What’s the difference between a scheduled and a charter flight?

Travel
Published
21.3.2018 - 09:00
departure
According to the stereotype, scheduled flights host are full of hectic business people, while charters mostly fly easy-going holiday travellers. But how do the two types of flying actually differ from each other?

There are many stereotypes connected to charter and scheduled flights. Many believe that scheduled flights transport on-the-go business travellers, frequent flyers who are in their element on an airplane. Stereotypical charters are, on the other hand, seen as a means to transport big families going on holiday – those who are not in a terrible hurry to board the plane and who take a bit longer to get to their seats. 

As air travel has become more common, these clichés are now mostly history. 

Difference in commercial risks 

A scheduled flight means that tickets to this flight are sold via various sales channels around the world. Scheduled flights may have connection flights. Charter flights, on the other hand, are bought from the airline by a tour operator. These are so-called package vacations, although nowadays one can also just as easily book a seat on a charter flight. 

“The underlying issue here involves whose commercial risk a given flight is. A scheduled flight is an operating airline’s commercial risk, while a charter flight is its tour operator’s a commercial risk,” says Mikko Komi, Key Account and Business Development Manager at Finavia. 

Airlines may have different rules regarding luggage quotas and a range of paid services. Holiday flight organisers, meanwhile, often prefer to determine on-board sales. 

Keihäsmatkat – a Finnish package holiday legend  

Scheduled flights have existed since the dawn of aviation. Finnair, for example, has flown them since it was founded back in 1923 under the name Aero Ltd. The first Aero-operated charter flights from Finland to Nice, France, took place in 1949.  

The Karhumäki brothers, or Kar-Air, did a few charter flights to Algeria in 1951 and 1952. Finlantic Ltd. was founded in 1961, and the company’s planes, during its one-and-a-half years of existence, visited all continents except Australia and Antarctica. In the same year, Kar-Air opened the longest flight route in Europe at the time – the “Sun line” between Helsinki and Malaga. 

– It is not a surprise that Malaga is still attracting people – though nowadays through scheduled flights, notes Komi. 

Leisure flights became common in Finland during the 1960s, thanks to Kalevi Keihänen’s (1924-1995) Keihäsmatkat, a pioneer operator of Finnish tourism. 

– Back in those days Keihänen's "Kihniö moonshine" was served on the plane, as Finns headed to southern Europe for holidays. In the golden age of Keihäsmatkat tour operator, traveling abroad was not yet that common, and leisure flights were quite colourful, says Komi. 

After the first raving years, the atmosphere on leisure flights calmed down. Nowadays one would not notice much difference between holiday travellers and scheduled-flight passengers.  

– Especially the younger generation prefers to build its own “holiday packages”, by choosing the flights, hotels and activities they prefer. An increase in scheduled air traffic, and the possibilities of online buying and information retrieval through the Internet, have supported this trend, comments Komi. 

Package holidays are again in demand 

Last year Helsinki-Vantaa charter flights carried approximately 783 000 travellers, which is 7.7 per cent more than the year before. 

– People have probably noticed that constructing their own “package trip” means that there is no one responsible for the trip, in a way that a tour operator sees over holiday packages. Websites selling flights do not have as easily accessible customer support, as do traditional tour operators, says Komi. 

So though the internet and search engines have shaped the travel market, charter flights are still in demand.  

– Regardless of all the changes, tour operators are doing an excellent job. Holiday charter flights still hold an important role, because they are so easy to go on, Komi says.  

Sources: Association of Finnish Travel Agents AFTA and Finnish Aviation Museum publications nr. 2