations. They make it look easy to book a last minute private flight but we never see the bill and if you have to ask, you can’t afford it right?
Lets say we live in Brentwood outside of Los Angeles. We will use The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air house as our address. It’s Friday night and your friends are talking about doing some wine tasting. You have always wanted to go to La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard in the Sonoma wine country just north of San Francisco.
The first thing you do is check tickets on Google flights
Last minute economy tickets for LAX to SFO same day round trip flight are $261 a person. If you want first class tickets for better boarding priority its $592 a person. The Vineyard is an hour and a half from SFO so you will have to rent a car when you get there. The best flight options leave around 7AM and return about 8pm. Your drive to LAX will take about a half hour on a good day. Assuming you have one of the TSA-Precheck, Global Entry or NEXUS program cards and know your way through the terminal, you still have to be at the airport about 45 min before departure to get through security so they don’t close the gate on you. When you arrive, you will spend half an hour renting a car and then an hour and a half driving to your destination. Arriving at a winery after getting up at 5am and spending 5 hours traveling is starting to sound like a lot less fun. Don’t forget, you are going to do that 5 hour trip all over again on the way home.
What about flying in a private aircraft?
Since your flight is on demand, you can pick an airport that’s a little closer and schedule the flight for a more leisurely 11am arrival. The Santa Monica airport is only about a 15 minute drive from the house and they have an Atlantic Aviation private terminal. Instead of a long security line, you check in at the front desk, meet the pilot and board your Pilatus PC-12. Last time I was in the air 15 minutes after I parked.
Your hour and a half flight for 8 lands at the Sonoma county airport, 6 whole minutes from Saralee’s Vineyard. You could walk that far if you wanted to! The DeLoach Vineyards are 10 minutes away and the Iron Horse Vineyards are 19 minutes away from the airport. With smaller aircraft you can actually land where you want to be at community airports. You can sleep in, arrive at 11am and door to door its about 2 hours each way. Instead of waking up early and getting herded around the airport, you get to eat, drink and chat with your friends on a quick flight to wine country. The private plane waits while you enjoy your dinner and then takes you home so there is no rush on either end of a great day.
What does the private plane cost then?
The price tag if you fill all 8 seats, it is $364 per person each way. A last minute, round-trip, first class ticket is $592, so for $136 more overall ($728 per person return), you can have a whole aircraft to yourself, your family or your group! This is why you fly private. You get to spend more time in the places you actually want to be.
Now to keep us honest, let’s look at another trip where private air travel isn’t as tempting.
Say we live in Seattle’s Laurelhurst neighborhood and need to fly down to San Francisco for a meeting. Alaska, United and Delta all have options and you can find middle of the week flights as low as $88. That same flight on a private aircraft, by yourself would cost close to a $10k round trip, or $1,250 per person. It does give you some flexibility like flying from that Boeing field that is a little closer but the cost is going to be hard to justify unless it offsets an expensive night in the Penthouse Suite at the Fairmont San Francisco Hotel.
You save time to do other things by flying private
When comparing private charter vs commercial flights, it is important to consider the other doors they open. Flying private to wine country for the day lets you actually enjoy it instead of showing up a haggard road warrior. You can fly direct, depart and arrive when and where you actually want to be which generally creates a much more relaxed and enjoyable experience. Imagine other vacations where flying private could give you back two days of travel so you enjoy yourself longer and arrive home rested. Or, consider work road trips that could be compressed into 2 days instead of spending a week away from home. For most people it won’t replace all your commercial flights but it is an amazing tool to have in your bag when you need it.