Private-aircraft travel has its own set of unsaid rules and customs. These 10 planning and etiquette tips can help a novice look like a natural.
1) Know the aircraft’s tail number
This is the official registration number issued by the FAA. It’s painted on the side of the aircraft. All U.S. registration numbers begin with the letter N and are followed by several numbers, which may then be followed by one or two letters. It’s proper to pronounce the letters using the aviation phonetic alphabet. For example, N123AB is pronounced “November 1-2-3 Alpha Bravo.” The tail number is a quick way to reference your flight when speaking with security or customer service.
2) Confirm the departure FBO and time
Private aircraft often depart from FBOs (fixed-base operators), which are private terminals. An airport may contain several FBOs. Call the FBO in advance for driving directions and parking information. Also, don’t be late for departure. Tardiness can interrupt the timing of flight operations.
3) Make ground-transportation arrangements
The provider of your air travel will likely ask you about your ground-transportation needs at your destination and make the necessary arrangements for you. But if you need to make your own arrangements, the best way is to contact the FBO at the destination airport. The FBO staff members are the best resource for arranging a limo, rental car, or taxi. They understand private-aircraft protocol and will be happy to make reservations for you.
4) Pack appropriately
Find out the capabilities of the aircraft’s baggage compartment. As a general rule, on a full plane each passenger can bring only one or two pieces of luggage. Baggage space is extremely limited on private aircraft. It’s better to pack multiple smaller, lighter bags than one large, heavy bag; the smaller bags are easier to load. If necessary, ship large items to your destination in advance. Plan on bringing only a small briefcase or handbag into the cabin; there won’t be room for a carry-on bag. Depending on the aircraft, the baggage compartment may not be accessible during flight, so have your reading material and laptop with you. Don’t worry about valuables or medicines in your luggage: The bags remain with the plane and will be safe. Also, don’t pack hazardous items. Avoiding security screening is a luxury of private air travel, but rules prohibiting flammables, handguns, and other weapons still apply. Some aircraft can’t accommodate medical requirements such as supplemental oxygen or wheelchairs.
5) Let the ground crew do their job
They will transport your luggage from your car to the aircraft. Follow their instructions about where and when to cross the ramp. Don’t walk out to the plane without permission to do so. The ground crew won’t expect a tip, but they likely won’t refuse one.
6) Speak with the pilots
It’s proper to be personable when flying privately. Introduce yourself to the pilots, but don’t be offended if one asks for your ID to confirm your identity; some flight operations require this. Thank the pilots when disembarking, but don’t tip them—it’s taboo.
7) Abide by the sterile-cockpit rule
The airlines’ locked-cockpit-door rule doesn’t apply to private aircraft. It can be fun to visit the cockpit during flight, but don’t do so until the aircraft reaches cruising altitude. The busiest times for the pilots are during takeoff and climb, and from descent to landing. Most flight operators have a sterile-cockpit policy that prohibits the pilots from engaging in extraneous conversations during those times. But during cruise, feel free to ask questions about the flight or the aircraft. Pilots are proud of their jobs and happy to answer such questions.
8) Eat before you fly
Depending on the size of the aircraft, the length of the trip, and the capabilities of the aircraft’s galley, the catering carried onboard can range from very limited to extravagant. It’s best not to show up hungry for the flight. Let your host or flight attendant (if there is one) serve you. Maneuvering around the galley can be a challenge.
9) Minimize your use of the lavatory
Unlike those on airliners, private-aircraft lavatories are serviced only on an as-needed basis, so on shorter flights, it may be better to hold on. And on smaller private aircraft, bathroom odors and sounds don’t diffuse well.
10) Treat the interior respectfully
Most private aircraft are kept in impeccable condition, and even the smallest blemish, scratch, or stain will stand out. The cost of cleaning or replacing a carpet or upholstered panel is very expensive. Be mindful of your shoes, drinks, and pens. Put trash in its proper receptacle. Be neat.