Differences Between Scheduled & Chartered Flights
When you fly to see family over Christmas, you typically take a scheduled flight on a major or regional air carrier. The method of booking and travelling by air that most casual passengers are acquainted with is scheduled flying. Chartered flights offer greater flexibility in terms of scheduling, routing and destinations, but flights must be booked by a group or consortium responsible for all seats on the flight.
Who Can Fly
Chartered flights are similar to charter buses in that they are often reserved by groups for their express use. When you take a tour of Europe, your group tour bus ferries you from site to site and city to city. That bus is reserved for your group. It's not a municipal transit bus making a set route of stops or a Greyhound long-distance bus open to any passengers. Your tour group has reserved the bus so that only your group can use it, and you don't need to show a ticket every time you board.
When You Fly
In practice, many charter airlines do essentially follow a set schedule, with a certain number of flights per week to desirable tourist destinations. Even in this case, individual passengers do not book tickets for the flight; they are sold in bulk to a tour company or travel agency. If you are looking to book a charter flight expressly for your organization -- to transport your entire company on a company vacation, for instance -- you can book a flight exactly when your group needs it by using a charter flight. Instead of giving your group members different options for flights and then waiting for the group to reconvene, you can fly when it is most convenient to your itinerary, whether that means three in the afternoon or three in the morning.
Where You Fly
Charter flights can fly into smaller regional airports that are off-limits to major commercial airlines or hard to find flights into. If your groups wants to visit or attend a conference in California wine country, the Napa County Airport (napacountyairport.org) is the most convenient option. Otherwise you would need to book a bus to transport your group from the San Francisco or Oakland airports over an hour away. However, Napa County Airport doesn't accept commercial air carrier flights. Charter flights are particularly useful for reaching island holiday destinations with limited commercial flight service that would require passengers to make multiple connections. From Gatwick in London, scheduled winter charter flights fly directly to Fuerteventura and Mallorca in Spain and Paphos in Cyprus.
Other Key Differences
If you have ever imagined flying on a private jet -- rolling up directly to the plane in your car or taxi, skirting the ever-swelling security lines and boarding at your leisure -- you can enjoy that same experience on a charter flight. Chartered flights fall into the category of general aviation, a distinction which exempts passengers from some of the regulations associated with commercial flights. The actual level of in-flight amenities on chartered flights depends on the type of plane; most have options for catering, though not all have bathrooms or pressurized cabins. The FAA Consumers Guide to Chartering an Aircraft outlines the available types of planes and provides booking tips.