Travelling by private jet is—literally—the height of luxury. A private aircraft lets flyers control their own time (and take full-sized toothpaste tubes in their carry-ons). “You can leave when you want. You have access to more remote locations. You can fit in multiple stops in a single day. There’s no parking, no waiting in line, generally no security checks,” says Mike Zaporzan, a private pilot who owns and operates Winnipeg-based Jetz Aviation Ltd., which acquires, sells and manages aircraft for high-net-worth people and companies. “You just can’t do that on a commercial airline.”
So if your client invites you to a little haven in the sky, consider it an honour. Whether it’s a short pleasure jaunt in a four-seat Cessna Skylane, a business meeting on board a luxuriously equipped Bombardier Challenger 350 or the offer of an extra seat on a ski trip to Boulder in a Beechcraft King Air 200, here’s what you need to know for a successful trip.
Generally, the same business etiquette applies whether you’re on the ground or in the air: dress appropriately, show up on time, take your host’s lead, go light on the alcohol. Airplane owners also have their own preferences for what’s appropriate, says Zaporzan, who pilots a corporate aircraft in Winnipeg. So follow your host’s lead: what’s completely acceptable on one airplane may not fly on a different one.
Ask your host (or host’s assistant) about dress codes and other preferences. Some owners won’t allow dark denim (it can stain light-coloured leather seats). When in doubt, go for business casual.
And this isn’t the time to overpack. The more passengers and bags there are, the less fuel a plane can take on, leading to more refueling stops. Pilots weigh these factors as they create flight plans, says Zaporzan. Ask your host how much you can bring, and use a soft-sided bag rather than a hard suitcase, which makes it easier for the crew to stow your bags.
Baggage compartments on some smaller aircraft often aren’t pressurized, so don’t pack that bottle of wine in your suitcase, where it could explode. Instead, bring it on board to share on a pleasure flight or at the end of your business meeting. Stick to whites, though: a Merlot or Pinot Noir spilled during a patch of turbulence could stain the interior.
Once on board, ask your host before taking a seat. Often, the owner of an aircraft will have a preferred seat—usually near the on-board entertainment and temperature controls.
On smaller planes, like Jim Wilson’s Cessna Skylane, leave the food on the ground. “Turbulence can make it messy,” says Wilson, who’s a CFP and partner at North West Capital Partners in Winnipeg. On flights longer than a few hours, he’ll bring snacks.
On longer flights in larger private jets, it’s perfectly acceptable to bring food to share (maybe a box of good chocolate or a fruit platter), but steer clear of aromatic or highly seasoned foods: in a small space, the scent may be overpowering. For the same reason, avoid heavy perfumes or colognes.
It’s always a courtesy to be on time to any client meeting, but it’s especially important for international flights, says Wilson. These flights must cross the border within 15 minutes of the time estimated in the flight plan, he explains, or there could be trouble: “We don’t want to be chased by F-16s.” For international flights, your host will ask for your passport information, date of birth and other details at least a day or two in advance.
On the way home from a cross-border trip, declare everything, including foodstuffs, souvenirs and the spoils of your shopping spree. Even private aircraft must go through customs, and pilots check in with the CanPass program in advance to make declarations. Let the pilot know exactly what you’re bringing on board and provide a credit card number to pay for duties.
“Customs is great with private airplanes,” says Zaporzan. “But when you don’t make a declaration and try to get away with it, somehow they tend to show up and you get busted.” Cheating customs won’t only make you look like a jerk—it could also result in fines for the aircraft owner and a record for the company.
One of the biggest perks of private travel is the privacy and security it provides. When you own the plane, you know everyone on board, and the public (including competitors or potential security threats) can’t easily track your comings and goings. That’s why it’s important to ask before taking photos of the plane—and especially before posting those photos to social media. Your host may not appreciate you disclosing his vacation in Key West, or the fact that her home is currently empty. If you do have the go-ahead, don’t photograph the plane’s registration number, and save shots for private use only.
What about payment? If you’ve been invited on a private pilot’s personal plane, don’t offer to pay for a flight. By law, private pilots aren’t allowed to accept payment for taking people in their own aircraft. If your client is doing you a favour—say, transporting you to and from a business meeting in a remote location—you’re permitted to cover the cost of fuel, but be prepared to have your offer refused. Better to show your appreciation by arranging for dinner out or tickets to sporting or cultural events. Wilson has occasionally shuttled clients to hearings and meetings in northern Manitoba, saving them hours of driving time and overnight stays. He sees these flights as a chance to develop relationships and provide a valuable service, and doesn’t accept offers of reimbursement.
If, like Wilson, you happen to be a private pilot, you probably already know some of the business advantages of flying your own plane. Wilson flies regularly to his growing base of clients in Calgary, and can visit his clients in remote locations. He often takes clients up in the air as a way of marking milestones like birthdays or graduations. Flying, he says, has absolutely made him a better financial advisor.
“Aviation is absolutely ruled by checklists and risk planning,” Wilson says. “My practice [uses checklists], because they’re so beneficial to make sure I don’t miss anything. In terms of risk planning, you do absolutely everything you can on the ground to minimize the chance of anything going wrong once you’re in the air. And you plan for things going wrong as well. That’s certainly transferred over to how I handle clients’ affairs.”
Susan Goldberg is a financial journalist based in Thunder Bay, Ont.