What is an Empty Leg Flight?

How the Hollow Flight Home and Abroad Saves Private Jet Travelers Thousands on Luxury and Executive Air Travel.

May 8, 2018 · 4 min read

Making arrangements for a private charter flight? You’ll often see “empty leg” aircraft being marketed, where brokers and operators offer steep discounts on a transient plane scheduled to fly from one pre-determined location to another.

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Empty leg flights create opportunities for flexible flyers to hop in private planes at a fraction of the cost, a huge benefit for leisure travelers who enjoy flying around the world while beholden to no schedule.

While they’re an excellent way to fly private to Las Vegas without the need to place everything you have left on red to make it home, they come with a few restrictions and limitations compared your regular jet rentals, and can be marketed just to draw you in.

How does an empty leg become available?

There are ten’s of thousands of business jets and privately owned aircraft flying across the United States and around the world on a daily basis. Many of them are available for charter, and private flights are sold on them whenever they’re not in use.

As trips are booked, schedules are created and revised for the aircraft — sometimes, there’s a gap between routing where one-way flight is booked, and a plane needs to fly to another location to pick up passengers; a plane may also need to re-position back to its home airport after a flight, with only pilots and flight crew on board.

That’s how an an empty leg flight is born.

Sometimes referred to as a “Dead Head”, it’s the empty portion of a flight that’s flying somewhere whether there are paying passengers involved or not. Since the flight is going anyway, it’s marketed for a specific time, date, and route, often with a huge discount.

How do I find one?

Although finding one on your own is possible, finding the best one is almost impossible without industry knowledge, or more importantly — visibility across the entire charter market.

Many private jet operators list a schedule of empty leg flights on their websites, and pricing for the flight is often included. Operators offer more of a convenient, book-it-and-go access to the service, however, these operators are limited to the aircraft within their own fleet.

Some operators may not even have the type of aircraft required for your flight, and even when they do, the empty legs they offer may not work for your particular trip. Many flights become available with only a few days notice, and are hard to find as they’re quickly booked.

Working with a jet charter broker opens access to thousands of private planes from hundreds of aircraft operators around the world, increasing your chances of finding an empty leg that matches your travel plans.

Charter brokers often form relationships with operators and may be able to negotiate a better price on your behalf. A good broker will also be aware of the hourly rates, operating costs and other factors that go into the price, taking that into consideration when searching for the right plane.

Any Downsides to Chartering an Empty Leg?

Outside of the difficulties in finding one that matches the date, time, and destination of your flight and the flexibility needed in your travel plans, there are a couple of complications to go along with savings.

Empty leg flights may be subject to changes and cancellation beyond your control. Since these flights are often based on a one-way private charter flight arranged by an existing client, and they technically “own” the empty portion of the flight. Your discounted flight is being fit around this schedule.

That means should the original client make changes to their itinerary, one of the primary benefits of flying private, it may have an impact on your empty leg flight.

For example: if a plane is repositioning and the original passenger delays their flight by a few hours, this means the empty leg must also depart later; if pilots reach their duty limit or operations are restricted, your flight may be scheduled for the the following day.

There’s also a chance that the original flight is canceled, and if your trip is based on that original flight, it’s likely to be cancelled altogether, and of course, you would be fully refunded for your flight.

If you’re utilizing this options for business travel, it’s recommended clients arrange a back-up plan, such as an airline ticket should any changes to your empty leg flight occur.

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