One of the byproducts of the Covid-19 era has been a sharp rise in interest in private air travel. Nearly a half-dozen charter companies report that inquiries during the summer months have risen by 75 percent over the previous year, with bookings up about 25 percent. This was mostly due to first-time fliers engaged in personal travel.
Several private-aviation and high-end travel companies have put together anti-Covid-19 vacation packages that maximize safety through exclusivity. “With check-in, security, and access to bathrooms and food, there are about 700 touchpoints that travelers can be exposed to when traveling commercially,” says Ian Moore, chief commercial officer of VistaJet, citing a recent report by McKinsey & Company. “Meanwhile, private aviation offers a seamless and effective private terminal process with only 20 touchpoints.”
The benefits of such packages extend beyond the airport. “We have a team looking at every trip through the lens of our health and safety matrix to incorporate evolving best practices and recommendations,” Shelley Cline, president of TCS World Travel, tells Robb Report. “We are looking at hygiene practices with our local staff and partners to ensure that the experience is consistent all the way through. Our partner physicians are available for pre-trip consultation, and we are working with our jet, hotel and activity partners to ensure that they have developed their own high level of hygiene standards.”
Business jets are being promoted as the vehicles of a “vacation bubble” to reach private resorts or islands.
Sixty two percent of TCS clients said they prefer domestic travel in the short term, so its 11 itineraries focus on U.S. excursions, with some trips to Canada and the Caribbean. “We also offer private experiences along the way, to avoid crowds and have a unique experience with just your travel companions,” says Cline. Early favorites include a sheltered National Parks tour and Hawaiian escape. Prices range from $29,000 to $63,900 per person.
A number of domestic resorts and small islands are now offering vacationers the option to rent the entire premises privately to avoid potential Covid-19 contact. OneFineStay, which finds exclusive accommodations for clients, says that its top destination is now Los Angeles, compared to last year when it was Paris or Milan. It is offering services like a private chef and nanny for travelers with a list of safety protocols.
VistaJet, which owns its own fleet of jets and offers pay-by-the hour flights and membership subscriptions, has a similar suite of safety protocols. The company also tries to ensure that one crew member handles each trip to limit guests’ exposure to people outside of their groups.
Domestic packages, including private tours of American national parks, are being chosen by U.S. travelers over the typical summer destinations in Europe.
VistaJet’s seven itineraries, part of the company’s Safe Havens program, are globe-spanning trips that focus on private destinations as a way to limit exposure. The company says that its trips to Velaa Private Island in the Maldives and Pittormie Castle in Scotland have drawn much interest. It is also working with domestic partners like Blue Marble Private to ferry its guests to a highly secretive private cowboy estate that costs up to $180,000 per night for a three-night minimum stay.
A third company, the U.K. based Air Charter Services, hasn’t put together actual packages, but it is promoting a series of destinations that can only be accessed by private jet, which limits its clients’ potential exposure. Two trips that would entice private travelers are Calivigny, an 80-acre private island in Grenada, and Neckar Island, Richard Branson’s private-island retreat in the BVI.
Cline says that while Covid-19 may have dampened commercial air travel, it has increased demand for companies that deal in exclusive travel. “Our guest inquiries for custom travel have increased tenfold between May and July,” she says. “Guests are itching to travel but want to do so safely.”