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Families That Fly Together

Flying private is as much for family as it is for work

Flying private for a family reunion, last-minute holiday or sporting event is on the rise: Aviation firms report that about 35 percent of their flights today are for personal travel. Here are 10 reasons that more and more families are choosing to leave commercial air travel behind.


Events like the Masters Golf Tournament, Kentucky Derby and Super Bowl are big draws for executives, but they’ve also become bonding experiences for parents and children.

Several private-air providers, such as NetJets, Wheels Up and XOJet, have built trips around these events. Wheels Up, a membership-based provider, had a strong presence at the PGA Masters Tournament, hosting several events for its members. “We had 100 flights coming in and out of Augusta, Ga., that week,” says Wheels Up CEO Kenny Dichter. “The flights were a good mix of fathers/sons and executives on business trips.”

But bonding trips don’t have to involve major events. “We arranged a Challenger 300 super midsized jet to fly a client and his son from Los Angeles to Kodiak, Alaska,” says Greg Richman, president of on-demand charter provider SkyJet. “They met a chartered sailboat on that remote island and spent a month exploring the wilds of Alaska along the Inside Passage. At the end of the month, we met them at the boat in Ketchikan.”

Massachusetts-based Sentient Jet has a client who flies his son from his college in Tennessee each month for father/son golf outings. “They fly separately, meet at the specified location and play some of the best courses in Florida and the South,” says Marialena Barnard, director of client relations.


With private aircraft able to land in multiple airfields in a single day, parents with teenage kids are turning to private flight for college tours. “We have an owner who did an extensive college tour with his son,” says David Verani, director of sales and marketing for New Hampshire-based operator PlaneSense, whose fleet consists entirely of Pilatus PC-12, an aircraft ideal for medium-range, multiple-stop trips. “They flew from Georgia to Louisiana to Virginia, and finally up to Boston, all in a four-day period.”

Wheels Up has a client who recently took his daughter on a multi-college tour through North Carolina on a Beechcraft King Air 350i. “If we’d flown commercially, we would’ve started at Boston Logan, flown to Charlotte and ren

ted a car for what would’ve been a seven-hour drive to the first college,” says the client, who wishes to remain unidentified because of his company’s policies. “Instead, we landed at the tiny regional airports. The time savings were important, but the bonus was spending time with my daughter. That doesn’t happen often with my busy schedule.”


“Probably a third of our business is last-minute emergency flights,” says Ben Schusterman, CEO of ElJet, a charter-brokerage company. “It might be to reach a sick relative quickly, or if a patient is too ill to travel on a commercial flight. Some parents even fly children with peanut allergies privately. There is much less exposure to allergens or germs on a private aircraft.”

Traveling on a private jet also minimizes the stress of travel, which can be dangerous for a sick passenger, and offers privacy, since its tail number can be blocked. Customers appreciate that discretion when it comes to receiving sensitive medical treatments. “We’ve done direct flights to Rochester, Minn., for people seeking treatment at the Mayo Clinic, or Houston to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center,” Schusterman says. “And it’s so much easier on someone who is sick than having to take multiple commercial flights.”


The private aviation industry touts a strong safety record—a badge of honor that families don’t take lightly. Some parents send younger children cross-country to summer camps on a private jet, looked after by the flight crew, while others, like Neal Pendergraft, move elderly parents around with their jet card memberships. “I’ve never had any qualms about sending my mom alone with a Sentient crew,” he says. In addition, companies implement rigorous safety protocols that go beyond federal regulations, such as NetJets, whose confidentiality agreements ensure client privacy, and XOJet, which has a partnership with security firm Gavin de Becker & Associates.


For attorney Neal Pendergraft, weddings have become a standard reason to use his Sentient Jet card membership,which offers fixed hourly rates on flights by independent charter jet operators. He recently flew his mother and other relatives to Texas to attend a family wedding. “I’ve always felt safe with the flight crews,” Pendergraft says. “I’ve never had a crew who didn’t treat my mom like a mother.”In-flight anniversary celebrations are also common. Renee Aivaliklis, vice president of client services for XOJet, which owns and operates its aircraft fleet and offers on-demand flight packages, says a client brought his wife on a mystery trip for their 20th anniversary. “As you walked on board, he had flowers and champagne, and the music from their wedding was playing,” she says. “He played a streaming video of their life events, but she had no idea where they were going. When they landed in Chicago, all the friends of her youth were waiting on the tarmac to greet her.”


