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Private plane travel isn’t always about luxury

There has always been something incongruous about traveling for business in the company of people who are traveling for pleasure. When I set up my laptop to work in an airport lounge on a layover, I’m adrift in a jumble of humanity: families with small kids, gaggles of high school athletes, guys lugging snowboards or surfboards.

Every once in a while there’s a sock-clad person asleep in a nearby plastic seat. Under those conditions, it’s hard to concentrate.

While the likelihood of plummeting to earth in a fireball is declining (nobody has died in a commercial air crash in the United States in four years) the struggle to avoid arm-to-arm contact with an oversize stranger in the adjacent seat appears to be on the rise.

With this in mind, I set out to learn how the other half lives, the half (or perhaps the 1 percent) who fly their own small planes, fly in a company plane or charter a plane when it’s time for business trips.

I was curious to know when it becomes worthwhile to take your own plane. Here’s what I found: It depends.

Not surprisingly, the most important factors are time and money. Nobody is going to claim you can save money by taking a private plane except in special cases, such as when eight people from the same company all attend the same meeting in a hard-to-reach place like Missoula, Mont.

With the number of direct flights to and from Boise declining, it can make sense to make your day trip to Missoula on a private plane, says Phil Winters, a vice president at the Boise-based Western Aircraft. He estimates it would cost about $4,000 to fly to Missoula and back in the same day in a private charter.

It only makes sense if there are eight of you. Then, it’s $500 apiece – not far from what you would pay to travel on a commercial flight. Not only would you save time, and connections in other cities, but you also could leave your shoes and belt on for the entire journey.

One of my friends has his own plane and often flies between Boise and his customers in eastern Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington. It makes sense in his case, because driving to any of those places would eat up an entire day. It helps that he enjoys flying and pilots his plane as a hobby as well.

Then there’s MWI Veterinary Supply, Inc., which sends executives all around the country. Because the destinations are often Chicago and East Coast airports like LaGuardia, MWI’s fliers always choose commercial. A private plane just wouldn’t make sense.

The Boise-based Winco, which has 80-something grocery stores around the West, does keep a plane at the Boise airport. It’s cost-effective if at least four executives are using it to get to the same meeting, spokesman Michael Reed told me.

Real estate and land broker John Knipe, who sells ranches and other large properties, says it’s valuable for him to travel around the region in his private plane. It cuts down on travel time and allows him to show his customers the properties from the sky.

There are no easy answers here. But the market could be telling us something. Western Aircraft, which started its charter business 11 years ago, had its best year in 2012. Winters attributes the increase to a few quirks of the market right now, such as the increase in traffic to the oilfields of North Dakota. It could also have something to do with the economy, which is slowly returning to strength.

He’s not ready to credit the disappearance of Boise’s direct flights to nearby cities, though he said, “It probably has a bearing.

“It’s interesting timing,” he said.

Anne Wallace Allen is managing editor of the Idaho Business Review.

About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.


  1. Great article and thank you for raising the awareness of how economical, efficient, and safe corporate jet travel is these days. The cost benefits go far beyond simply dividing the cost of the charter airfare by the number of passengers to reach an equivalent and comparable airline cost. Especially in the Pacific Northwest, where highways navigate around mountains and rivers and speed limits are slow, equally incredible savings occur when companies eliminate the lost productive hours of employees, hours away from home, and hotel or rental car fees. The substantial cost savings of chartering a jet, or even a mid-size propeller driven aircraft, are immediately realized when several employees literally drive up to the steps of the private airplane at 8am and are home for dinner by 6pm instead of 6am to 9pm — or worse, having to stay overnight. Additionally, if extra time is required to resolve a less than desirable meeting with your client, a change in your itinerary is only one phone call away — we are on your schedule! Feel free to visit our website for a quote, so that we may help you and your company save expenses on your next meeting away from the office. (AuroraAviation.com)

  2. Low priced charter flights available to Oregon and Washington. Please see Rose Air website.

  3. I fly myself on occasion to visit clients around the south east. I rent a small 4 place aircraft for $135 per hour wet. That means it costs $135 per hour including fuel but only as the engine turns.

    What this means is that in a 400-500 mile radius I can beat the airlines at their own game. I leave and return on my schedule. I also can often get closer to my destination flying to smaller airports closer to my destination than the major airports.

    Adding one passenger cuts the cost in half and now we’re really talking about savings. When you consider the cost of travel over the ground and the inconvenience of airline travel general aviation is a winner on all counts.

    Don’t let the distraction of the current administration in Washington paint a picture of CEO’s flying jets as the heart of general aviation…. let alone what an all American industry it is.

  4. Thanks for the article! I wonder how much more air fare costs would be today had the Federal Government not been subsidizing air fares to less populous cities all this time since deregulation (which wasn’t deregulation, it was different regulation or maybe, at best, less regulation). Instead of declining, private aviation might have grown and prospered, reflecting more of the true value you are perceiving. We may, finally, be about to find out, if legislators can see their way to dumping some longstanding subsidies, most of which make little sense.