What are the disadvantages of an empty leg?
The main problem with empty legs is that they offer no flexibility. An empty leg is a particular aircraft flying at a specific time and date. If that doesn’t suit your needs, you can’t use it.
There can be other issues too. Here are some of the main disadvantages of an empty leg:
- Restrictive departure times
An empty leg is one half of a return journey that is already booked. So, you don’t have flexibility like you would for a normal private charter. If you need to leave at 8am but the flight leaves at 3pm, there’s nothing you can do to change this. It might even be leaving on a different day, which means you’ll need to alter your schedule.
Everybody knows that empty legs can be cheaper than a normal private charter flight. However, they can sometimes end up costing more, too. For example, if there’s a mechanical issue, you’ll need a new plane, and that will almost certainly be more expensive on short notice. A good broker will line up a second option for you, but you may end up paying for a round-trip and only using one leg of it. Note that a good broker will make you aware of this possibility when you originally book the empty leg.
The owner of the plane dictates its schedule. If they’ve confirmed a flight and allowed an operator to sell the empty leg, that’s quite a stable flight. But, if a broker is booking two separate legs of a return journey with two clients, it can prove to be tricky. A broker may approach two clients who both seem keen. One then buys the return journey, hoping the empty leg is sold, but the second client may change their mind, making this an unstable choice.
If you can, try to book an empty leg that is already owned. As long as somebody else has purchased the round trip, it should be stable. You can also rely on trips that involve the owner flying the other leg themselves, or on the operator that has marked it as available (as opposed to the broker).
Separate from a flight’s stability, you should also consider the cancellation policy. In non-peak flying seasons, round trips in the US can usually be cancelled with just three to four days’ notice without penalty. But with an empty leg, you’ll have to pay 100% of the cost even if you can’t fly. The operator will usually have rebated the owner or flyer who booked the return trip to begin with. They can’t go back on that by allowing cancellations.
If you have any doubts about when you’ll need to fly, avoid booking an empty leg. Only go for an empty leg if you’re happy with a very specific day, time, and model of aircraft – with no need to be flexible.