Neal Pendergraft has used his Sentient Jet card for a few business trips, but he says about 90 percent of his usage is for family events. Recently, most hours have gone into shuttling his daughters and niece to American Quarter Horse national competitions. Because the young women are in college, Pendergraft needed a way to transport them thousands of miles without missing classes. “We’d often have 15 pairs of boots, a dog and riding equipment,” he says. “[The Sentient crew] never batted an eye.”

ACASS, an aircraft-management company, has a client who uses a private jet for transporting his son to Formula 3 races to prepare for a career as a Formula 1 driver. “He is able to move his son around to compete in a busy racing schedule,” says Andre Khury, president and CEO of ACASS. “This is not something he could do by train or on commercial airlines. There’s not enough time in the day to be tied to the commercial airline schedule.”

Professional golfer Jason Day, who typically travels 40 weeks each year, says that his NetJets membership frees him up to focus on his sport. “Golf is a very mental game and you have to have the right frame of mind going into a tournament to win,” he says. “It also lets me bring my wife and son. That’s not something I’d do if I flew commercially.”


Even business travelers see a family benefit to flying private. A Wheels Up member who declined to be identified uses his membership to commute between his home in Boston and Philadelphia, where he works, in large part because he thinks it improves his family closeness. “It’s been transformational for our family life because I can fly home on Thursday nights and be back at work early Monday morning,” he says. “I have two friends in Philadelphia, so we can split the flights back and forth. It lets me spend a lot more time with my family.”


After the British Open last year, Jason Day and his family decided to spend an unexpected few spare days together in the south of France but couldn’t get a commercial flight. “NetJets Europe got us there in two hours,” he says.

Last-minute itinerary changes because of weather or just a change in plans can also be accommodated. “Clients of ours flying to Europe on their anniversary ran into the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland, so they couldn’t land at their destination in Italy,” says Sentient’s Marialena Barnard, director of client relations for Sentient. “We changed the entire trip at the last minute, so they had their anniversary in Spain.”


Family vacations play a big part of private-jet travel—Christmas, New Year’s and the Fourth of July are the industry’s busiest times. But beyond just getting to a destination more quickly, families are also taking advantage of the partnerships between jet card providers and luxury brands. Butterfield & Robinson, a tour operator that waives its custom trip-planning fees for XOJet members, specializes in small group trips in Europe, North America and Asia. For example, a newly developed trip to Iceland for families includes adventures for children and teenagers during the day, such as horseback riding, ice climbing, river rafting and exploring geysers, while adults can relax in the hot springs or hike along ravines. “We then bring the age groups back together for the night’s meal and activities,” says B&R spokesperson Katie Marshall.

Benefits vary according to the partner. “About 20 percent of our business is large multigenerational families,” says Ed Donaldson, director of sales and marketing at Rosewood Tucker’s Point, one of the premier golf resorts on Bermuda, which offers NetJets members two free overnight stays per year. “Often, the grandparents will be NetJets members and bring the extended family to the resort.” Other such partnerships include Sentient’s affiliation with Andrew Harper Travel and Delta Private Jets’ agreement with the luxury destination club Exclusive Resorts.


Yacht charter brokers are seeing more families come to their yachts via private jet. “In the last year, 90 percent of my clients are back to flying privately,” says LeAnn Pliske, a charter agent for the International Yacht Collection (IYC) in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which partners with Delta Private Jets. “The family can be dropped off at point A and finish at B, so that they can cruise for a longer distance.”

Aviation firms can also form partnerships with marinas to provide logistical support. “There can be many variables when ultra high net worth individuals bring their jets to the Caribbean,” says Fiona Horne of Bohlke International Airways in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, which works with Island Global Yachting marinas. “We typically coordinate with the owner’s flight operations department and the yacht captain so transportation goes smoothly,” she says. Bohlke can shuttle yacht owners or guests on its aircraft to airports closer to the yachts, and can even involve a seaplane operator to land beside the yacht.

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