Opinion | Private Jet Travel Is Booming. And Shameful. And We’re All Paying for It. (2023)

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Farhad Manjoo

Opinion | Private Jet Travel Is Booming. And Shameful. And We’re All Paying for It. (1)
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By Farhad Manjoo

Opinion Columnist

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Four or five times a year, Stephen Prince, a businessman who lives in St. Simons Island, Ga., has taken friends, clients and colleagues on a hunting trip to a pheasant preserve in northwest Nebraska. A commercial flight on that route would be arduous — if everything went perfectly, he’d probably spend at least nine hours traveling over one or two connections, plus about an hour’s drive to the nearest commercial airport and more time going through security, boarding and the other ritual indignities of commercial air travel.

But Prince, who founded a business in the 1990s that has made a fortune printing gift cards, is a wealthy man. He purchased his first private plane a few years ago; his current jet, a Cessna Citation 650, can do the trip in about three hours (with a possible stop along the way to refuel) from a small airport just a few minutes from his home. Prince says flying private is a magical experience: He can drive right up to the side of his plane and hop on board. Crew members will load his bags and hunting gear and park his car. If he’s flying in the afternoon, he’ll be greeted with a glass of scotch; in the morning, he’ll get coffee and a newspaper.

“If that doesn’t spoil you, you’re not spoilable,” he told me. “You don’t need a whole spoonful of private aircraft to find out what it tastes like — it’s pretty amazing.”

As much as he loves it, though, Prince has decided to kick his high-flying habit. A progressive activist — he’s the vice chair of Patriotic Millionaires, an organization of wealthy people who favor higher taxes on rich people like themselves — Prince argues that flying private is just too expensive and unfair. Not for him, but for the rest of us, and for the planet. His group isn’t calling on other private fliers to ground their planes, but maintains that if rich people are going to continue to jet around in luxury, they should at least be taxed for the privilege.

According to an analysis published this month by Patriotic Millionaires and the Institute for Policy Studies (I.P.S.), a left-leaning think tank, private jet users pay nowhere near their share of the cost of maintaining American airports and airspace.

Every commercial airline passenger in America is subject to a 7.5 percent tax on domestic ticket prices, a facility charge of up to $4.50 per flight segment (up to a maximum of $18 for a round trip) and extra charges for flights to Alaska, Hawaii or international travel. Private fliers only pay fuel surcharge taxes of about 22 cents a gallon, according to the analysis. As a result, though they make up about 16 percent of all flights handled by the F.A.A., private jet flights “contribute just 2 percent of the taxes that make up the trust fund that primarily funds the F.A.A.”

Per the analysis, “the median net worth of a full and fractional private jet owner is $190 million and $140 million respectively.” In other words, some of the richest people in the world are effectively being subsidized by plebes like you and me flying coach.

Then there’s climate change. Because they typically carry so few passengers on each trip, flying private is far worse for the environment than flying commercial. According to a report by Transport & Environment, a European group that advocates zero-emissions transportation, “private jets are on average 10 times more carbon intensive than commercial flights.”

When I spoke to Ed Bolen, the chief executive of the National Business Aviation Association, a trade group that represents the private air travel industry, he challenged several of I.P.S.’s claims. Private planes can fly to thousands of airports around the country that aren’t served by commercial flights, Bolen said, allowing businesses to operate across a wider geography than would otherwise be possible. He also argued that air travel infrastructure is designed largely to suit the needs of large commercial planes, so it made sense for commercial airliners to bear a larger share of the cost of maintaining the system. And he said that his industry is committed to improving its environmental impact; the N.B.A.A. has pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prince isn’t convinced. Flying private is “probably one of the most greedy, selfish things I’ve ever done in my life,” he told me. “I just can’t continue to do it.”

A lot of other private fliers seem to have no such worries. Private jet travel hit record levels last year, and many manufacturers and operators have reported surging demand.

Part of this surge might be due to favorable tax laws for private jet ownership. Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cut allowed businesses to deduct 100 percent of the cost of a plane from their tax bills immediately, making buying a jet a very pleasant way to reduce a business’s taxes. And as ProPublica recently reported, it’s pretty easy for wealthy people to use their business jets for leisure travel; the law allows them to keep their deduction as long as they use the plane mostly for business travel, an indefensible giveaway.

