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Charter Vs Commercial Flights

Written By: Jack Buscombe

There are several distinctions between air travel on charter planes vs commercial airlines. The airlines dominate the air travel industry most people consider private flying as a 'rich persons' means of transport. So if this is the case, why would you take a charter flight instead? Studies suggest it comes down to price and accessibility, yet there are opportunities to cut costs by flying privately. This article defines the differences between the two and when it's best to charter a plane.

The Main Differences

The main differences between these two means of flying comes down to:

  • price
  • scope of serviceable destinations
  • flight time
  • reliability
  • in-flight experience

Price

If you're looking to travel between popular destinations, commercial airlines have the quantities of scale advantage here. They effectively rideshare large jets to commute up to hundreds of passengers, meaning individual passengers have access to cheap flights.

Charter flights do not have access to the scale that the airlines do, and therefore you'll usually pay much more on a charter flight. And further to that, you'll have to pay more to hire the entire plane (unless you can share the cost with others). Another thing to note about charter flights is that you, the customer, will have to front the cost of the aircraft returning to base (with or without you). This factor alone will double the cost of chartering a flight.

You can look follow services like Avmin which advertise routes on empty planes, known as dead legs. The aircraft is doing the trip regardless of whether there will be passengers of not, so you can often find a great price on them. With discounts of up to 95% off, it's often cheaper to jump on a dead leg journey than to book through and airline.

Winner: Commercial flying (unless you ride-share a private dead leg)

Scope of Serviceable Destinations

Private planes can effectively land anywhere there is a runway, provided that the owner has granted permission. In Australia alone, there are 613 airports. This includes international and domestic airports, general aviation airports, private airports and military airports (often unaccessible to the public). This number of airports is the scope of serviceable locations for private flights. So if you need to fly to woop-woop in a remote location, it's likely that a charter flight could take you right there, if not - very close.

Of the 613 airports in Australia, Qantaslink (Qantas' answer to charter flights) operates to just 49 of these. This leaves particularly large service holes for flights, particular in central Australia. As a general rule - the more remote the location, the less frequent the flights. Some routes go ahead several times a day, whereas others happen once a month.

It doesn't make financial sense for the airlines to service remote locations with low populations, so they won't fly there. This means that charter flights are able to service far more destinations than commercial flights.

Winner: Charter Flights

Flight Duration

Most of the time factors from flying commercially come from the additional considerations. Once you get through the checking in and security, the flying is the easy bit!

On a commercial flight, it's recommended you arrive at least an hour early to allow for check-in, baggage, security, boarding etc. Also, you can't be late - so if you need to cope with traffic, leave extra early so you don't get left behind. And then when you arrive, you'll have to wait for your baggage to come through (which can take an extra 20 minutes).

You can effectively bypass all of the initial processes by flying privately. You can arrive at the charter company and be in the air within 10 minutes. When you arrive, the check-in process is instant and without drawn out security screening. You're taken onto the tarmac and the luggage is placed in the baggage area while you board the private jet. And then when you arrive at your destination, you can hop right off and go on your merry way.

Once you're in the air, there are no major differences in flight duration. Unless you're looking to do long-haul flights where the larger aircraft are able to cruise at higher altitudes, the flight times are roughly the same. However, due to the pre and post-flight processes, you'll save more time flying privately.

Winner: Charter Flights

Reliability

Airlines are renowned for cancellations, delays and time issues. Granted, managing an airline and flights to depart and arrive on schedule is a grueling task. Around 1 for every 5 airline flights in Australia is either delayed or cancelled.

The rate of delays or cancellations for private flights around closer to 1 in 50, which is almost always due to harsh weather conditions. However, it means that charter flights are far more reliable. And if you're a little bit late, you won't get left behind!

Winner: Charter Flights

In-Flight Experience

While flying commercially can be an exciting experience, there's always complaints somewhere. "There was no leg room, they charged for booking and the extras, crying kids, the guy next to me stunk etc."

On the other hand, it goes without saying that private jets are an incredible experience. Unfortunately most people don't have the pleasure of flying privately in their lifetime. But if you can afford it, the experience is certainly one to remember!

Depending on the plane and charter service, you might get a luxurious interior, with plenty of space. Corporate jets often have meals and drinks included with waiting staff and other goodies. And the flight itself is more exhilarating and involved. Maybe this isn't a good thing for worried flyers, but it's great for the vast majority of people.

Winner: Charter Flights

Which is Better?

If you can afford the budget, it's a no-brainer that private charters are better.

Flying private means that you:

  • don't have to go through rigorous security screening
  • don't have the common cancellations and delays you experience with the airlines
  • will have more direct flight paths
  • have a better flight experience (leg room!)
  • no silly algorithms that bump up the price if you show any interest in purchasing a ticket and don't buy it immediately. We've all been there - it's the worst!
  • will have a more luxurious and streamlined flight.

Unfortunately, the benefits come at a price. In many cases, private flying is extremely expensive, and if you're doing a one-way journey, you'll often have to pay for the aircraft to return to base without any passengers or cargo 🙁

Then, the benefits of commercial flying are:

  • you only have to pay for your seat - not an entire aircraft
  • prices are easily accessible and online travel agents make comparing airlines simple - you don't have to get a quote
  • by design, commercial flights are ride-shared. You pay for seat and then you're done.

So, which is better? Well that depends. If you want to travel for the cheapest possible price, commercial flying is the better option. If you want to have a better experience and arrive faster and more efficiently, you should consider private charter.

When should you take a charter flight

Depending on the circumstances, private charter can often get you to your destination cheaper and faster. So, here are some of the main reasons for booking a chartered flight instead of a commercial flight:

  1. Your time is more valuable than the cost of ticket
  2. You need reliability - charter flights are vastly more reliable than taking trips on a commercial airline. There's also a strong correlation between budget airlines and flight delays.
  3. You want flexibility - private jets can go anywhere at any time (within reason). If you're planning a multi-stop trip, it's easy to touch down at a nearby runway and continue when you're ready.
  4. You want to impress - there are few things more impressive than travelling on private planes.

FAQ

Are Charter Flights Cheaper than commercial?

This depends on factors such as:

  • commercial flight frequency and volume (if there are many flights with many passengers, commercial flights are usually able to fly at cheaper costs than private). For example, flights from Sydney to Melbourne are frequent and therefore ticket prices are low
  • flight destinations - if the flight destination is to a remote area (e.g. mining towns), private flights can work out much cheaper. If it's a non-serviceable destination for commercial flights, it can be cheaper to privately fly right there than to commute on a train/taxi/bus right after the flight.
  • number of passengers - if it's just one or 2 passengers, commercial flying is usually cheaper.
  • whether you can rideshare the private flight - with the ability to share the cost of a private flight, it will often work out cheaper than commercial flying

For example, a flight from the Sunshine Coast to Dysart for 6 passengers

How much does it cost to charter a commercial plane?

It costs around $100 per person for each flight hour to charter a commercial plane. As shown in this article, you can usually charter a full commercial plane for upwards of $4,000 per flight hour, depending on the size of the aircraft. Airliners (big commercial planes) will cost between $8,000-$15,000 per flight hour. These planes, however, can carry around 100 passengers.

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