There are many reasons to use private jet travel and these apply whether you are flying internationally or domestically.
Any international travel brings a range of additional considerations compared to just domestic travel. Your private jet provider – whether it’s a good charter operator, or charter broker, or a jet card or fractional operator – will usually have an advisory, concierge service that can help, and will make sure you are fully prepared for your international flight. Items to consider include:
Documentation – Passports and More
Everyone on your flight will need a valid passport and many countries require you to get a visa. In addition, some countries may require health documents and it may be advisable to have specific vaccinations for some destinations. Depending on who is traveling, you may need to check these several weeks or even months in advance to ensure all the paperwork is up to date and not close to any expiration dates.
Another piece of paperwork that you may need if children are traveling without parents, is a parental consent form. Parental consent is an issue when everyone in the group is not traveling together or if the kids are bringing a friend along and so you'll be traveling with someone else's child.
If your private jet provider is used to handling a lot of international flights they will be able to advise you on specific requirements for each destination and may have services that can expedite any missing pieces.
Having all these documents in place and up to date will avoid any hassles and ensure a smooth trip.
“A little diligence on the front end can prevent any major delays,” was the comment from Kevin Gordon, VP of Flight Operations at fractional operator PlaneSense, and he added “We are really diligent in inspecting documents on both booking and boarding.”
If you are bringing your pet they can travel with you in the cabin, whether your flight is domestic or international. But, for international flights, you will need documentation such as vaccination records.
Safety & Security
Depending on where you are flying in the world, the safety and security aspects can be more or less of a concern. An experienced international flight provider will have staff and resources to first of all be aware of and then investigate and ameliorate these types of issues.
Even flying somewhere as seemingly straightforward as Mexico can give pause for consideration of security issues. This may not be an issue if you are flying into one of the major tourist areas, such as Cancun or Cabo San Lucas, but can be more of a consideration if you are flying to a more remote location. Private jets draw attention, particularly at smaller airfields, and for instance kidnappings do happen in Mexico. The locations of concern change all the time and risk levels fluctuate. A knowledgeable private flight provider can advise you on the things to be aware of and point out ways to reduce any risks.
John Amato, Senior Vice President of Aviation Solutions at Magellan Jets pointed to the recent (January 2024) drug gang related violence in Ecuador. This is also impacting the Galapagos Islands, which are part of Ecuador, and so becomes something to consider for anyone flying to the islands.
Mexico also has strict cabotage rules – the rules about foreign aircraft flying domestic flights. “You are better off flying in and out on the same tail number” says John Amato, and continues “if the plane has to reposition from one location to another within Mexico that can cause issues.”
Your operator should be able to provide you with or guide you to additional vetted security resources if needed. As an example, NetJets says it provided over 6,500 executive protection details last year and can provide security drivers and vehicles, including armored vehicles if needed.
In addition to current events, Kevin Gordon also pointed out that they keep a very close eye on incidents such as hurricanes and volcanos in Central America, which can all affect flight planning. “Safety trumps everything” he notes, adding “we don’t want to put clients, crew or planes at risk and we want these flights to be as boring as possible.”
Arrival At Airport
With commercial flights you’ll normally be advised to arrive at the airport 2 to 3 hours before your international flight and have to wait in various lines for check-in and security.
If you are flying privately, it’s a very different overall experience and this required arrival time is much shorter. For purely domestic private flights you can arrive minutes before your flight. For international flights it’s generally a good idea to allow about thirty minutes, since time will be needed to load any luggage and check your travel documents and customs requirements.
“The amount of time to arrive at the airport before take off is influenced by a variety of factors,” says John Amato at Magellan. He suggests 30 to 45 minutes, but notes it also depends if the airport has a slot system (ie the plane has a specific allocated time to take-off), it also depends where the passengers are coming from, how far away they are coming and the likely variability in the traffic from the hotel or residence.
Fractional provider PlaneSense do multiple flights into the Caribbean. For instance, there are over 40 airports in the Bahamas alone, which means you can get very close to some very quiet places, bypassing the crowded hubs. But as Kevin Gordon at PlaneSense noted “Island time” is a real thing in the Islands and added “so a little bit of patience can go a long way.”
Longer Reservation Times
There’s a lot more involved to plan an international flight compared to a domestic trip. Private aviation programs, such as fractional ownership and jet cards, have longer notice periods for international flights. The reasons for these longer periods are primarily because there is much more paperwork and logistics involved in an international flight compared to a domestic flight, and also there are generally fewer big jets – such as the large cabin and ultra-long-range jets - that may be required for long distance trans-oceanic flights.
As an example, NetJets fractional owners can have a plane ready for a domestic flight with as little as 4 hours’ notice. In comparison NetJets says “We can get you anywhere in Europe with 72 hours’ notice. For most European cities, we require only 48 hours’ notice.” And looking further afield NetJets has the following notice periods: Colombia—72 hours’ notice; India—7 days’ notice; Indonesia—4 days’ notice.