Perhaps the worst thing about private jets is the profligacy they encourage. As I’ve written before, ordinary commercial air travel is already often extremely wasteful; flying is one of the most carbon-intensive, least environmentally efficient ways to travel, and we rarely consider its costs as we jet around the globe.

The inefficiency means that a relatively few travelers are responsible for a disproportionate share of pollution. One study published in 2020 found that “the percentile of the most frequent fliers — at most 1 percent of the world population — likely accounts for more than half of the total emissions from passenger air travel.”

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Private jets turbocharge the problem — they make flying so easy for the superrich that some people spend inexcusable amounts of time in the air.

Last year the marketing company Yard used data from @Celebjets, a Twitter account that tracked celebrities’ private flights (and has since been suspended by Twitter), to calculate how much time some luminaries spent aboard their planes. Yard’s top-flying celeb was Taylor Swift, whose jet spent nearly 23,000 minutes — about 16 days — in the air in the first half of last year, spewing more than 1,000 times more carbon into the atmosphere than the average person does in a year. (Swift’s representative disputed the numbers, explaining that the jet is often lent out to others.)

@Celebjets’ data has revealed another cringey phenomenon: The very short private jet trip, a pollution-belching flex that is the height of irresponsibility. Last year, Floyd Mayweather took a 10-minute flight between Henderson, N.V., and Las Vegas — a roughly 15-mile trip that would have taken him about 20 minutes by car. Kylie Jenner took a 17-minute flight between two Southern California suburbs, a drive that would have taken less than an hour. There’s only one word I can think of to describe this sort of reckless extravagance: Shameful.

The Institute for Policy Studies suggests several sensible ideas that might slightly curb such excess. The group proposes a surcharge on flights shorter than 210 miles, close to the distance between Kennedy Airport and Reagan National Airport. I.P.S. also recommends a tax on sales of private aircraft — 10 percent on purchases of used planes, 5 percent on new ones — and a doubling of the fuel tax for private jets. The group estimates that Elon Musk — whose plane took 171 trips in 2022, according to Bloomberg — would have paid about $4 million more in taxes under its proposals.

For Musk, that wouldn’t break the bank, and it’s hard to imagine that I.P.S.’s proposals would halt the private jet boom. But asking private fliers to pick up a little more of their aviation tab would be a good first step toward a more equitable transportation system.

Chuck Collins, one of the authors of the I.P.S.-Patriotic Millionaires report, pointed out one final problem with private jets: They allow the wealthiest individuals to ignore the problems the rest of us have to endure.

“When the ultra wealthy get to opt out of a system, they have much less of a stake in improving it,” Collins said. He pointed to the debacle at Southwest Airlines over the holidays. “If over 100 billionaires couldn’t get home to their families because the air traffic system was having a meltdown, maybe we’d have a better system.”

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FAQs

Does it make sense to buy a private jet? ›

Is a Private Jet a Good Investment? If the annual cost of chartering a flight or flying commercially exceeds the cost of owning a private jet, or if you spend an average of 240 or more hours in the air annually, owning a private jet might be a good investment.

Why do rich people use private jets? ›

Perception of safety. Managing risk is a common skill for the wealthy and often a high-end traveller will consider private travel to be safer than a commercial offering. The report claimed that the two dominant factors are the age of the plane and the visual condition of both its exterior and cabin.

What is a famous quote about private jet? ›

The sky is not the limit, but your potential is. Life is too short to be ordinary. The best thing about a private jet is that you can do whatever the hell you want. “Never waste an opportunity to have a private jet ride.”

Is a private jet cost effective? ›

While a private jet rental is considerably more expensive than flying on a commercial flight, it is still much cheaper than buying your own jet. Flights on private jets are charged by the hour. Prices vary depending on the size of the plane, the length of the flight and the number of people on board.

What is the average life of a private jet? ›

On average, business jets up to 25 years old may only have about 12,000 hours on them, and when they're well-maintained aircraft can easily last for 25,000 hours.

