Heathrow was grounded by snow last winter

Airlines were grounded by snow last winter at Heathrow airport

With winter starting to tighten its grip in the Northern Hemisphere and weather forecasts indicating another record-breaking big freeze this winter, travel disruption is a major worry for many people. A white Christmas may be an exciting prospect if you can stay at home and enjoy it, but not necessarily for those who need to travel for business, on Christmas holidays or to long-awaited reunions with family and friends over the festive period.

Last winter, heavy snowfalls, ice and Arctic temperature wreaked havoc for thousands of airline passengers who were left stranded after major airports closed and airlines cancelled flights. 35,000 commercial flights were cancelled during December 2010 in Europe – more cancellations than the whole of the previous year. And there was a similar weather story across the Atlantic with major air travel disruption for the East Coast of the US.

Obviously such extreme winter conditions impact private aviation too – but certainly not to the same extent and private jet charter is still able to keep passengers moving when airlines are frozen (whether due to bad weather or volcanic ash). So why can private jets fly when so many scheduled flights are grounded?

Private jets can use many more airports

In Europe, private jet charter flights can take their pick from 3,000 airports – ten times more than the 300 airports used by airlines. Snowfall and temperatures can vary considerably even over a relatively small area of the country, so this allows the pilot to switch to an airport than is less affected – not an option open to inflexible airlines. And at smaller airports, snow clearing and de-icing can actually happen quicker, as there is a much smaller area of taxiway and fewer aircraft to keep clear (plus many private jets are kept out of the cold in hangars which reduces deicing requirements). As we saw last winter in the UK, Heathrow and Gatwick were less able to cope with clearing snow, despite their greater resources, than a smaller airport such as nearby Farnborough in Surrey which managed to stay open for much more of the time.

Private jet travel allows for flexible schedules

When you hire a private jet, you agree a departure time and route but, unlike airline flights, this plan is very flexible and either the customer or the pilot can change the schedule up until about two hours ahead of takeoff. So bringing a flight forward when further snowfall is forecast – or switching the route to find ‘gaps’ in the weather or to avoid closed airports is a very real possibility. Airline schedules are simply unable to work like this – their only option is to cancel the flight.

Private jets can start moving again very quickly

Inevitably the most extreme of winter conditions will affect some private jet charter flights. Safety is the primary consideration and there will be times when it is simply unsafe to fly due to extremes of temperatures or severe ice on runways. However the agility of private jet charter is a huge advantage when conditions begin to thaw. As we saw last winter, with enormous backlogs and so many aircraft out of position, airlines took days to return to normal – leaving passengers stranded even after the snow was cleared. With so much more flexibility, private jet flights were able to start operating almost immediately.  Charter brokers such as PrivateFly.com – which gives access to thousands of private aircraft worldwide – were particularly well-placed to help passengers, finding aircraft that were already waiting at their closest airport. With PrivateFly you can book at very short notice (online or over the phone) and in many cases be in the air in as little as 90 minutes from first contact.