While COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on most of the travel industry, business is healthy in the private jet world. In the middle of a relentless global pandemic, the appeal of a private airplane — free of hundreds of fellow travellers and touchpoints — is understandable for those who decide to travel.
Global aircraft charter broker Air Charter Service (ACS) reported a 49 percent increase in leisure inquiries and a 14 percent increase in bookings in 2020.
There was a time in the not-too-distant past when private jets were reserved for the elite: top politicians, celebrities, and the super wealthy – and their well-connected friends. For some people, the concept of private jets conjures up over-the-top images of lavish leather couches, luxurious master bedrooms, caviar-filled dining tables, and endless bottles of Dom Pérignon, all within the clouds.
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This notion is changing, however, as the private jet industry opens up to the well-to-do demographic of travellers, as opposed to the “one percent” exclusively (though that traditional jet-setting scene is still very much alive and well, naturally).
Toronto start-up Momentum Jets, for example, is making private jet travel a little (key words) more attainable for Canadians with extra dollars to drop, catering to both seasoned private jet travellers and newbies alike. Rather than chartering an entire aircraft – something that can set you back anywhere from $10,000 (for shorter trips on small planes) to hundreds of thousands – Momentum Jets allows customers to purchase individual seats on chartered planes.
Seats can range from $600 for a round trip Toronto-Montreal flight, to up to $5000 for private air travel to a Caribbean island. So, it still doesn’t necessarily come cheap, but it’s attainable – especially for those with extra disposable income due to pandemic restrictions.
Of course, Momentum Jet clients are also free to charter entire planes, should they so desire, with private charters typically costing anywhere from $25,000 up to $80,000 per trip.
“We have seen a steady increase in the demand for private jet travel since the onset of COVID-19,” says Janelle Brind, Vice President of Momentum Jets. “Flying privately protects our clients from crowds of people and multiple touch points at international airports. Alongside this growing trend, we have also been facilitating a large volume of shared charters to help our clients offset their costs. Until we achieve global inoculation, we believe that this demand will continue indefinitely.”
A growing number of new North American companies are also offering private jet flights by-the-seat on empty legs. Essentially, these are often thought of as the “Uber of private planes.” Though the on-demand aviation world was growing in international prevalence in the years before COVID-19 – a pioneer in on-demand private aircraft, Jettly, launched in Toronto in 2016 to match travellers with private aircrafts – the pandemic definitely offered an industry-wide boost.
While many of these jets may be more functional than fancy compared to the variety graced by the world’s billionaires, they’re still private planes. The common denominator is that the general public is removed from the equation.
A 2020 study revealed that there are over 700 potential points of contact for COVID-19 transition on commercial airlines, compared to just 20 when flying privately. Most of the difference occurs at busy international airports. The sense of security offered by private jet travel is a reassuring one when such stats are considered.
Not to mention, the pandemic has resulted in countless commercial flight cancellations throughout the world, leading travellers to turn to private alternatives.
With Canada’s recent termination of flights to the Caribbean and Mexico until the end of April, a private plane may be the only option for sun and palm tree-seeking Canadian residents, should they feel so bold – and if they can withstand a mandatory stay in a quarantine hotel upon arrival home. (And no, I’m not recommending any of it).
According to ACS predictions, private jet booking volumes will rise back up to 2019 levels in 2021. While private business travel took a notable hit – and is expected to reach 85 percent of its 2019 levels in 2021 – ACS foresees a significant increase in leisure travel bookings to compensate for this.
Tellingly, luxury hotels around the world have even started teaming up with private jet companies to offer alluring packages for travel seekers. South of the border, for example, The Ritz-Carlton South Beach has partnered with evoJets to offer the “Let’s Jet Away Package.” The package offers round-trip flights to and from Miami on a 12-guest jet and accommodations at the oceanfront resort.
Pandemic or not, it looks like private aviation will continue to be a lucrative and fast-growing sector for travellers – especially for those looking to make up for lost travel time with a worthwhile splurge.