By Jacob Passy
Private air travel is becoming more common around the world as the number of people with access to large amounts of wealth grows. But that doesn’t mean flying private is necessarily the best option when it comes to air travel.
Indeed, commercial airlines like Qantas /zigman2/quotes/205878984/delayed DE:QAN -2.44% are stepping up their game by developing in-flight gyms and sleeping pods, amenities that aren’t as easy to come by for private jets. Consequently the decision between the two is becoming less and less clear. “You have to put a value to your money and time,” said Tahsir Ahsan, senior writer at travel website Travelcodex. “As airlines are coming out with better options for business and first class, it’s getting harder to decide between private and first class travel.”
Here are some of the ways that flying in first or business class can be a better experience than traveling via private jet.
You don’t necessarily receive all the bells and whistles you get in first class
Anywhere from 15% to 17% of chartered private planes don’t even have wireless internet, said Doug Gollan, luxury travel expert and editor of travel website Private Jet Card Comparisons. Meanwhile, most major airlines offer Wi-Fi on domestic flights, and some even offer it on transatlantic routes . Plus, many airlines, including Etihad and Lufthansa /zigman2/quotes/205496028/delayed DE:LHA -1.79% , are making it free for first- or business-class passengers.
Adding Wi-Fi to a plane is very costly to the owner, so many private jet owners will decline to do so. Or they may disable the service when they lease out their planes to charter companies to avoid high telecommunications bills, Gollan said. “People have the perception that Wi-Fi is a given because you get it on commercial airlines,” he said. “It’s not a given.”
Dana Zucker, owner of lifestyle website LifeDoneWell.today , travels both on private jets and with commercials airlines. And part of what draws her to flying in business or first class, rather than private, at times is the consistency of the amenities that are offered. When a consumer is flying private from “Kansas in the middle of the foothills,” Zucker said, it’s less likely that the food served on-board will be the same quality as you would get out of New York.
Moreover, Zucker said the ability to research the amenities offered makes it easier to compare airlines and get the best possible experience. “We’re booking a trip to Alaska, and I’m choosing /zigman2/quotes/200327741/composite DAL -0.87% over Alaska Airlines /zigman2/quotes/200972303/composite ALK +0.11% because I know what wine they serve,” she quipped.
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It’ll be easier to book at peak times of the year
If someone owns their own plane, then it’s at their disposal whenever. But those who are turning to charter companies for private air travel, or even those who co-own an aircraft, may be disappointed when it comes to their options during peak travel periods. “Aircraft may be very difficult to charter (and more costly) during holidays and other peak usage periods,” Deloitte wrote in a report analyzing the benefits of flying private .
Even if you own a plane, you won’t be able to fly to China easily
One of the biggest hurdles for the private aviation industry isn’t supplying enough planes to keep up with demand — it’s the actual infrastructure of airports.
Although East Asia — and China especially — has one of the fastest-growing populations of ultra-high net worth individuals, its infrastructure for private aviation is sorely lacking.
Though the Asia Pacific region has nearly as many ultra-high net worth individuals as Europe at this point, it only had 1,186 private jets, according to a recent report on private aviation from Wealth-X, a firm that specializes in researching ultra-high net worth individuals, and private jet charter company VistaJet. That’s far fewer than the number of private jets in Europe (2,795), North America (13,392) and Latin America (2,596).
The problem: There are far fewer smaller airports in China. Smaller airports are not only more convenient for private jet travelers, but they’re also much cheaper to fly in and out of than the hubs in major cities, said Winston Chesterfield, director of custom research at Wealth-X. “You need the infrastructure for these airports to take off literally, before you can push the private aviation market further,” Chesterfield said.
The networking can be better when flying commercial
Many opt for private air travel in order to avoid the crowds at major airports. But flying in first- or business-class on a commercial airline means that a traveler will have a decent chance of bumping elbows with another successful businessperson. “The first-class areas are the ultimate networking rooms,” marketing expert and author Joel Comm wrote for Inc magazine .
Flying commercial will cost less
The most obvious upside to flying on a commercial airline is the lower cost. Flying one-way between New York and Los Angeles on a chartered light jet through Air Charter Services USA, for instance, could cost anywhere from $33,000 to $52,500. A one-way ticket on United Airlines /zigman2/quotes/205037281/composite UAL -2.38% in first-class meanwhile could cost as little as $659. “Commercial air travel will always be a better bang for your buck,” Ahsan said. “One-way private jets across the country can cost as much as 15 round-trip first class tickets on that same route.”
And the frequent-flier rewards programs from most airlines can make flying private even more economical for those who must travel often, particularly if they can get an upgrade.
Looking at cost another way though, flying with a commercial airline will also result in a smaller carbon footprint. Flying private may generate up to 37 times more carbon emissions than traveling on a commercial airlines, according to one estimate.
Still, flying private has its own clear benefits
For all the ways in which flying in an upgraded class on a commercial airline may offer a better value than private air travel, the private experience does have clear benefits, not even considering the luxury amenities that typically are offered onboard these flight. Flying private offers much more flexibility and time-savings.
For instance, travelers can choose to fly to or from virtually any airport, meaning they can fly out of the airport closest to them and ensure a direct route from a smaller airport when they otherwise might need to endure a layover. Plus, the security process at smaller airports will be less involved — or at the very least faster. After all, there will be fewer people jockeying to get through the metal detectors.