As President Trump considers travel bans to countries with high rates of coronavirus infections, Americans are left with the difficult decision of staying close to home for spring break and summer vacation or flying abroad. Airlines including American, JetBlue, Delta, and Alaska Airlines eased concerns about booking flights over the next couple of months by waiving change or cancellation fees.
Kenny Dichter, CEO of Wheels Up, a private aviation company, says he’s seen demand for private aviation go up amid the coronavirus outbreak. “Wheels Up’s individual demand, corporate demand, and interest in our program has gone up since the start of reporting on Corona,” he said.
Wheels Up attributes the uptick in demand to the appeal of traveling in a more controlled environment. “We have flexibility, in that you can leave when you want, with who you want,” he said. Business executives from the same company traveling together can feel secure in their knowledge that no one on their jet has traveled to a certain part of the world facing a severe coronavirus outbreak, said Dichter.
Of course, most people can’t afford to take a private plane. The cost of Wheels Up flights varies depending on the aircraft type and flight duration. For instance, the cost of seven or eight business executives traveling from New York to Washington, D.C., would range from $400 to $500 per seat, Dichter says. For bigger airplanes, the cost could rise to $9,000 to 12,000 per hour. Dichter says Wheels Up’s addressable market is several million people, primarily businesses earning $10 million to $20 million a year.
Other private jet companies have (at least anecdotally) noticed an increase in demand from travelers who want to take extra precaution. The CEO of jet charter provider PrivateFly told Bloomberg recently that there has “been a rise in demand for short-notice, on-demand charter.”
The outbreak means that spring break plans will most likely stay domestic. “You’re going to see more of a focus on domestic versus people going to locations where there’s an advisory, so I think you’ll see a shift in where people are going,” he said.
Dichter does not expect that the coronavirus will impact travel over the long term. “I think travel is unbelievably resilient. I think this is a very small bump in the road,” he said.
At Wheels Up, Dichter says the company is being cautious. “We’re being very careful. We’re using state of the art disinfectant to wipe down our planes,” he said. Dichter explains that certain Wheels Up pilots also fly commercial.
“Our pilots who use the commercial system, we’re making sure that [they’re] not traveling to zones that would cause us to not have them fly the Wheels Up airplanes,” he says.
[See also: Coronovirus and travel: What you need to know]
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