An hour or two of flight time can make life a lot easier for a cancer patient who has to travel a long distance for treatment. That’s the message Gina Russo conveys to companies and individuals who own business jets or other planes or fractional shares of aircraft. Russo is the executive director of the Corporate Angel Network, a New York–based nonprofit that uses empty seats on business aircraft to arrange free flights for cancer patients and a companion (two caregivers if the patient is a child) going to and from their treatments. Last year, the charity scheduled 2,643 such flights, and it has arranged more than 55,000 since it was founded in 1981.
“If somebody owns a 25-hour share with NetJets, and they are going to use 23 this year, that two hours could be the difference between getting a patient who just had surgery home safely versus their needing to drive 15 hours,” says Russo.
The Corporate Angel Network and NetJets have maintained a partnership for more than 20 years, and over that time, the company and its fractional owners have donated hundreds of hours of flight time to cancer patients. Last year alone, they provided more than two-dozen free flights. That number could grow considerably this year, now that NetJets has enhanced the partnership by giving the Corporate Angel Network direct access to its schedule of repositioning flights—empty flights when aircraft travel to destinations where NetJets fractional owners are located. If one of those flights coincides with the schedule of a cancer patient traveling to receive treatment or consultation, Corporate Angel Network can arrange for the patient to be on it.
“We have a lot of people who are in rural areas and not near a major cancer center who need to travel to get to one,” says Russo. “The other piece to this is that we have doctors across the country who specialize in certain types of cancer. For example, we work with Memorial Sloan Kettering [in New York] very closely, with their neuroblastoma unit, and we arrange flights for pediatric patients from across the country to see this one particular doctor. You will also see that with the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota or MD Anderson in Houston. They may have specialist that hospitals in other large cities don’t have.”
While providing the Corporate Angel Network with access to its empty-leg flights, NetJets will continue to encourage its fractional owners to donate flight time by matching any owner’s contribution up to 50 hours annually. NetJets has also arranged for Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton to provide, when possible, free or discounted lodging for cancer patients and their companions when they travel aboard one of its flights to treatments, and free or discounted ground transportation.
“Now, the patient or patient’s family won’t have to bear all of the additional cost of being in a city a day or two early, if that’s the only way the flight can be arranged, and the cost of getting to the hospital from the hotel,” says Russo. “It’s going to mean a burden relief for the patient.”
Adult and pediatric cancer patients and bone-marrow and stem-cell donors and recipients traveling to or from treatments, consultations, or checkups are eligible for Corporate Angel Network–arranged flights. But they have to be able to walk up the steps of a business aircraft without assistance and not need oxygen, an I.V., or onboard medical assistance. Eligibility is not based on financial need, and patients can fly as often as necessary.
“We’re also helping people get to clinical trials, which are often at only select locations,” says Russo. “Patients in clinical trials need to travel several times. We’re proud to partner with clinical-trial facilities, because not only are we helping that patient, we are helping to improve the science for all cancer patients. By completing the clinical trials, doctors are learning what works and what doesn’t work, and that impacts everybody with cancer, not just the individuals in the trials.”