Most articles that discuss the pros and cons of flying privately, as opposed to commercially, tend to focus only on the cost. While the dollar amount is definitely not to be ignored, there is another consideration that can be just as important – time. When it comes to private aviation, most flyers will tell you that their time savings are often more than worth the extra expense. But is that always the case? SherpaReport takes a look at some different situations and how time and cost both factor into the decision on whether to fly privately.

Example 1. A retired executive that we spoke to lives in Arizona, but likes visiting Montana for a spot of fly-fishing. Flying between the two locations typically takes about 2.5 hours in the air. Plus, he has to allow for time sitting around at the airport before a commercial flight. (Commercial airlines typically recommend arriving two hours before scheduled departure time.) Flying privately would allow him to skip the wait at the airport. But what about the cost? He told us that to fly privately in this situation would cost approximately $25,000+. On the other hand, a first-class ticket for a commercial flight costs about $900. In this case, he said the commercial flight clearly wins. Even with the extra time required, the former executive cannot justify such a huge difference in cost, and being retired, the time saving is not so crucial.

Example 2. A senior executive we know, who works at a very large company, has to commute between Boston and New Jersey each week. The flight time between the two is barely an hour whereas to drive would take 5-6 hours, depending on road conditions. It seems to be an easy decision, right? Not necessarily. Since his schedule can often change at the last minute, with meetings running late or something unexpected coming up at the office, commercial flights can be tricky, needing regular rescheduling. At the same time, flying privately usually requires a 4-6 hour call out time, and he feels his schedule can’t always fit into that period. In this case, the executive prefers to drive. Although it takes longer, he feels that it is more flexible with his ever-changing schedule. Additionally, he feels the time on the road is an opportunity to relax and have time to decompress.

Example 3. Now let’s look at a very different situation. An oil operation needs a replacement part on a remote rig. Without the part, operations will have to shut down at a cost of $1/2 million or so per day. Commercial flights are available but there is then the additional travel time from the nearest commercial airport to the rig. Minimizing travel time and down time for repairs is vital. In this case, chartering a private plane or helicopter for both the part and an engineer to install it, makes economic sense. Even if the plane costs $30,000, it is a good deal when every minute counts.

Example 4. A very senior executive travels to meet with multiple clients each week, often several in one day. Given the time needed for check-ins, layovers, changing flights, security checks, and so on, commercial flights would be very inconvenient. Add in expenses for overnight hotels, meals, and ground transportation, either for one traveler or more, and the expense quickly soars into thousands of additional dollars per week. On the other hand, when flying privately, she can fly into and out of smaller airfields that are usually closer to the meeting locations. The plane can be ready to go within 15 minutes and she can use her travel time preparing for the next meeting and getting on with other work. In this case, flying privately, even though it costs more, makes sense in terms of both money and time. And since private flights are booked by the plane as opposed to the seat, if colleagues need to travel with her, the private flight makes even more economic sense.

These are just a few of the examples that we’ve heard about.

In another example from a few years ago, the New York Times had a story about New England entrepreneur, Alan Antokal. He’s a passionate Boston Red Sox fan and wanted to fly to New York from Boston for a playoff game on a last-minute whim. “You do things that are lifestyle,” Mr. Antokal told the New York Times. “I called Marquis and said, I want a plane for 3 o’clock and a plane to take me home,” he continued. The all-in cost for seven hours in New York, was estimated at close to $40,000. “Like the MasterCard commercial says, it’s priceless,” he said.

Just last week we spoke to a financial entrepreneur in Houston, Texas. He loves to go quail hunting in Southern Georgia. His commercial option is to fly from Houston (IAH) to Atlanta (ATL) and then change to Albany, GA (ABY) and then drive – the all in travel time is about 8 hours flying commercial. If he fly’s privately, he departs from Ellington Field Airport (EFD), which is the nearest private airport just outside Houston and goes into Camilla GA (KCXU). The total private travel time is a little over 2 hours. “I could go for the day and be home after dinner,” he told us. “Plus, if you split the trip with 5 guys, then that’s a no brainer," he continued. "It’s all about the time and the price of the time," was his overall summary.

This earlier article compared the cost of first class to flying privately. In every case we looked at it’s always cheaper to fly first class.

As you can see, there is no one travel solution that fits every scenario. Cost is a major factor. At the same time, so is the flexibility to change travel plans or to travel at the last minute. And then there is the time factor and all the other reasons to fly privately. When including time getting to and from the airport, checking in, going through security, and possibly allowing for extra expenses such as overnight hotel and food costs… which is the better option for you?

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