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I once missed a plane due to not considering the timezone difference. I could get a seat on the next flight for 1600 Eur. Thanks to the Internet I noticed that a competitor offered a one-way ticket to same destination (Amsterdam) for 500 Euro, I only had to be at another airport 700 km away. The only way to get there was to charter a Cessna for 750 Eur. Since this was still cheaper than the 1600 eur asked, I took that opportunity. This was my only opportunity so far that I was able to book a complete plane for myself.

Was this plain luck, or is chartering a plane for the less fortunate still achievable?

Could you say that with a travel party of 10 people you better charter?

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Eh, how did you miss the timezone difference? Most ticket booking sites and flight plans mention local timezone from point of departure / arrival. –  Ankur Banerjee Mar 27 '12 at 13:21
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It is a long story, but short version: I had a flight leaving just after midnight, so actually had to be at the airport the day before. –  andra Mar 27 '12 at 13:27
    
Heh... I have heard of that issue hapenning to a friend... but he found out just in time because he hapenned to call the airline the night he was supposed to leave (thinking he still had 1 more day) and he was able to rush to the airport in time –  JoelFan Apr 26 '12 at 14:37
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On a tangential note, that's how Richard Branson started Virgin Airlines. –  pilsetnieks Nov 11 '13 at 16:05
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3 Answers 3

In short, chartering planes is almost never cheaper than flying commercially. Even in Andra's case, chartering was only "cheaper" because they were apparently in a blazing hurry; if waiting around for a day or two had been an option, they could almost certainly have found a cheaper option, or made the 700 km trek by bus or something.

I once looked fairly seriously into chartering a plane for about a hundred people. The basic problem turned out to be that, while the actual flight itself at $5000-10000/hr would have been doable at around $400 per person (2 hours each way x 2 / 100 people), keeping the airplane and the pilot on the ground in a destination where they can't do anything (= make money) for several days is very expensive, since the waiting price is not much cheaper than the flying price. And if they fly home and come back later, you're now looking at paying for two roundtrips plus turnaround time, meaning the total cost is now around $1000 per person.

By contrast, commercial airlines are very good at keeping their planes in the air making money (some LCCs approach 20 hours out of 24!), so they can amortize their fuel, crew, insurance etc costs across lots more passengers, and thus offer cheaper fares.

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We spent two days searching for alternatives when we stumbled on the cessna offer. This was in French Guyana just before a launch of the Arianne rocket by ESA. The next affordable flight out was in three weeks. –  andra Apr 8 at 7:51
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A new service called Airpooler lets you pay the price of the fuel, since it's not an officially licensed charter service, you can't be charged more, and are essentially 'hitching'. It's small scale for now, but may well grow.

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I wouldn't call it an alternative, but on some smaller airfields you might be able to score a cheap flight if you call them up 1-2 weeks in advance and organize your trip. Pilots are required to do a certain number of flight hours each year to keep their license, and they are usually quite happy to have someone on board to offset the costs a bit.

However, if you book a small 2 or 4 seater they might cancel or delay the trip in the last minute because of bad weather. Your luggage space and allowance is very limited, depending on the airplane. They also may not want to land or takeoff on big international airports because of high fees.

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Note that it is generally illegal for a private pilot (as opposed to a commercial pilot - it's a different license) to accept payment in exchange for a flight. Flight instructors and other commercial pilots would happily take you, but expect to pay around $100/hour for the airplane+fuel and $40/hour for the pilot. –  nibot Jun 13 '13 at 19:47
    
Also, the range of small planes is very limited, a Cessna will have trouble going over 1000 km. By comparison, a B777-200LR can fly for over 15,000 km. –  jpatokal Apr 8 at 1:14
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