Passengers are willing to pay well above standard rates (around USD $5,000 for an hour on a six to eight-passenger light jet) to evacuate areas and get around travel bans during the COVID-19 crisis
The private aviation industry might just be one of the few in the world to actually benefit from the madness of COVID-19. According to various media outlets including Business Insider, VICE and Slate, private aircraft businesses are booming, with demand from the super wealthy rocketing as a result of the commercial airline restrictions, border closures and Coronavirus fears now in place around the world.
Justin Crabbe, CEO of private jet charter company Jettly – which has headquarters in New York and Toronto and access to over 23000 private jets around the world – told Business Insider’s Melissa Wiley earlier this month that he has tripled the company’s flight support staff in response to surging demand. Thousands of requests came through “within hours” from elite travellers willing to pay thousands of dollars to arrange last-minute travel and emergency evacuations from countries affected by COVID-19, he told Wiley. “In short, we are booming…I’ve never seen so much activity in our evacuation flight department.”
“This time of year we typically see 2,000 to 3,000 flights requested each day, but we have doubled that for almost every news release of a major outbreak in the past weeks getting people out of the affected areas,” Crabbe said.
Crabbe added that Jettly customers, both individual and corporate, are willing to pay well above standard rates (which sit at around USD $5,000 for an hour on a six to eight-passenger light jet) to evacuate areas within 24-48 hours instead of waiting a few days. “We have seen dozens of bookings that are two to three times the regular rate for the flight due to the increased demand and the shortage of available aircraft and crews in the area,” Crabbe said. “Many aircrafts are having to fly in to pick up customers and evacuate them. All of that additional flight time comes with additional cost.”
The 24-hour Coronavirus news cycle has fuelled the demand, Crabbe said, with media reports of travel bans, city quarantines, evacuations, and new cases “driv[ing] the public to become extremely fearful and prefer to stay away from commercial airport terminals and commercial aircraft cabins due to the increased levels of exposure,” he said.
Even now, with various countries’ travel bans in place, private jets can bypass these bans thanks to loopholes: private jet passengers aren’t subject to commercial security and health screenings because they fly out of smaller terminals, he told Wiley.
London-based Private Fly is another private jet company seeing a spike in business. CEO Adam Twiddel told Wiley that his company had seen an increase in requests for short-notice charters, ranging from the transport of medical teams to new clients wishing to avoid virus exposure that a commercial flight might bring.
“Recent inquiries have included transport of a decontamination team within Asia, and flights from Hong Kong for a family travelling to Bali. They normally fly by commercial airline but on this occasion, are concerned about exposure on the flight,” Twidell told Business Insider.
On 11th March CNN Travel reported that Swiss private jet broker Luna Jets had also seen an “impressive increase” in bookings and enquiries from passengers in recent weeks, correlating with heightened concerns surrounding COVID-19. “In February, about 15% of overall requests were related to coronavirus,” Alain Leboursier, director of sales told CNN. “That’s now doubled to 30%.”
For Southern Jet, a private jet charter company in the United States, requests and demands had increased tenfold from late February. “The demand is basically coming to us. We might get five, 10 requests a day. And the request lines are just crazy right now. We’re booking out to where we don’t have any airplanes available,” owner Jerod Davis told Slate.
“We’re seeing people that never flew private before flying private.”
Daniel Hirschhorn, from USA-based Luxury Aircraft Solutions, which brokers travel between private airlines and flyers, echoed Davis’ comments in an article published by VICE on 16th March: “In the past 24 hours [demand] has really spiked. A lot of people that don’t normally fly private but have the means to do it, and would generally hop on a commercial flight, are very apprehensive to do that. So we’re getting flooded with requests,” he said.
However Hirschhorn also said that cancellations had also spiked for the company: “For people that booked non-essential trips with family, or took elective work trips, pretty much everything we had on the books has cancelled,” Hirschhorn said. “We’re negotiating on their behalf to get as much money back as possible. So we have both ends of this. It’s good for business and it’s bad for business.”
Crabbe agreed: “Even now, while we’re seeing short-term additional demand, other clients are changing or cancelling their travel plans,” he told Business Insider.