Chartering a private jet is no longer a lifestyle just for the rich and famous or busy executive.
Ambitious companies are tapping into the power of social networking, building private jet sharing communities and bringing affordable private charter flights to the masses.
In the US, charter broker, Social Flights, which launched Socialflights.com in February, aggregates groups of people with similar travel needs, who can then rent a charter plane on-demand and pool their money together, paying only for the cost of their seat.
Charter seats can often be booked up at prices comparable to a business class, or even economy fares on commercial jets
The concept appeals to a wide demographic, from honeymooners to business travellers, sporting groups and solo travellers.
An increasingly popular idea is for sporting enthusiasts to self-organise into large groups and charter a plane to big events.
What is boosting the popularity of group-booked charter travel is that seats can often be snapped up at prices comparable to a business class (or even economy) fares on commercial jets, dependent on the destination.
Travel in a Private Jet from $150
Chartering a flight with strangers has increasing appeal as splitting the flight cost on Social Flights can reduce the airfare to as little as US$150 for a one-way short-haul flight from the States.
The Social Flights website is currently advertising $150 seats on one-way domestic routes, including Portland (ME) to White Plains (NY) and Branson (MO) to Chicago (IL).
Seats are also available on international routes. For example, members can currently request a seat on aircraft ranging from a Gulfstream IV from Paris to Miami, a Legacy 600 jet from Farnborough (UK) to Marrakech or a big Airbus A310 from Tel Aviv to Stuttgart, Germany.
Social Flights also whets the public’s growing appetite for convenient and comfortable air travel, as charter planes avoid the congested hub airports of commercial jets and hop from one local municipal airport to another.
Travellers can sign up to the service free of charge and create and join “travel tribes” – a place where members can enter preferred itineraries, meet other like-minded travellers, request available flights and self-organise their trips online.
Once a destination has been requested, in some cases a Social Flights representative gets in touch with pricing and availability options.
Charter companies have also taken an interest in Social Flights, which can help fill its plane’s “empty legs”, which would otherwise return back to base from their destinations empty. Empty legs are therefore often heavily discounted, benefiting ordinary travellers with flexible itineraries.
Other firms have also recognised the commercial benefits that collective buying power can have in filling seats in the private jet market.
In Australia, EmptyJets offers everyday travellers discounted charter flights on empty legs, without the social networking element. For an annual membership of AUS$29.99, travellers gain access to available flights and e-mail alerts.
For people who are sociable by nature, have flexible itineraries, don’t mind flying from small towns or less populated destinations, and can organise their own flight back, group charter travel might just be the ticket.