What red flags can I expect with an unethical broker?
Clients should never be afraid to ask questions to determine if they’ve found the right charter broker for their needs. Here are some questions you might ask when looking for ‘red flags’ that could detract from your charter experience, along with the relevant answers:
Do you have any accreditations or special partnerships?
While charter brokers are not required to meet the same regulatory requirements as operators, respectable companies will often voluntarily pursue third-party accreditation for their business practices. This provides further assurance to clients that the broker values customer service, professional and ethical business standards and financial responsibility.
How long have you been a broker?
New brokers may certainly mean well and have their clients’ best interests in mind, but experience is key. A broker with many years of experience has had time to develop a large network of connections, which in turn means more options for their clients – and often at better prices, too.
May I see reviews from your previous clients?
Reviews on a company’s website are a starting point, but it’s tough to measure their objectivity. Check out customer feedback on sites like Google Reviews or Trustpilot to get an idea of how trustworthy and reliable past clients have found them to be. If a broker claims to be experienced but has few or no reviews available, this could be suspicious.
Is my aircraft safe?
Brokers should hold the operators and aircraft they represent to stringent internal safety auditing standards. Don’t be afraid to ask a broker about the operators with whom they do business, and think twice if the names that pop up are companies with recent accidents or incidents or multiple violations with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or other regulatory agencies.
What is included in the price?
Never be afraid to ask what’s included in the quoted price, or be concerned you’ll sound like an amateur for doing so – it’s important that you know exactly what you’re paying for! A broker’s quoted price should include all fees, taxes, and food costs associated with your trip; always verify this is the case before signing on the dotted line, as some brokers like to add these charges after you’ve agreed to a lower, more alluring price.
Is it cheaper if I arrange my trip directly with the operator?
It might seem it would be more cost-effective to cut out the “middleman” and deal directly with the operator; however, keep in mind an operator’s primary interest is to secure the flight, while a broker adds value by ensuring that all aspects of their client’s trip have been carefully planned and that all their interests and needs have been met. An honest broker will happily explain the pros and cons with using their services – and they shouldn’t have an issue with allowing you to speak to the operator directly if you request it.
What type of aircraft do you have access to?
A key advantage with using a charter broker is the sheer number of aircraft to which they have access, providing further assurance you’ll fly onboard the aircraft best suited for your particular mission. Also, verify with the broker the aircraft that will be performing your trip prior to submitting payment, as some brokers may demand money upfront before your flight has been fully secured.
Do I need an aircraft for the trip I have in mind?
While this decision ultimately rests with only the client, a knowledgeable charter broker should also guide you in your decision and help you determine the most efficient and practical options available. For example, if you want a large jet but only have a few passengers, they should advise you to consider a smaller aircraft.
What if I need to cancel the trip?
Everyone’s plans may change at the last minute, so it’s important to ask about the broker’s trip cancellation policy when booking your trip. While some charter providers may be able to offer full reimbursement for a cancelled trip, policies differ greatly between operators, aircraft types and trip lengths.
What premium features do you offer?
Private jet charter is an exclusive and often luxurious way to travel. That said, not all aircraft are equipped with big screen TVs, leather recliners, private lavatories or fully equipped galleys. Ask your broker about the selected aircraft’s premium features so you know what you’ll be paying for.
Should I use a pre-owned or new aircraft?
Aircraft are maintained regularly and frequently upgraded to the latest standards and equipment, which often make it difficult to ascertain its exact age; for the same reasons, age is usually moot when it comes to an aircraft’s safety, comfort and amenities. Be wary if a broker strongly recommends only the latest aircraft, as they may simply be looking to make more money.
What inspections will be conducted on the aircraft before I fly?
The broker will help secure the operator and crew for your flight, and these entities will each conduct their own preflight checks to determine your aircraft’s airworthiness. If they spot a discrepancy – such as a mechanical issue, oil leak or a missing panel – they will not fly until that issue has been resolved. If your broker can’t describe the safety inspections that will take place, tread very carefully.
What will happen if there are issues with my trip?
Even with the most efficient planning, issues such as weather, air traffic control delays or mechanical issues with the aircraft will still arise from time to time. A professional charter broker will always have a backup plan available so that any impact to your trip is as minimal as possible.
Have you ever filed for bankruptcy?
Just as it would in any business-related matter, learning that a charter broker has previously filed for bankruptcy should give you pause as it may be an indication that they’re running an unreliable operation. (That said, if the bankruptcy occurred many years ago it may also indicate the broker learned from the experience and now conducts their business with greater stability.)
What other ‘red flags’ can I expect with an unethical broker?
In short, you should strongly reconsider booking your trip with any charter broker that is either unwilling or unable to answer these and any other questions you may have about their business practices.
Ask them questions directly and gauge their responses; do they sound confident and concise, or are they scrambling for an answer? Are their responses helpful, or do you feel as though they’re pressuring you to make a decision? This can tell you a lot about the broker’s ethics and business practices.
Do your due diligence in the pre-sale stage to spot other potential red flags. The Internet is a valuable resource for conducting research into a company’s business practices and corporate ethos, including to learn more about their CEO and staff.
For example, a search for information about Paramount Business Jets founder and CEO Richard Zaher will reveal his educational background and extensive aviation industry experience; that he has been invited multiple times to the White House; and that he, his family and PBJ staff members frequently take part in community outreach efforts and not-for-profit projects.
Be wary if a broker asks for credit card information over the phone, thereby avoiding a credit card authorization form, as this could be another indication they’re not operating in good faith. Also, a charter broker that continually references ‘our fleet’, ‘our aircraft’ or ‘our crew’ is misrepresenting the truth, as brokers do not own or operate aircraft or employ the crewmembers.
A broker is also required by the FAA to disclose the name of the operator that will be flying your trip, as well as the aircraft’s registration number (often called an “N-number” in the U.S.) Occasionally, that information may not be immediately available as certain trip details may be awaiting finalization; however, be wary if you still haven’t received this information before the day of your scheduled flight. Some brokers purposefully sell a trip knowing they may not find the aircraft, a deceitful practice known as “phantom bidding.” A broker’s reluctance or inability to provide this information upon your request may be a sign they have not yet secured your aircraft.
Of course, one red flag alone doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust a brokerage. When you put the pieces together, however, these aspects combine to give you an idea of how helpful and reliable they will be. Find a broker that matches your values and you’re bound to have a better and more enjoyable aircraft charter experience.