No, Chartering a Jet Doesn't Mean You Can Do Whatever You Want

But the typical commercial airline rules may not apply

Female businesswoman preparing to board private jet at airport
Raphye Alexius / Getty Images

Partying in the sky on a private plane charter? It sounds like a sweet deal, but as a group of Canadian influencers discovered, those mid-air parties can come with severe consequences like looming fines and the threat of jail time. The trip was hosted by 111 Private Club, an invite-only group based in Montreal. At least 100 Canadians, according to tweets from the organizer, flew to Cancun for six days of revelry only to find themselves with a canceled return flight and at the center of a media firestorm.

The cause? Video evidence of maskless passengers treating a Sunwing plane like a flying nightclub, with passengers drinking liquor from full-sized bottles, vaping, doing drugs, and moshing in the aisles. The backlash was strong enough to elicit a response from Canadian government officials.

According to the organizer, James William Awad, critics are sour grapes because the group partied on a chartered plane where partying was allowed; Awad also alleged that staff supplied the alcohol and made no attempts to corral the group.

But there's a big issue there. Just because a plane is chartered doesn't mean that partying is automatically allowed, even if flight attendants make no efforts to stop the festivities. Nor does it mean you can disregard federal COVID-19 testing and masking regulations even if everyone is vaccinated. The rules and regulations change depending on the size of your group and the type of charter you book. 

Bill Herp, founder and CEO of Linear Air Taxi, divides plane charters into four categories:

  • Single entity charters: A person or group buys out a plane for a group, and passengers do not pay for their seat
  • Special event charters: A group books a plane for a limited duration event like a concert or sporting event, and each passenger pays for their seat
  • Public charters: A person books a plane and sells seats to the public.
  • Affinity charters: A group books a plane and sells tickets to the group.

All that said, most private jet charters do fall under a particular set of regulations. In the United States, they operate under Federal Air Regulation (FAR) Part 135, while commercial airline-scheduled flights operate under FAR Part 121. Those differences are apparent as soon as you arrive at the airport too. According to Peter Vlitas, executive vice president of partner relations at Internova Travel Group, chartered flights often have minimal security screening in the airport. "The idea is to be able to show up, board, and depart within minutes, with your car within a few feet of your plane," he said.

Additionally, "flights operated under Part 135 may allow smoking on board the plane, or for clients to travel with their pets inside the cabin off-leash ... You may also be able to travel with your ski equipment, hunting rifles, and other items not permitted on commercial airlines," explained Adam LeRoy, marketing director at Air Charter Advisors. LeRoy continued to say that private flights are still subject to federal regulations (like masking or vaccination requirements).

However, that all changes when flying with a large group. According to Doug Gollan, founder and editor-in-chief of Private Jet Card Comparisons, when chartering a plane with more than 30 seats, Part 121 regulations will apply, meaning you'll be expected to follow the same rules as major airlines. The flight would be considered a 705 carrier in Canada, which means roughly the same thing: operating under typical airline rules.

The best bet to avoid confusion on what is and isn't allowed on your chartered jet is to ask the broker or operator for a rundown of the in-air regulations before you fly. And keep in mind, a majority of charter services reserve the right to deny carriage, which could leave you stranded with no easy way back home.

If there's a private jet charter in your future, and they do have many merits, remember that private doesn't mean above the law—and maybe keep your antics off social media.