Do private jets lose value? ›

Private jets depreciate in value over time, like all aircraft. However, they tend to hold their value better than commercial aircraft, due to the relatively low number of hours they fly and the fact that they're typically used by wealthy individuals who can afford to care for them well.

Do rich people rent private jets? ›

Ever wanted to charter a private jet? Everyone knows that the super-rich has their own private jets and fly them around the world in luxury James Bond style. But not all of the private jets are owned by the rich - some are chartered.

Does Warren Buffett use a private jet? ›

Why Fly Private? Warren Buffett bought his first private jet in 1986 and upgraded to a much pricier one in 1989. Buffett and his business partner, Charlie Munger, clashed over the extravagant purchases. The investor changed his plane's nickname from “The Indefensible” to “The Indispensable.”

Why do the rich buy planes? ›

If you want the short answer, millionaires are starting to buy more privates jets for one reason — fewer taxes and more refunds. By using bonus depreciation and net operating loss carryback, CEOs and individuals can avoid paying taxes.

Does Mark Zuckerberg own a private jet? ›

Zuckerberg's private jet tab was $700,000 more than the $1.6 million Facebook's parent company paid out in 2021 and the roughly $1.8 million in 2020.

Why did Oprah buy a private jet? ›

What made her decide to finally buy her own plane was when a female fan asked for a hug while she was waiting at the Chicago O'Hare Airport. When she was interviewed by the Hollywood Reporter, she said that it was the moment when she finally wanted to have a private time flying.

How rich to use private jets? ›

The typical owner of large luxury private jet has a net worth between $60 million and $70 million. The average wealth of owners of midrange and super-midsize aircraft is around $120 million.

How much was Kim Kardashian's private jet? ›

When the billionaire finally decided on a private jet, she chose luxury. Kim Kardashian reportedly purchased the Gulfstream G650ER she calls 'Kim Air' for US$95 million but ultimately paid US$150 million for renovations and design.

What are the pros and cons for a private jet? ›

Exploring The Pros And Cons Of Private Jet Travel
  • Fewer Passengers. ...
  • Full Control Over Your Schedule. ...
  • No Security Screenings. ...
  • No Baggage Restrictions. ...
  • Fewer People Handle Baggage. ...
  • Your Pets Can Fly With You. ...
  • Better Food Choices. ...
  • The Ability To Land At Smaller Airports.
Sep 24, 2020

How much does a private jet cost for a 3 hour flight? ›

The private jet rental cost can range from $2,000 to $15,000+ per flight hour, depending on the type of jet you hire.

How much is a private jet for 4 hours? ›

The most economical private jets - Turboprops, Very Light Jets or Executive Light Jets - cost around $2,600 to $3,500 per flight hour. Midsize or Super Midsize Jets cost between $3,200 and $6,000 per hour.

How long can a private jet fly non stop? ›

But if you can fly direct – does that mean you can fly nonstop? Let's see some averages!
Private JetMax RangeMax Flight Time
Midsize Jet2000-3000 miles4-6 hours
Super Midsize Jet3000-4000 miles5-7 hours
Large Cabin Jet4000+ miles6-10+ hours
Large Cabin Jet4000+ miles6-10+ hours
2 more rows

Do private jets have showers? ›

Cabin configurations can vary and some private owners include multiple bathrooms, with spa facilities and even a Turkish bath. But more often there is a toilet and shower available mid-cabin and, for more privacy, another ensuite attached to the VIP bedroom in the aft section of the aircraft.

What is the most sought after private jet? ›

Boeing Business Jet 747-8i - 403 million

As the largest private jet in the world, “The Queen of the Skies” comes with a $403 million dollar price tag. It doesn't take long to see why.

Are private jets becoming more popular? ›

The use of private jets around the world surged to record levels in 2022, despite hundreds of commercial airline routes returning to service after the pandemic.

What is the future of private jets? ›

In a recent analysis, Grand View Research predicted that the worldwide private jet market will increase at a CAGR of 4063% to reach $38.3r billion by 2029.

Where do celebrities leave their private jets? ›

Van Nuys airport is an extremely popular location for celebrities and other show business executives and personalities to jet in and out of on their various travels. Some - like the Kardashians - have used Van Nuys as a launch pad for flights that are less than 50 miles.

