By Doug Gollan
If you tuned on the news this past week you learned this time there were no “tapes” and that airplanes sometimes can’t fly in extreme heat. Nearly 50 flights by American Airlines were canceled, impacting thousands of passengers when temperatures at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport approached 120 degrees. While weather cancels tens of thousands of commercial flights per year, private aviation fliers in many cases were getting where they were going ahead of schedule.
Airlines also limit what they do for you in terms of providing meal vouchers and overnight accommodations when cancellations or delays are weather related. On airplanes that seat under 60 people, normal compensation rules don’t apply if you are bumped because of weight and balance needs, meaning you might not even get some hard-to-use vouchers.
Typically, you can hope for the airline to book you on the next available flight, competing against passengers either paying higher fares or with Lifetime Cubic Zirconium status in their frequent flier program. In the past airlines were more likely to try and find you a seat on a competitor, but they are stingier now. In 2015 Delta Air Lines and American Airlines ended an interline agreement that provided that type of option.
What’s worse, is with domestic airline flights at near record high load factors, it is not unheard of that passengers are told the next flight with seats might be several days later. If you are traveling as a family, it also can mean the option that will get you where you want to go means splitting up, sometimes not an option with young children. In other cases it means late night searching for an airport hotel or sleeping on the floor of the terminal. While foreign airlines tend to keep their lounges open longer when there are delays, U.S. airlines that don’t want to pay overtime have their lounge employees close down on-time even when flights are severely delayed.
Private jet travelers aren’t feeling sharing your pain. In addition to being able to show up for flights as little as 15 minutes before departures and being out of the airport five or 10 minutes after pulling up to the FBO (the private jet terminal), they often don’t find themselves having their plans put to waste by things like weather.
It’s not that the way private jets fly is different than commercial airlines. In fact, some of the same types of regional jets that had their flights canceled by American Airlines earlier this week also fly as private jets, except not with 70 to 100 seats crammed in.
Still, having fewer passengers isn’t the entire reason private jet travelers are less likely to be impacted by weather. Whereas you as a passenger has to wait until an airline posts a weather waiver before they will let you change your plans without a penalty, and they still impose limits on what changes you can make, private aviation is customer centric.
While giving us a tour of its Omaha operations center and headquarters as part of a celebration tied to taking onboard its 100th aircraft, Jet Linx Aviation President Jamie Walker showed off how the aircraft management company and jet card seller keeps its customers moving.
From the time either an aircraft owner or one of its jet card members schedules a flight, Jet Linx starts planning for the flight, particularly any impediments that might come up from crew hour restrictions and possible mechanical delays to weather. Every of the scheduled flights is shown on a high-tech screen in its operations center, with yellow and red markers next to flights with potential problems its team has to solve. In fact, the team starts looking at weather patterns when the flight is booked and then tracks potential weather disruptions as the trip gets closer, day by day and then by hours and minutes. At the same time, the private aviation operator begins planning alternate options if weather becomes a factor, be it changing aircraft types or sourcing a different plan if needed. Service recovery if there is a mechanical means a backup plane is sourced usually within two hours at no extra charge.
One benefit of private aviation is access to over 5,000 airports in the U.S. compared to about 500 for commercial airlines. It also means private jet fliers end up flying to airports with less congestion and closer to where they are going. At the same, these airports sometimes have shorter runways, and having a wet runway might mean the flight needs to operate to another close by airport instead.
In the case of Phoenix or mountain airports such as Aspen where operations can be effected when the temperature reaches the 80s, Jet Linx reaches out to its customers with options to move flight times up. For example, a flight that would be impossible in the afternoon heat could easily operate before 9 am. In some cases, customers actually get where they are going early thanks to advance planning.
Sometimes, to meet lower weight requirements, despite doing its best, the weight totals for passengers and baggage are still too much because of weather conditions. In one recent case where a customer was traveling from her desert home to another in cooler climates, she showed up with an unexpected number of heavy boxes of fruit she wanted to take, in addition to the normal planned for luggage.
Oscar Munoz, please pay attention here. While Jet Linx shipped the boxes, they didn’t yank them out of her hand but made same day arrangements to have the boxes shipped. Of course, it’s not really fair to make such comparisons between flying privately and going on a commercial airline.
Still, while Jet Linx will fly customers around-the-world, it focuses on targeting customers who live near one of its more than half a dozen airports where it keeps the airplanes it manages for their owners and then sells time via jet cards. In these locations, it has its own terminal, with passenger lounge and customer parking. It also will clean and detail your car while you are away, and have it ready and running, heat or air conditioning on, when you land, even if sometimes your fruit boxes need to be sent separately.
Original story here.