Pros & Cons: Are Empty Legs A Guilt-Free Way To Fly In Style?

Michael Tanser
Communications Specialist

Flying by private jet is often viewed as the height of luxury - after all, who wouldn’t want an entire aircraft to themselves when travelling? For some, private jets are seen as a necessity to avoid unwanted public attention. For others, it’s a convenient form of transport within their means to afford, and cost is no object. But for the majority, private air travel is seen as beyond their reach - or is it?

What are Empty Legs?

One option that has rapidly gained popularity over the last few years is chartering ‘empty legs’. As the name suggests, an empty leg flight (also referred to as a ‘dead-head’ or ‘ferry flight’) occurs when an aircraft makes a journey without any passengers. This primarily occurs when a private aircraft needs to reposition itself for an existing charter. For example, if a client based in London is flying privately from Rome to Dubai, the journey from London to Rome to pick up the client is an empty leg.

The increase in popularity is mostly down to affordability. Charter companies currently estimate that 30% - 50% of all privately chartered flights are empty legs, which means these companies are often willing to cut prices to cover costs such as fuel significantly. It’s not uncommon to see empty leg private flights listed up to 75% cheaper than the standard price.

So, why isn’t everyone flying privately? As you would expect, there are both pros and cons to empty leg flights - let’s take a closer look.

The Pros:

Reduced Fares

As mentioned above, this is the main attraction for those looking to book dead-head flights, with some reports suggesting that Google searches for ‘how to book empty leg flights’ have risen by between 120% - 180% in the last year.

For example, the average cost of a privately chartered flight from Budapest (LHBP) to Milan (LIML) in a Citation CJ2 Light Jet was, on the day of checking, between £12,500 to £16,500. If the flight was for 6 people, that works out at a minimum of £2,084 per person.

In comparison, the same journey in the same aircraft booked on an empty leg flight starts at £1,913 - with 6 seats available, that could mean just £319 per person - only £20 more expensive than the cheapest same-day one-way economy commercial flight.

Empty leg flights vary in that some charter companies require the whole aircraft to be chartered, while others provide the ability to book by-the-seat, in which case you’ll still have fellow passengers, but far less than on a commercial flight.


Those travelling privately can expect a much easier, stress-free journey than those on commercial flights. 

Private jets usually depart from smaller airports, meaning far smaller crowds and the elimination of long wait times and queues commonly found at commercial airports.

Passengers may not require screening and can still board even if arriving just a few minutes before departure, providing a significant amount of saved time.

Additionally, private aircraft are not required to comply with many of the security restrictions commercial airlines are bound by, meaning passengers can bring food and drinks on board, and can even bring their pets.


Luxury is synonymous with private jets and is an obvious advantage for passengers. Increased personal cabin space, comfortable seating, and attentive personal service make for a memorable experience. 

That being said, some charter companies cut back their regular passenger provisions on empty leg flights to save costs - so if you were expecting a full five-star catering service, you might be disappointed.

In addition, private aircraft often can fly at higher altitudes than commercial jetliners, meaning less chance of running into turbulence.


For those wanting to work or hold meetings during their journey, those who struggle in large crowds or cramped conditions, or those wishing to avoid the public eye, private aviation is often the best choice.


While it can be argued that all air travel is bad for the environment, for many it remains the only feasible way to make certain journeys. Those who travel by private jet are commonly targeted as being contributors to harmful emissions, and the age of ‘flygskam’ or ‘flight shame’ is here. But do empty leg flights go some way to repairing that stigma?

The main argument for empty legs being more sustainable is that the aircraft is already booked to make the journey, regardless of whether passengers had previously required passage on it or not. Therefore, passengers often see this method of travel as more environmentally considerate, given that ‘the journey was being made anyway’.

To help further appease the environmentally conscious, most charter companies are now also investing in sustainable fuel and voluntary offsetting schemes in addition to mandatory local or international obligations. 

Private airports and FBOs are also investing heavily in technology which helps them streamline their operations and save fuel, leading to significant cost savings that can be used to purchase SAF for private aviation and offset carbon emissions.

Private Jet Cabin

The Cons:

Lack of Flexibility

While there are fewer cons to consider, they are both extremely important and critical considerations when considering empty leg flights.

The most obvious hindrance is the limited choice of when and where you can fly. Empty leg flights are normally one-way and are listed within a few days of scheduled departure. 

In addition, there’s no guarantee that a flight will be available via your preferred departure and arrival locations, so you may have to travel a considerable distance to reach your departure airport or final destination.

Travellers are also limited by available passenger capacity - smaller aircraft mean fewer seats, so those wishing to travel as a group may not be able to charter an appropriately sized aircraft when required. 

Due to these limiting factors, empty leg flights are only suitable for those who can be extremely flexible regarding when and where they travel.

Last-Minute Changes & Cancellations

Those travelling by privately chartered aircraft are at the mercy of whoever owns that aircraft - meaning it’s the owner who dictates the schedule. According to some reports, on average, every fourth empty leg flight suffers a schedule modification or cancellation due to changes in the original itinerary before departure.

If the owner cancels their planned trip, there’s nothing passengers can do to prevent it - and cancellations can occur with hardly any prior warning without penalty. 

In some cases, the charter company may have already rebated the owner for the empty leg - meaning you may still be liable to pay for the entire fee, even though you were unable to fly.

For these reasons, relying on empty leg flights should be considered a relatively high-risk approach to air travel.


The days of private jets being the sole reserve of the rich and famous may be in decline, with empty legs providing a tempting way to travel in style.

However, while travelling by private jet for a fraction of the cost has its clear advantages, many may be put off by the lack of stability, flexibility, and high risk involved.

For those determined to fly privately, either through preference or requirement, travellers can at least feel better about giving what would have been an empty aircraft making a carbon-producing journey a more practical purpose.

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