If you have some flexibility in your search for private aviation travel, then empty leg charters can be an efficient and very cost effective way of enjoying a private aircraft.
SherpaReport has already covered the many benefits of flying privately – from saving time at the airport to being able to take your pets with you on most flights, flying privately is an optimum choice both for relaxation and for productivity on business trips.
However, flying privately does come at a cost. Typical charter prices range from approximately $1,100 per flight hour on the low end for a turboprop to $8,000+ per flight hour for a heavy jet.
Before resigning yourself to the extra time and extra hassle of public flying, though, there is one option to consider that can save you a substantial amount of money – taking an empty leg charter.
Empty leg charter space becomes available when an existing customer charters a flight one-way. That plane still has to return to its home airport, and that means costs for the carrier; everything from housing the flight crew to the fuel and other costs to fly the aircraft home.
Booking your flight on one of these empty legs means that you are actually helping reduce the carrier's costs – a favor the carrier returns by charging up to 70% less than you would pay by booking a regular charter flight. Industry estimates show that around 1/3 of all private aircraft are flying empty, so there is a lot of capacity to fill these seats.
Flexibility is Key
This way you can enjoy the advantages of private flying without having to pay the usual price for those benefits. It's important to note, though, that you also give up some of the convenience and relative predictability that comes with chartering your own flight.
- When scheduling an empty leg charter, you can't be as choosy about the type of aircraft or your departure and arrival dates and times as you can when contracting a straight charter. Instead, you will be scheduling your flight in much the same way as you would flying publicly – the plane is on a schedule, and you'll need to adopt to that schedule. While some carriers may be willing to work with you to create a timetable that suits both parties, this may not always be possible.
- With empty leg charters you're also at the mercy of the original flight. If that flight has to be delayed or canceled for any reason you may well need to make alternative arrangements. In the same vein, if the operator finds a full price charter for the plane, then you may lose your low-price option at short notice.
- An empty leg charter may be flying out of a secondary or neighboring airport compared to the one you would normally use. So being flexible on the airport at either end of the flight will help you find more of these deals.
How to Find Empty Legs
There are a few ways to access the offers that are available with this kind of charter arrangement. If you are already working with a particular carrier, become familiar with its routes and ask about available deals. Your local charter company will nearly always have some level of empty legs that it would like to fill. So it's a good idea to call them and ask. Air charter directory company CharterMatrix recommends shopping through a marketplace rather than through one specific operator; indeed, there are several sites like Magellan Jets and The Early Air Way that will let you search for quotes on empty leg charters.
Another thing to remember about empty leg charters is that their availability ebbs and flows with both the seasons and particular events. If you want to fly out of a city that's hosting a Super Bowl right after everyone else has flown in, for example, you may well have your pick from among several returning flights. Other times you may need to combine empty leg charters with other travel options to reach your final destination.
If you're searching for empty leg flights, bear in mind that they may also be referred to as deadheads or dead legs or repositioning flights.
In the final analysis, it's true that flying on empty legs means you need to be more flexible and creative than when chartering your own flight or when taking advantages of the other options for private air travel. However, if you enjoy saving money and like the thought of leaving a smaller carbon footprint – after all, why burn the extra fuel to charter your own flight when another one is already available? – empty leg charters may well be perfect for your needs.