Can You Charter the Plane that Flew Joe Biden to His Inauguration? Yes You Can.

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The norms of American transition of power took many well-known hits this past electoral season. There was no concession, no White House visit by the incoming president, no transition assistance, and no attendance by the outgoing president and his family at the Inauguration. In another break from protocol, the First Family-elect did not arrive in Washington, D.C., on the day before the Inaugural ceremonies on a government-provided plane. (Although Donald Trump was extended the courtesy of Air Force transport by the Obama administration in January 2017, CNN reported, citing two sources “familiar with the matter,” that no such conveyance was offered the Bidens.)

Team Biden’s Plan B—or perhaps it was always the sentimental Plan A—was arrival at Washington’s Union Station from Wilmington, Delaware, by Amtrak, the path of Biden’s daily commute during his 36 years in the Senate. (Wilmington’s historic railroad station was renamed the Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Station in his honor in 2011.) But the violence of the attempted January 6 insurrection at the Capitol raised too many security concerns for a train to be a viable option. Next best thing? A chartered BBJ.

Learn this term if you don’t already known it: It stands for Boeing Business Jet, and chartering one is becoming a mini trend of sorts among those able to afford it.

It certainly seems like a pretty grand Plan C.

BBJs are what are called in the aviation industry “VIP airliners”—Boeing 737s that would normally be used by commercial airlines (Southwest, Alaska, and United, among many others, operate them) but have been converted for private use. As Boeing puts it: “Our customers put a high premium on quality, convenience, and mobility. Most often, they want access to the same amenities in the air as they have on the ground…It’s a better way to fly.”

I’ll say. Board one of these—they are 130 feet long and are considered narrow-body planes—and immediately to your right, where you would normally see rows of seats for 150 passengers, are luxe quarters configured for you and your handful of friends and relations, generally up to 16. There might be a master bedroom with ensuite bath, a private office that is convertible to a second bedroom, another bathroom, a long table for dining or in-flight conferences (which can seat around 9), and a living and lounge area with two couches, including an L-shaped one, two club chairs, entertainment centers with large TV screens, and a mid-cabin bar.

According to FlightRadar24, the internet service that shows real-time commercial aircraft flight information on a map, the Biden party (around 13, including the president elect ) was able to enjoy it all on January 19 for a mere 28 minutes—the flight time from Wilmington-New Castle airport to Joint Base Andrews in D.C.

Gallery: PICTURED: Trump’s mothballed private Boeing 737 (Daily Mail)

But you can charter the exact same plane—its specific tail number is N834BZ—for as long a voyage as you like: It has three auxiliary fuel tanks, which give it a range of up to 14 hours without a refueling stop. Just a reality check: The cost is $15,000 to $20,000 per hour, depending on repositioning requirements. It’s managed by Jet Edge International, which also manages one other BBJ (it is the only operator in the United States with two BBJs available for private charter) and is headquartered at Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles.

But why, one might wonder, would one charter a VIP airliner as opposed to another kind of private aircraft?

The Covid-era boom in private aviation is well documented, with significant numbers of pre-pandemic first-class and business flyers switching over to private jets. “In December 2020,” says Doug Gollan of Private Jet Card Comparisons, “charter and jet-card flights were at 96% of December 2019 levels—so almost back to normal. This in contrast to airlines, whose passenger levels in December were at just 38% of 2019 levels.” And surveys suggest many newcomers to private aviation will be sticking around, rather than reverting post-pandemic to flying commercial.

It’s a slippery slope, aviation insiders tell me, from private planes to BBJs.

While typical private aircraft max out at four to 16 seats (comparable at the higher end to a BBJ), eight to nine of those seats, depending on the layout, will be on couches. “That starts to feel crowded quickly,” says Gollan. And if your bank account is in the big leagues, you start to look around….

And it’s not just about seating comfort. It’s comfort, period—comfort as if you were on land. “Once you step into a Boeing Business Jet, it’s like flying around in a condominium,” Jonah Adler, the chief commercial and marketing officer at Jet Edge, told me last month. “Your behavior completely changes. You revert to land behavior. You’re not sitting any more—unless you want to. You’re standing, you’re lying down, you’re dancing, whatever. Once you go on a BBJ, you cannot go back. There’s no where to go from here.” (Unless you are president of the United States, of course. Air Force One, a modified Boeing 747-8, awaits President Biden on his next trip, and in 2024 the White House will take delivery of a brand new, super souped-up model. )

There’s another aspect to the BBJs growing allure: In this Covid-era of longer stays, with more and more people planning to be away for a month or two versus 10 days to two weeks, there is need for a lot more luggage space than many private planes can provide. (Operators of BBJs based in the Middle East, in fact, might go so far as to take out the auxiliary fuel tanks to create even more luggage space: Those planes don’t need more range but they do need more storage, for everything their passengers purchased in Paris, London, and Geneva.)

We’re not just talking suitcases: The BBJ also accommodates big, oddly shaped baggage in its belly.

“The baggage argument for a BBJ really makes sense,” observes Gollan. “I mean, you wouldn’t take a Peloton with you for a trip of two weeks. But for two months? It’s the civilized thing to do.”

But with plane number N834BZ , it’s not just about transporting your stuff, is it? As of January 25th, it was still parked at Washington Dulles, where it flew after dropping off the Bidens at Joint Base Andrews. Here’s your chance, as Gollan put it, “to touch a bit of history.”

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