December 7, 2022

Air charter services offer convenience at a comparable price

Terry Hess says the level of comfort on charter planes is similar to what you would find in first class, although its services are completely personalized to the client’s desires, including catering. Although Crystal Air does not currently offer Wi-Fi on its flights, customers can listen to XM Radio with the provided headphones, says Taylor Newman.

For many, the idea of ​​flying in a private jet is an unattainable luxury, reserved for celebrities and members of the 1%. But it might not be as out of reach as you think.

“It takes a paradigm shift in the way you think about travel,” says Terry Hess, pilot and owner of local air charter service HessJet.

And it seems more and more people are ready to change their thinking when it comes to seeing charter air service as a viable option. “The demand is definitely growing,” says Hess. From 2016 to 2017, the number of charter flights departing from Chattanooga increased about 16%, according to the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority’s December 2017 operations summary. “The economy has a lot to do with it,” says Hess, explaining that, as with most expenses that people consider a luxury, air charter service is among the first types of businesses to suffer when the economy is not doing well. However, says Taylor Newman, director of operations for Crystal Air, another Chattanooga charter service, the cost per seat is comparable to flying first class on a scheduled flight with a carrier such as Delta.

Photo Taylor Newman, owner of Crystal Air

A charter flight would be less economical for an individual than for a group, as you often pay the same rate to charter the aircraft regardless of the number of passengers. However, just one or two passengers are the norm on a typical trip with HessJet or Crystal Air. “Same-day return flights are the most cost-effective way to use charter,” says Hess. Overnight costs and other expenses such as food and rental cars, which a same-day charter flight allows you to avoid – in addition to the time saved – often offset the additional cost of the charter flight, especially when you travel for business.

“Time is money,” says Frank Haren, owner of Etowah, Tennessee-based Haren Construction Company, which has flown Crystal Air on business six times in the past year and a half. Haren says charter travel allows him to get in and out of smaller airports more efficiently and offers more flexibility than scheduled flights. “It helps us open up strategic business opportunities because we can go there and meet face to face,” he adds.

Lynn Schuster, administrator of local law firm Baker Donelson, has used Crystal Air to fly to Memphis for meetings once a year for the past five or six years. The convenience of being able to fly on your own schedule rather than an airline and dealing directly with the operator (what other pilot gives you their personal cell phone number?) are the main benefits, she says, as well as the fact that she can get to and from Memphis in half a day while still being able to work the other half of the day.

When most people think of air travel, they think of scheduled flights with commercial carriers such as Delta, American or United Airlines that operate out of major airports. With charter flights, customers pay for the services of the pilot and the rental of the plane, and can therefore leave when they wish rather than at the airline’s schedule. They may also forget to arrive the recommended two hours before a scheduled flight and queue to clear security before getting to the gate – hence Crystal Air’s slogan, “Airline. Minus the line “. Passengers on charter flights can usually pull their car to where they board their plane, which is often a private hangar, such as the Wilson Air Center at Chattanooga Airport, and there are rarely delays on the tarmac. “It takes about five minutes to leave once you get to the airport,” says Hess.

Charter flights allow you to make multiple stops throughout the day, Hess says, which is especially beneficial when it comes to business travel. And charter planes can take passengers where they can’t with scheduled carriers, which use only a small portion of the 5,000 airports nationwide that Hess serves. The difference can be more easily compared to taking public transport in a big city or taking a taxi, he says.

Scheduled flights take less time in the air, but Newman says typically the time saved is more than negated during layovers. For example, Crystal could get Chattanoogans to Greenville, South Carolina, in an hour in her four-seat Cessna 172, or 45 minutes in her six-seat Piper Malibu. On a scheduled carrier, the same trip would take about two and a half hours from Chattanooga, if you can find a flight with a short 45-minute layover at one of the connecting airports.

Photo HessJet owner Terry Hess with an Eclipse 500.

where you can go

Crystal Air is a regional operation offering service within about 400 miles of Chattanooga, with destinations such as Washington, DC, Chicago, Dallas and Orlando being about as far as the carrier goes, Newman says. Also one of the airline’s eight pilots, he says the majority of his customers travel for business to places such as the Carolinas, Memphis and other parts of West Tennessee.

Some customers also use its services for vacations, such as spring or fall break in Destin, Panama City or Apalachicola, Florida, and it’s not uncommon for groups of football fans to charter a same-day flight to a great game. HessJet flies to airports in 48 states, with those in Texas, Colorado and New York being some of the most popular outside of the Southeast.

HessJet customers travel in one of the company’s two four-seat Eclipse 500 twin-turbojet jets. Crystal Air operates five aircraft: a four-seat Cessna 172, a six-seat Cessna 206, a Piper Seneca and a six-seat Piper Malibu. Newman says he is also in the process of acquiring nine-seat aircraft to meet local market demand. Right now he needs to fly in planes from Nashville, Knoxville or Atlanta to accommodate larger groups.

Cost comparison

HessJet is offering a flat rate of $995 plus tax per seat for four passengers for same-day roundtrip flights to destinations within an hour and 30 minutes of Chattanooga, which includes Charleston, the Gulf Coast and Saint Louis. The cost of a multi-day trip would roughly double the cost of a same-day round trip, because you’re essentially paying for two round-trip flights, Hess says.

A round-trip flight to Memphis with Crystal starts at $780 per seat for same-day round trips and weekday multi-day trips. At press time, because travel prices change frequently, booking a same-day round-trip flight to Memphis with Delta in first class would cost between $628 and $634 for the cheapest and most expensive options. short, which include one to three hour layovers in Atlanta. . For a multi-day trip to Memphis, departing on a Tuesday and returning this Thursday, it would cost $634 to fly Delta first class.

A multi-day round-trip flight to the Gulf Coast with Crystal Air starts at $850 per seat. The carrier offers multi-day trips from spring through fall. The cost is the same regardless of the size of your group, although you can share a plane with others. The shortest and cheapest flights to Destin on Delta in first class would cost you between $491 and $579.

WHAT YOU WILL PAY: Charter vs. Scheduled

Same day round trip to Memphis: $780/seat (Crystal Air) vs. $628-$634 (Delta)

Tuesday-Thursday round trip to Memphis: $780/seat (Crystal Air) vs. $634 (Delta)

Round trip Saturday-Saturday to Destin: $850/seat (Crystal Air) vs $711-$746 (Delta)

Same-Day Round-Trip to Chicago: $995/seat (Hess) vs $648-$656 (Delta)

Tuesday-Thursday round trip to Chicago: $1,990/seat (Hess) vs. $648-$656 (Delta)