Kathy Leroy, VIP Charter Manager at Chapman Freeborn, looks at how the coronavirus
pandemic is changing the landscape of private jet charter
Responding swiftly to different demands from clients during the pandemic has been an important part of the private jet charter sector’s journey over the last six months – and there’s no doubt the industry is evolving. At a time when COVID-19 is at the forefront of every passenger’s mind, focus has shifted from the luxury benefits of private jet travel to the increased safety and hygiene offered when you charter your own aircraft.
It doesn’t mean that clients don’t expect luxury, of course, but it does mean they value hygiene and social distancing above all else in a world where the pandemic has an impact on all our decisions – including how we travel. In addition, the new ‘normal’ has created an increased pool of potential clients who are chartering private jets, even though they may not have considered doing so before.
This creates a new challenge for the sector as it embraces new clients, perhaps with an alternative perspective and different needs. Here are five key ways the pandemic is reshaping the private jet charter industry:
A greater focus on safety over luxury
Travelling by private jet will always be seen as glamorous, and private jet charter specialists pride themselves on the kind of customer service that will delight even the most demanding pop icon, millionaire, movie star, footballer or business tycoon. However, what has been noticeable during the pandemic is that clients have become less concerned with the extra frills and luxuries, and more interested in additional hygiene measures to protect them from the virus.
Travelling by private jet, of course, comes with built-in social distancing. Clients often avoid crowds by flying from airports with private executive facilities, wait in a private lounge and take a private transfer to their plane. Once on board they have the aircraft to themselves.
When it comes to extras, the focus is now on personalising hygiene measures – for instance asking for cabin crew to be tested before take-off and to wear face masks or visors. Some clients have even asked for no cabin crew at all, which is feasible on some aircraft.
Perhaps the biggest attraction for private jet travel right now is that it avoids the virus hot spots of a crowded airport and a potentially full scheduled flight cabin. Excellent and personalised customer service only amplifies that attraction.
More enquiries for first-time charters
There has been a noticeable increase in enquiries from people considering private jet travel for the first time, primarily high-net-worth individuals looking for an alternative to a planned holiday trip or wanting a new way to reach their second home abroad. They have discovered that switching from a long-haul scheduled flight in first class to taking a private jet to the Mediterranean can be cost effective and, given the nervousness over social distancing, more relaxed.
This is inevitably becoming more and more difficult as so many European countries introduce and modify travel restrictions or quarantine regulations. We are also reaching a time of year when Mediterranean destinations are in off-season. However, there is strong demand from people with second homes, for whom quarantine is not such a big issue when they expect to stay for several months.
More CEOs taking private jets
New flyers are not restricted to holiday makers. CEOs and high-level businesspeople have also been using private jets for the first time – for private meetings that have to be conducted face-to-face or to visit offices abroad. This demand has also been influenced by a fear of rapidly changing quarantine rules. Executives don’t want to risk being stuck away from home or having to frantically search for a last-minute scheduled flight if the destination they are travelling to is suddenly removed from the travel corridor.
More internal flights
Internal flights have always been part of the private jet charter environment, but there’s no doubt there has been increased demand in some countries and especially in the US. Clients there are taking private jets for holidays within the country, for travel to second homes and for business purposes. Regularly commuting to work on a private jet is no longer unusual.
But the trend not confined to the US. Internal flights are increasingly popular in many countries, including South Africa, where wealthy individuals want to reach their safari lodges.
Even in smaller countries, including the UK, private jets can be a convenient and cost-effective way to reach destinations quickly, especially in areas where train travel is not an option.
Increase in private jet travel for expats
The pandemic has seen many expats feel they want to return ‘home’, whether they were abroad for work or leisure. One example is long haul flights from the US and Caribbean back to Europe. Some expats have returned temporarily, others permanently, and although these passengers would normally have chosen a commercial airline, they wanted the extra safety of a private jet and its potential for greater social distancing.
It is clear there is a new cohort of private jet travellers emerging. Not all new enquiries are translating into sales, since private jet travel is not for everyone and the cost remains prohibitive for some. But taking into consideration the potential financial and time-saving benefits of flying direct, the convenience of private jet travel and, crucially, the in-built social distancing of chartering your own plane, many new customers are finding it makes sense.