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Have you ever scrolled through Instagram and seen your favorite celebrity on a private jet charter flight? If so, you may be under the impression that these private flights cost thousands of dollars, affordable only to the extremely wealthy.
However, this is not the case. Thanks to what’s known as “empty leg flights,” or “open-legged flights,” private jet charter services are more accessible than you might think. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about open-legged flights.
Because this may be a new concept, we’ll start with the basics, such as what they are and the perks of using them. Then, we’ll move on to how to go about booking these flights, and we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about them. By the end of this article, you should have a clear understanding of how to book private charter flights for yourself at a fraction of the cost.
- What Are Empty Leg Flights?
- The Benefits of Booking Empty Leg Flights
- How to Book Open-Legged Flights
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Are Empty Leg Flights?
Empty leg flights are a form of jet travel that takes place when a private plane is repositioning. Typically, these private jet flights are repositioned when returning to their home base or when traveling to a separate airport to pick up new passengers. Because there are no passengers on this portion of the trip, it’s known as an “empty leg charter.”
Statistics show that as much as 40% of a private plane’s travel is empty leg charter flights. For reference, the same study found that there were roughly 142,000 private aviation flights that took place in the United Kingdom in 2018. This means that roughly 57,000 of them did not have any occupants on the return trip.
Compare this to the standard air carriers that you may be used to traveling with, such as Southwest or Delta. Let’s say you book a five-day trip from New York to Miami. After five days in Miami, you get on a plane to return home. But, the plane that takes you home is probably not the same one that dropped you off.
Instead, the original plane continued to make trips across the country with new passengers. Perhaps it flew to Nashville and then made a trip to Los Angeles. It continues to travel around the United States, completing dozens of scheduled flights and transporting thousands of passengers.
Imagine that you were to make this trip instead with an on-demand business jet. The plane makes a one-way flight to Miami. It can’t stay at the airport forever, so it returns back to its “parking spot” in New York. It waits there until you’re ready to return, at which point the aircraft operator flies back to Miami to pick you up for the return journey. This means that, in this particular example, there were two empty legs on the flight.
This is where you come in. Instead of letting these flights go to waste, private jet owners have begun subletting them, allowing everyday passengers to book a seat. The plane owner will have already paid for the trip, so it’s a win-win: The owner gets to make a bit of money by ensuring the plane is not empty, and you get to enjoy the luxury of flying privately on a direct air carrier for a fraction of the cost.
The Benefits of Booking Empty Leg Flights
As mentioned, the biggest benefit of empty leg flights is that they prevent private charter owners from having to make wasteful trips. Let’s dive deeper into how this impacts you as the flyer.
The most obvious benefit of booking an empty leg flight is the ability to save money. Just like any flight, the price will vary based on where you’re going and what service you elect to fly.
However, some sites have said that you can save up to 75% on the cost of flights. This means that flights can be as low as $59 or as much as a few hundred dollars. Depending on where you’re going, the cost may be negligible compared to the cost of a commercial flight, especially when considering the additional perks that come with it.
Minimize Environmental Impact
No, it’s not true that flying private protects the environment. In fact, you could make the case that it’s worse because there are only a handful of people flying on a plane instead of hundreds. However, the planes are going to make the trip without or without you. By filling the seats, you’re at least putting the flight to good use and minimizing the environmental impact.
One of the other benefits of booking empty leg flights is that you don’t have to worry about the traditional airport trip experience. If you’re flying commercial, you have to arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes early. You’ll need to wait in line at security and go through TSA checkpoints.
However, this is not the case when flying private. When selecting a private aircraft type, you can show up 15 minutes before your departure. You can board the plane quickly. You won’t have to deal with assigned seating, crying children, or cramped seats. And when you land, you’ll be on your way with your bags in less than five minutes.
So, if you’re someone who loathes the traditional flying experience, an open-legged flight could allow you to get to your destination quickly without having to worry about any of these hassles.
How to Book Open-Legged Flights
The best way to book open-legged fights is by visiting various websites for private charter brokers, including:
On these sites, you can enter the airport code for your departure and arrival flights. You’ll also need to enter the dates you’d like to fly. And, you can indicate whether you have flexibility in your dates.
The more flexible you are, the more likely you are to secure a seat on a plane. Empty leg flights are not nearly as reliable as commercial flights, as they can be cancelled at any time. Plus booking them can be hit or miss, as there is no guarantee that there will be a flight going to your location. The more relaxed criteria you have, the more success you’ll likely have when booking.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still trying to figure out everything there is to know about empty leg flights? Consider these most frequently asked questions.
1. Are there other discount ways to fly?
If you have a little more cash to spend, you can consider a jet card. Jet cards give you access to a private aircraft at agreed-upon fixed rates. The cost of flying with a jet card can be as low as $20,000 per year, paid in monthly installments.
2. What is a major downside of using open-legged flights?
The one significant downside of empty leg flights is that they are inconsistent and unreliable. There’s no guarantee that there is a flight going to your chosen destination. And, the plane’s itinerary can change with no regard for your plans. If the owner needs it for another reason, your reservation could be canceled abruptly. So, if you need the flight for critical plans, you may want to consider alternative flying methods.
3. Are there flight attendants on the flight?
The short answer is that it depends. The Federal Aviation Administration does not require an in-flight crew on private flights. However, many jet owners choose to staff their flights. Staffing costs money on every leg of the flight. So, whether the jet owner will choose to staff an empty leg will vary on a case-by-case basis.
Are Empty Leg Flights Right for You?
If you’ve always wanted to fly private but can’t afford to do so at full price, you may want to consider empty leg flights. You shouldn’t trust these flights if you absolutely need to be somewhere. But, if you’re looking to save money and fly to a destination with no strings attached, then empty leg flights could allow you to do so on a luxury flight for a cost similar to a commercial one.
Brett Helling is the owner of Ridester.com. He has been a rideshare driver since early 2012, having completed hundreds of trips for companies including Uber, Lyft, and Postmates. In 2014 he acquired Ridester.com to share his experiences with other drivers. His insights are regularly quoted by publications such as Forbes, Vice, CNBC, and more. He is currently working on a book about working in the Gig Economy, expanding his skill set beyond the rideshare niche. Read more about Brett here.