Thanks to the coronavirus, it’s getting hard to move around. Travel centers such as airports, train stations, and the subway are vectors for disease. Social distancing will help us prevent the spread of the pandemic, and traveling is a sure way to encounter lots of people. But people still need to move around the country. And, like everything else in America, that’s easier to do if you’re rich. Luxury Aircraft Solutions, a company that brokers travel between private airlines and flyers, is now advertising itself as an alternative to the major airlines.
Luxury Aircraft Solutions offers private chartered flights for those who can afford them. The cost of a private chartered flight from New York City to Los Angeles was, and remains, around $25,000 to $35,000. According to company representative Daniel Hirschhorn, there’s been an increase in demand.
“In the past 24 hours [demand] has really spiked,” Hirschhorn told Motherboard on the phone. “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.”
But it’s a mixed bag for the business. As demand has increased, so too have the cancellations.
“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.”
According to Hirschhorn, the people booking private flights are mostly concerned with protecting their family.
“It’s a lot of requests today for ‘I want to bring my kids home from school.’ It’s a lot of requests for ‘I have an eldery parent in New York and I have a house in a warmer location, I want to get them there ASAP,’” he said. “We’re getting a lot of people who are in a situation where they think they can travel to a better situation. We don’t know where it’s going to be good and where it’s going to be bad but that’s kind of what we’re being requested to provide aircraft for.”
People are still flying for business, but it’s slackened. “International travel is coming to a standstill,” Hirschhorn said. “That’s not to say that people aren’t going to the Dominican Republic, St. Barths, and island locations. We’re not getting any requests for Europe. With business travel it’s a lot of people who normally fly first class for business and they’re electing to go charter. We have people going from San Francisco to Austin, that kind of thing.” According to Hirschhorn, business travelers tend to have a lot of cash but don’t see the value in flying private. That’s changing.
“My main concern is crew,” Hirschhorn said. He imagined a scenario in the near future where the virus got bad enough to ground planes because there weren’t enough people to crew the flights. “That’s what we’re preparing for. We’re just trying to help anybody that needs to go anywhere right now.”
Hirschhorn said that prices have remained steady. “We’re not seeing any price gouging,” he said. “That’s not to say it might not start to happen soon. I just don’t know.”
In fact, if someone is taking an uncommon trip, something like Florida to Chicago, the pricing is competitive.
“A lot of the aircraft are going in one direction and then there’s a lot of empty legs coming in the other direction,” Hirschhorn said. “I don’t know if that’s going to change as availability tightens up or as crew members become unavailable and you have aircraft that are sitting.”
Hirschhorn is under no illusions that flying a private plane is safer than any other form of travel.
“To say that it’s definitely safer in any other way than anything else isn’t accurate,” said. “It’s more you’re limiting the number of people you’re exposed to. At this point, it’s just like going to the supermarket. There’s not enough testing out there and without being able to test anybody then everybody’s at the same risk.”
Like the rest of us, Hirschhorn is taking it a day at a time. His biggest worry is the economy.
“It’s not looking like there’s a quick road to recovery,” he said. “I think people are going to buckle down and cut unnecessary costs everywhere. Short term it’s really about finding aircraft for people that need them,” he said. “Long term it’s about regrouping and seeing if this industry can maintain through a really bad economy.”