Does Jeff Bezos own a private jet? ›

In 2015, Bezos replaced his Dassault Falcon 900EX with a new G650ER before purchasing a second in 2019, both under his holding company. The capable aircraft once shattered records for speed and range, though these records now belong to the Bombardier Global 8000.

How many Americans own private planes? ›

Analysis of industry data by Airbus Corporate Jets (ACJ) shows there are 14,632 private jets in the United States, around 62.5% of the world's fleet. Among private jets in the US, 37.5% are categorized as heavy or long-range, 36.5% as light, 20.5% as midsize and 5.5% as very light jets.

Does Elon Musk use a private jet? ›

A new report names Elon Musk as the most active private jet user in the U.S.

Does Tom Cruise own any jets? ›

Along with the P-51 Mustang, the actor also owns a Gulfstream IV jet valued at $20 million, which includes a Jacuzzi and a screening room. The commitment to realism has been a common theme in every Tom Cruise movie.

Does Elon Musk own a private jet? ›

Elon Musk's private jet made more than 130 flights in 2022. The billionaire boss of Tesla did plenty of flying last year in his Gulfstream G650ER, emitting an estimated 1895 tonnes of CO2.

What airlines do rich people use? ›

This can help you choose the flights that offer what you need at a price that's reasonable for your travel budget.
  • Virgin Atlantic. "Our Upper Class cabin."
  • Qatar Airways. "First Class."
  • Emirates. "First Class."
  • Singapore Airlines. "First Class."
  • Etihad Airways. "First Class."

What is the most purchased plane ever? ›

Cessna 172 take crown being the single most produced aircraft of all time. More than 44,000 172s have been produced since production first began in 1956. This high-wing utility trainer aircraft is one of the most common trainer aircraft and is popular among general aviation pilots.

How rich do you have to be to fly business class? ›

Verdict: if you make the above assumptions, you can fly business class on every flight if you earn over $277,014.40 annually (or if the future asset value of your productive energy can be valued on an annual basis at or over this number).

How much is Oprah Winfrey jet? ›

Gulfstream G650 Private Jet?

Does Bill Gates use a private jet? ›

Answer: Yes, Bill Gates reportedly uses private aircraft. Question: How many jets does Bill Gates own? Answer: Gates owns at least five private aircraft of three different types. These are a Cessna 208 Caravan seaplane, two Gulfstream G650 and two Bombardier BD-700 Global Express.

Does John Travolta own a private jet? ›

Now, as far as how many planes John Travolta owns, we can confirm seven. More specifically, three Gulfstream jets, a Boeing 707, a Bombardier Challenger 601, and a Boeing 727.

Does Trump have his own private jet? ›

Registered N757AF, Trump bought the more than three-decade-old plane in 2011 for a reported $100 million and it became an icon at his 2016 campaign rallies all over the US.

Does Lady Gaga own a private jet? ›

Lady Gaga's private jets

Lady Gaga has equipped herself with 3 private jets, no less! Just like Kim Kardashian, she opted for Boeing 747 private jets.

Does Dwayne Johnson own a private jet? ›

The Rock owns a Gulfstream G650, which is one of the fastest private airplanes available, according to The Healthy Journal. The plane is valued at some $65 million.

How much do private jet pilots make? ›

Private Jet Pilot Salary
Annual SalaryMonthly Pay
Top Earners$95,000$7,916
75th Percentile$61,000$5,083
Average$55,138$4,594
25th Percentile$34,000$2,833

Do celebrities rent or buy private jets? ›

Celebrities all over the world use private jets. Whether it's to go to a film shoot, to a concert halfway around the world, or to travel with their families, a celebrity loves private jets. Some celebrities do not own private jets and travel in business class with traditional airlines.

How much did Bill Gates private jet cost? ›

Gates owns four private jets, which has drawn criticism from supporters. The private jet collection is reportedly worth $194 million and includes two Gulfstream G650ERs worth $70 million each and can carry up to 18 passengers.

How much does Kylie Jenner pay for private jet? ›

With 'Kylie Air', Kylie Jenner's $72 million private jet, she lives a high-flying life.

