Charter flights - cheapest method of getting to Europe

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Actually, of course, the cheapest method of getting to Europe is via a "charter flight." Those words refer to a practice whereby a club or organization "rents" a plane and crew from one of the major airlines, and then splits the cost of the rental among the eighty-or-so members of the organization making the trip. Since even a 130-passenger jet and crew can be rented to fly to Europe.

The airlines "rent" (charter) their planes on this low-cost basis in order to make use of equipment and crews that would otherwise lie idle. The business of flying a million Americans to Europe each year is, after all, inherently a wasteful one. In early summer when most tourists make the trip, planes may fly to Europe filled to capacity-but return half-empty. In August or September, they may fly over half-empty, but return fully packed. The airlines came to realize that if they could schedule rentals of planes for the slack periods of the travel season, on dates of the airlines'-not passengers' -choosing, they could realize substantial savings. Moreover, they saw that by renting eighty seats at one clip to an organization or club, they could avoid the heavy administrative and bookkeeping expense involved in selling tickets one-at-a-time. The combined savings would permit a drastic reduction of round-trip fares, and still insure a profit.

At the same time, the airlines feared (and I am explaining their attitude, not justifying it) that the indiscriminate rental of idle planes might jeopardize their normal rate structure on the scheduled flights. Therefore, a compromise was worked out. Low-cost rentals would be permitted, but only on a moderate, carefully-controlled basis designed to check their too-widespread use. The only groups permitted to charter planes would be those which had not been formed for the purpose of travel. Thus, if you were to organize a "Let's Go to Europe Club," or if a travel agent sought to rent a plane and sell tickets for it to the public, both you and he would not be permitted to charter a plane. But if, by chance, you already happened to be a member of an established, non-travel club or organization, and that group wanted to charter a plane, then you could fly to Europe.

The precise rule, as it is set forth in I.A.T.A. regulations, provides that a person may charter a plane only "on behalf of members of a group which has principal purposes, aims and objectives other than travel, and sufficient affinity existing prior to the application for charter transportation to distinguish it and set it apart from the general public." The club may not publicize the flight widely; it can solicit passengers only through "personal letters, circulars and telephone calls . . . [or through] group publications intended solely for members of the group." Moreover, "each member of the party to be transported [must be] a member of the group at the time of application for the charter and [have] been such a member for at least six months prior to the date on which charter operations are to be commenced." However, the immediate family of a member (spouse and dependent children) may also go on the charter flight.

Despite these restrictions, an enormous number of organizations in the United States-from pigeon fanciers to chamber music societies-have enthusiastically seized upon the charter flight idea.

They need only persuade forty members and their wives, husbands or families to vacation in Europe and to leave and return at the same time. Depending on the time of year and the availability of aircraft, the round-trip fare to the less remote European cities will cost anywhere. And traveling via charter does not imply any requirement of "togetherness" upon arrival in Europe. The group can split up immediately on landing.

They need only rendezvous together in the city of departure on the date of the return trip, which can be either three, four, or five weeks later.

if you'd like to organize a charter flight among members of your club, merely write to the Traffic Department of any of the overseas airlines for specific information, or contact a travel agent.

They aren't permitted to organize their own charters, but they'll be tickled silly to handle your organization's request, because they can reap a large commission on a planeload of passengers.

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