The introduction of the jet card model and the increasing power of the internet and e-commerce have significantly reduced the barriers to entry into the private jet market. And while expanding access to private jets via the internet may have surface appeal, many private flyers are being lulled into a false sense of security – assuming more and more risk.
Customers, accustomed to merely checking ‘Terms of Service’ boxes on websites instead of reading through long documents, are now purchasing expensive private flights as casually as they call for an Uber. Some people are even buying private flights at Costco!
Jet companies have a subtle way of making their contracts appear simple. They print them in a way that makes them seem short and full of “boilerplate.” Some will even tell you that they don’t change their contracts and, “Everyone signs the same documents.” That simply is not the case.
Shaircraft CEO and private aviation attorney, James Butler, has combed through hundreds of private jet contracts and has a keen understanding of how financially important and legally complex provisions are made to appear benign. These documents may look simple, but private air travel arrangements involve complicated legal, regulatory and liability issues, and substantial dollars. Over time, jet providers have moved from a business model in which customers enjoyed cost certainty to one in which more and more variable cost risk is shifted to the customer. The more risk – financial, legal, etc. – you assume, the more important it is that you have experienced legal counsel review and negotiate the contract before you sign.
As you’d expect, jet companies draft their contracts in a way that gives them a great deal of latitude, while largely limiting your recourse if they don’t live up to their end of the bargain. Butler recently discovered that one popular jet provider’s electronic contract includes a provision that essentially allows it to change the terms of the deal in its sole discretion. In other words, with the click of an “Agree” button, customers unknowingly are authorizing the jet provider to change the terms of their agreement at any time and for any reason! Ask yourself, if you wouldn’t agree to that in your own business, why would you do so in a deal involving great financial, legal and safety risks?
The Bottom Line
Flying at 40,000 feet is serious business. Private flights are not the same as taking an Uber down the block. Nor should they be purchased while, at the same time, you’re picking up a pallet of toilet paper from Costco. In the end, anytime you contract for a private jet flight—putting your dollars and, more importantly, your safety and that of your family and business associates at risk, you should have an experienced attorney, who specializes in private aviation transactions, review the contract, negotiate additional concessions and, most importantly, make sure that the jet company’s promises are ironclad. Oh, and by the way, that jet company that can change your contract any time it wants…it’s not the only one we’ve seen that does the same.