Who owns most expensive private jet? ›

The United States Air Force owns the most expensive private jet in the world: the Air Force One, which costs an estimated $660 million.

What is the risk of private jet? ›

On a commercial aircraft, there are fewer than 0.01 fatalities per 100,000 hours of flying. On a private plane, that number jumps to 2.3 fatalities per 100,000 hours flown.

Is it better to own a private jet or charter? ›

Cost. When it comes to cost, private jet charter undoubtedly wins. Chartering a jet is more expensive than flying commercial, even first or business class, but the cost of owning a private jet trump that by a wide margin. There's the obvious cost of purchase.

What do most private jet owners do? ›

But who are the owners of the luxury aircraft? Members of the "jet-owning oligarchy" have a median net worth of $190 million, a new report says. The typical private jet owner is a North American male over 50 who works in finance or real estate.

How much does it cost to keep a private jet at an airport? ›

Hangar fees

Unless you have space in the garage, you'll have to rent or buy a space in an airport hangar. Depending on the hangar location, renting a private hangar will be around $3,000 per month.

How much is a 10 seater private jet? ›

10 seater private jet cost can vary greatly. from the cheapest pre-owned model to the latest and most expensive private jet for 4 passengers. Price ranges are typically between $5,000,000 and $50,000,000.

How much does it cost to rent a private jet for a day? ›

The most affordable private jets — turboprops, very light jets and executive light jets — typically cost about $2,600 to $3,500 per flight hour. Midsize or super midsize Jets range between $3,200 and $6,000 per hour.

How rich should you be to buy a private jet? ›

However, they also noted that it will typically cost $500,000 to $1 million a year just to operate a private jet. This means that a private jet owner will probably need at least $10 million in income per year to afford to become a jet setting jet owner.

How much money should you have to own a private jet? ›

Full Ownership & Maintenance Costs of a Private Jet

For example, you may be able to buy a 30 year-old Learjet for less than $1 million, but a brand-new, large plane such as a Gulfstream can run well over $70 million. If you want a custom Airbus, you should expect to pay more than $100 million.

Is it better to charter or buy a private jet? ›

Cost savings: Renting a private jet is significantly more economical than buying your own plane. When you charter, you'll pay only for the flights you use, rather than for the entire purchase price of an aircraft that may spend much of its time sitting in the hangar.

What is the average income of a private jet owner? ›

Therefore, the wealth of those who possess private jets rises in proportion to the size of their planes. The typical owner of large luxury private jet has a net worth between $60 million and $70 million. The average wealth of owners of midrange and super-midsize aircraft is around $120 million.

How do people afford private jets? ›

Other expenses of an individual jet may include fuel, maintenance, repairs, jet insurance fee, and staff salaries. You can afford a private plane through personal loans, luxury private jet membership, and a second-hand plane are cheaper.

How much does it cost to maintain a private jet? ›

According to estimates on the cost of private jet maintenance, most jet owners end up shelling out between $500,000 up to $1,000,000 each year on ongoing expenses related to maintenance, storage, repairs, insurance, fuel and more.

What is the alternative for a private jet? ›

Semi-private flights offer a more affordable alternative to private jet travel, with better service and fewer passengers than commercial carriers. Could this be the perfect way to fly? Semi-private air travel is just.

What is the least expensive way to fly in a private jet? ›

What is the cheapest way to fly private? The cheapest way to fly private is to book semi-private flights using the "pay by the seat" model. With companies such as JSX, Tradewinds Aviation, and Surf Air, you can get a private jet-like experience for just a couple hundred dollars!

How wasteful are private jets? ›

The environmental group found that private jets emitted a total of 5.3 million tonnes of CO2 in the last three years, with the number of flights skyrocketing from nearly 119,000 in 2020 to 573,000 in 2022. That amount of carbon dioxide is more than Uganda - a country of some 46 million people - produces in a year.

Are private jets safer than driving? ›

Although flying on an airplane is seen as statistically safer than driving a vehicle, there is an important distinction between private planes and commercial aircrafts. According to recent data compiled by the National Travel and Safety Board (NTSB), private airplanes are far more dangerous by an order of magnitude.

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