At flyExclusive the standard notice period for their JetClub (jet card type) product is 96 hours, but increases to 120 hours for international flights.
John Amato of Magellan noted that getting landing slots and landing permits can be critical for instance in places like Paris, and in parts of Asia the permit process can take weeks and be very expensive.
To reflect the increased planning and logistics required, most international flights will have a higher hourly rate and/or additional line-item costs to cover the incremental aspects of international travel. Fractional and jet card companies charge flat hourly rates for travel in the “Primary Service Area” (PSA) for their programs. For instance, programs based in the USA typically have PSAs that incorporate the contiguous 48 states plus some distance eg 150 miles, into Canada, Mexico and select Caribbean islands. International travel and going beyond these PSA’s typically incur incremental fees.
As an example of the higher costs Magellan Jets charges a 10% premium international destination fee for flights to Canada and the Bahamas. For flights further into the Caribbean for instance to Antigua, Anguilla, St Martin, US Virgin Islands and to Mexico there’s a 20% international destination fee. Balanced against this international fee is the lack of 7.5% FET (Federal Excise Tax).
These increased costs cover items such as:
- Crew expenses: Overnight crew accommodations and per diem allowances.
- Crew duty periods: FAA regulations cover crew duty times – the amount of time a crew member can work without rest. On very long international flights and/or multi-leg long international flights the plane may need to carry additional crew members to cover these duty rosters.
- Hangar fees: Parking fees at international airports are often higher than domestic ones.
- Landing fees: These vary by airport and aircraft size.
- Overflight fees: Certain countries and airspace requires additional fees for passage.
Flying Back to the USA
On returning back to the USA passengers will need to clear customs and passport control, even if you're just traveling from somewhere like the Bahamas, you still need to pass through customs on the returning to the US.
Overall, the process is usually much more efficient and streamlined compared to commercial flights.
At smaller regional airports the plane may pull right up to the customs and border protection (CBP) office. A passport and customs officer may come onboard the plane, so there’s no need for passengers to disembark to clear customs – it’s a very quick, efficient procedure.
However, while this is the ideal scenario, a lot depends on where you are flying in to and the time of day.
Some operators don't have “Overflight Privileges” which means they are required to stop at the nearest “Port of Entry,” as they return back to US airspace. This may be referred to as a “Tech Stop” or “Technical Stop.” For instance, when flying back from the Bahamas an operator may have to stop in Miami or Fort Lauderdale to clear customs and immigration, and then they carry on the trip as a domestic flight to their final destination. Note, most major and regular international operators will have overflight privileges.
Whether a CBP office will be open also depends on the time of day for the arrival flight, and staffing levels at these offices. John Amato at Magellan gave the example of flying back to Bedford airport (BED) in Massachusetts. If the CBP offices are not open at the planned arrival time, you may need to stop at Boston Logan (BOS) airport, which is only 16 miles away, to clear customs. It then becomes a question of would the client just want to deplane in Boston and have ground transportation from there, or take the 5-minute flight to Bedford.
Your provider can also talk through the alternative of planning your return flight to coincide with the smoothest CBP options.
Kevin Gordon says he also recommends that if passengers will be declaring anything, then to let the operator know beforehand. For instance, PlaneSense can facilitate having customs ready to make the process as smooth as possible.
Large established providers offer concierge services that can assist with all the basics like customs clearance, visa applications and ground transportation, or as mentioned above they can assist with or coordinate security requirements if needed.
Some other common services include having your requested catering on board that is suitable for the type of (longer) flight you are taking. If it’s a late overnight flight, they can arrange for beds to be made up and ready as soon as you go on board. It all depends on the flight and your needs. But they can also go much further.
John Amato noted that they can also coordinate with other travel providers. For instance, if someone is chartering a private yacht they can coordinate the flight into the nearest airport, and arrange for ground transfers to the yacht, to fit in with the time the yacht is planning to sail.
In some cases, a customer may fly commercial on the long leg eg across an ocean, and then transfer to a private flight for the local travel. In these circumstances the private provider will smooth out the transfer, sometimes with limousine transfers across the airport from the commercial terminal to the private FBO, or will provide help navigating the commercial terminal and international customs.
John Amato summed this up as “we want people to be able to live their best lives” and NetJets says something similar about their services which “allows our owners to enjoy the ultimate luxury - peace of mind.”
Editorial Note: The items above apply whether you are Taylor Swift flying back from Japan to watch the Superbowl, or you're just hopping over to the Bahamas for Spring Break with your family. In terms of Taylor Swift, she's likely to be on a large Gulfstream or Bombardier Global andwhen she gets on the plane in Japan she can have a bed ready, potentially in a cabin to herself, so will arrive refreshed for the Superbowl.