Empty legs: the cheapest way to experience a VIP flight?


When you dig into the aviation world, you’ll find that the industry has its own specific language. At first, this may sound confusing, so we’d like to talk about the term ‘empty leg’, and what it means to you.

What are ‘empty legs’?

When someone charters a private flight, the aircraft is not necessarily at the desired location for the customer, or after reaching the customer’s destination the next flight charter is unlikely to depart from that same location. This means to get the aircraft to the correct location, it would have to fly without passengers on board to prepare for the next customer. This part of the journey, without passengers, is what we refer to as an ‘empty leg’.

To reduce the costs of relocating the aircraft, private jet companies can offer seats on these empty flights to the general public a few days before the flight. The aircraft type, destination and departure date and time will be predetermined as opposed to a real chartered flight where the customer gets to decide. 

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Over the last decade, these flights have been growing in popularity. Both operators and brokers see opportunities to provide a more affordable service for a new type of client, which in return offers a new source of income for both parties. 

This system of offering empty leg flights is being used all over the world, and savvy customers, who are flexible in their choice of destination and departure date, can get the unique experience of a one-way private flight at a significantly reduced cost.

How much does an empty leg flight cost? 

Because the private jet industry has grown so much, there are also more empty legs available from airports all around the globe. If you are flexible when it comes to your destination, the chances are high that you’ll be able to find a cost-efficient one-way flight that fits your schedule.

While it is true that empty leg flights can be up to 75% cheaper than a regular privately chartered flights, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will be able to afford them. In the end, the price will depend on several factors. 

First of all, the destination and even more so, the length of the flight have a significant impact on the price. Naturally, the private jet companies have to cover the costs associated with the flight like fuel, maintenance, etc. therefore, the longer the flight, the higher the cost. 

On top of that, airports have their fees, which charter companies have to cover each time they want to land at a destination. Aside from landing fees, there may be a parking fee, handling and service fees, etc. depending on the time spent on the ground, but each airport has its pricing, therefore a specific destination can have an impact on the final price of the empty leg flight. 

Different types of aircraft have different costs associated with them; their so-called ‘hourly rates’. Most of the time, the larger the jet, the more expensive it will be to operate. For example, light jets, like a 4-seat Cessna Citation Mustang has an hourly rate of roughly € 1 500, whereas larger jets, such Bombardier Global Express with up to 17 seats can cost more than € 6 500 per hour.

For example, an expert air charter company Chapman Freeborn is offering a 16-seat empty leg charter with Dassault Falcon X from London Luton to Athens for approximately € 26 000. If you find yourself a company of 15, you can get a private jet experience for as much as little as € 1700 per person. 

In the end, you can’t really call it ‘cheap luxury flights’, but spending € 2 000 instead of € 30 000 per flight is definitely cheaper. 

What to consider before booking an empty leg flight? 

Consider your flexibility. It may be a relatively cheap way to experience luxury travel, but it does come with specific requirements and risks. 

First of all, empty leg flights are most of the time one-way trips. They happen only because a certain aircraft needs to relocate or return to their base. If there is an empty leg flight from Paris to Lisbon, this means the private jet has to pick up their original passenger in Lisbon, or they’ve just delivered their client to Paris and are returning to Lisbon. They won’t fly back to Paris after a couple of days, therefore you’ll have to find another way to return on your own. 

The exact departure details of your flight will most likely only be available at the last minute. This is due to the fact that it all depends on the original client’s requirements. 

If the original flight gets cancelled at the last moment, this means that your empty leg won’t be available anymore. Similarly, the departure time can change at the last moment, depending on the original client’s needs.

Will empty legs still exist after the pandemic?

The aviation market saw a significant decrease in flights during the pandemic, as countries have closed their borders and travellers had to take a break from holidays. However, during the pandemic, private charters and cargo aviation have been the saving grace for aviation companies. 

Various airlines have had to adapt their business model to either convert passenger planes into cargo planes or establish a private charter service

During the pandemic, CEOs and executives sometimes had to travel to keep their businesses running. As a result, the VIP charter market has expanded in capacity, meaning more companies have established private jet services. 

Additionally, private jet charter is currently considered the safest, and the most flexible means of travel and companies are increasingly choosing VIP charter over a regular flight. In addition to the fact that aircraft have very efficient air purifying systems, each charter flight is prepared with the utmost care, as it has always been even before the pandemic. 

Hayden Edwards, a private jet charter broker at Chapman Freeborn, one of the most experienced air charter companies, explains:

‘COVID-19 has provided an avenue of potential opportunity. We have seen a noticeable increase in requests for charter flights from atypical clients; those who previously flew First and Business Class and are now willing to place a premium on their health and safety by flying privately, thus avoiding overcrowded airports and high-density commercial airliners. We have won several new clients that fall into this category throughout the course of this pandemic.

Empty leg flights are an excellent means of further encouraging this new clientele on board, as all the style, comfort, privacy and safety benefits of a private jet can be had at a fraction of the price of a full charter. 

COVID-19 has demonstrated that private aviation is an excellent tool to protect passengers, their families, and friends from the virus, and that the associated premium is worth the mitigated risk. Our hope is that once this new wave of private flyer has experienced the exceptional levels of service, comfort, and safety that private jet charter can offer, they will make regular use of it post-COVID-19 and beyond.’

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Naturally, the need for private charters has been growing, and the suppliers are meeting that demand. It’s safe to say that empty legs do not only exist after the pandemic, but there are probably more of them than ever before. 

How can I book an empty leg? 

Depending on where you need to fly, you can find empty legs around different continents. Chapman Freeborn, one of the leading international private, group, and cargo charter companies are offering regional and international empty leg flights with 24/7 global network availability.

Check the current empty legs offers here: https://chapmanfreeborn.aero/en/empty-leg-availability/ or get in touch with the global broker team with a specific request to get all the information you need: https://chapmanfreeborn.aero/en/global-offices/

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