The biggest Covid risk that savvy travelers face nowadays is not at their destination. It’s getting to their destination. It’s airports and airplanes. So imagine if you could cut your airport waiting time down to 20 minutes, and share your airplane cabin’s air with just a few other people, by flying private. Think private jets are too expensive? If you’re already flying in first or business class, and if you’re traveling with a group of five or more people, you may find that chartering your own plane is within reach—and worth the cost to minimize your risk of exposure to Covid and ensure a worry-free trip.
Flying private will never be cheaper than flying commercial. Rates for a six-passenger aircraft generally start at $3,000 per hour of flying time. But if you can fill every seat—and provided you book through the right private-jet broker who doesn’t add a huge markup—it might make sense for your travel group. The price of, say, a transcontinental flight on a six- or seven-passenger light jet works out to about $3,750 per person each way. If you’ve got flexibility in your timing, airports, or destination, that price can actually drop by 75%: The trick is to book an “empty leg,” which means filling the return flight of a plane that’s been booked for a one-way trip. The schedule is dictated by the original passengers, but the savings for you are considerable: a coast-to-coast “empty leg” one-way might cost less than $1,000 each for a family of six.
If you don’t have the flexibility for an “empty leg,” you’re looking at pricing of perhaps $1,800 per person each way for a flight between New York and West Palm Beach, $3,000 per person each way between Boston and Vail, $3,500 per person each way between Dallas and St. Barts, or $3,000 per person each way between Chicago and Los Cabos, Mexico. Yes, it’s a splurge, but you also might gain more than you imagine, and not just in health and peace of mind. Here are additional benefits to consider:
Less time in airports
With a commercial flight, you need to get to the airport an hour or two ahead—time when you’re sharing indoor air with other people, some of whom may take their mask off to eat or simply aren’t bothering to wear it properly. If you’ve chartered your own jet, however, you can arrive 20 minutes before flight time, and you’re likely flying in and out of much smaller airports with few other passengers around.
Less exposure in the air
While commercial jets’ hospital-grade air filters are very effective, the particles exhaled by your seatmate may reach you before the air has a chance to be filtered. On a private plane, you share that air with just two or three people—a pilot, copilot, and possibly a flight attendant—instead of two or three hundred, and you could even pay for the crew to be tested before your flight.
Less vacation time wasted in transit
Say you want to fly from your home in Miami to a ski trip in Lake Tahoe, California. The commercial airport closest to the slopes is an hour away in Reno, Nevada. Since there are no scheduled nonstop flights from Miami to Reno, you’ll spend most of a day getting from A (Miami) to B (Denver) to C (Reno) to D (Tahoe). On a private charter, you can fly straight from Miami to a smaller airport that’s just 20 minutes from your lodge and strap on skis that same afternoon. In the U.S., there are about 500 airports open to commercial traffic, compared to 5,000 for private aircraft.
Your choice of timing
Airlines have drastically cut schedules during the pandemic, often leaving travelers with just one or two flight times to choose from on their preferred day of travel; sometimes these inconvenient changes are made at the last minute. When you fly charter, though, you dictate the schedule. And if you’re late to the airport, your plane will wait for you.
Frequent last-minute availability
With commercial flights, the closer you are to your departure, the more prices go up and options dwindle. With private jets, it’s not hard to find a charter at the last minute—and you may even pay less, since an operator doesn’t want their jet sitting idle. Payment can also wait: You’ll likely need to put down a 10% to 20% deposit to reserve a charter flight, with the balance commonly due two weeks before the flight.
Thinking of flying private?
There is a variety of private-jet brokers and sources, each with different pros and cons. Feel free to ask us for a personalized recommendation . We can level with you about the right source for your specific needs—one who will find you the safest, smartest option and negotiate the best rates on your behalf.
We’re here to help
If you’re thinking about a trip during Covid, write to Ask Wendy. We know which trip-planning specialists have up-to-the-minute intel for your destination and can ensure that your entire trip is safe, smart, and extraordinary. Check out Real Trips Right Now to see the difference that this makes. For future (post-Covid) trips, use The WOW List to find the best destination specialist for your needs.