After testing positive for COVID-19 in Jamaica, a couple paid $35,000 for a private jet home — and they're not the only Americans doing it

·7 min read
Beth Ring and her husband took an air ambulance home to Chicago after testing positive for COVID on their vacation to Jamaica.
Beth Ring and her husband took an air ambulance home to Chicago after testing positive for COVID-19 on their vacation to Jamaica.Beth Ring
  • On a Christmas vacation in Jamaica, Beth Ring and her husband tested positive for COVID-19.

  • After spending two days in a state-run quarantine hotel, the couple chartered a $35,000 flight home.

  • Ring told Insider she wished she had a better quarantine plan or purchased travel insurance.

On Christmas morning, Beth Ring was relaxing in a villa in Jamaica.

Beth, 53, her husband, Dan, 54, their five children, and their son's girlfriend were wrapping up an eight-day vacation at the Mais Oui Villa, a luxury accommodation they said cost about $2,250 a night.

Beth Ring told Insider they took a number of precautions: Most had gotten their booster shots, they ate outdoors, chartered private boats to avoid strangers, masked up in public, and prioritized activities outside.

But as the trip came to a close, Ring said she noticed a dry throat and cough. The day before she was set to fly home to Chicago, Ring said she and her family took rapid at-home antigen COVID-19 tests.

A negative test was required to board their return flight, but Ring and her husband tested positive.

The couple ended up spending two and a half days in a government-run quarantine hotel before choosing to leave the mandated quarantine and pay $35,000 for a private air ambulance — a luxury service that is becoming increasingly popular among those who can afford it — to get home.

Dan and Beth Ring say they had limited options for where to quarantine after testing positive

The Mais Oui Villa, where the Rings vacationed for eight days.
The Mais Oui Villa, where the Rings vacationed for eight days.Beth Ring

At the time of their trip, Jamaica's Health Ministry required travelers who tested positive to quarantine for 10 days (the current policy has since been shortened to five days for US travelers as long as they're asymptomatic). As part of the original policy, travelers who tested positive would then have two options — find accommodations at their own expense or go to a free government-run quarantine hotel.

Beth and Dan Ring said they had limited options. Mais Oui is rented to one group at a time, and new guests were set to arrive, so quarantining there wasn't possible. Darrell Looney, an owner of the villa, told Insider there were reciprocal arrangements in place to accept COVID-19-positive guests with other villas and properties but at the time of the Rings' travel, those locations were booked because of an influx of holiday vacationers. According to the Jamaica Observer, Jamaica in December experienced a surge in tourists, with numbers comparable to pre-COVID-19 times.

Because of the influx of tourists, they also had trouble finding another hotel with an open room. "Our hosts were making calls, trying to find us another villa where we could stay, but everything was booked," Beth Ring said.

They were able to book a room at the El Greco Resort, a free government-run quarantine hotel. Ring said she knew El Greco wouldn't be like the Mais Oui, which had a private chef, butler, and luxury environs. But she said spotty WiFi, a lack of hot water, and concerns about the hotel's COVID-19 protocols cemented her and her husband's decision to charter the private flight home.

Representatives for Jamaica's Ministry of Health did not respond to Insider's requests for comment about the accommodations.

The couple started filling out paperwork for Air Ambulance Worldwide on December 26, shortly after checking in to the quarantine hotel, and wired the service $35,000.

Private jets and air ambulances have become popular in the pandemic for those who can afford them

A private jet awaits passengers, while on a taxiway at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey
A private jet at New Jersey's Teterboro Airport.Jonathan Collins/Shutterstock

For a fee, a private air-ambulance service could take the Rings back to the US, and in the event that they got sicker, they'd be back home for medical care.

They're hardly alone in seeking out this type of travel. Since March 2020, there's been a surge in demand for the private air industry, whether for medical flights or leisure. Private-jet travel removes the need to enter crowded airports or airplanes, making it an attractive option for those who can afford it.

Wired reported the pandemic had created a "middle-class private-jet boom," and Bloomberg said departures this year from New Jersey's Teterboro Airport, a popular private-jet terminal, were up 61% from a year earlier and that private-jet travel was up 19% in Europe and Asia in October from the same time period two years prior.

And like the Rings' flight, these planes are not cheap. CNBC reported that a private flight for a family of four from New York City to Washington, DC, could easily cost between $10,000 and $50,000, while individual flights could range from $1,200 to $36,000, depending on the company, route, and amenities.

Beth Ring said she reached out to a few emergency-air-evacuation companies for price estimates. Air Ambulance Worldwide quoted them between $30,000 and $35,000 for a flight, while another company quoted them twice that amount.

Representatives for Air Ambulance Worldwide did not respond to Insider's request for comment. But Ross Thompson, the CEO of Covac Global, a membership-based medical-evacuation and repatriation company, told Insider his company completed over 60 air evacuations between Christmas and January 6. Typically, Covac does two or three evacuations a month, he said.

The Rings said their private flight experience was not the height of luxury

The plane that flew the Rings from Jamaica to Chicago, Illinois.
The plane that flew the Rings from Jamaica to Chicago.Beth Ring

While some private planes exude opulence, medical charters are quite different.

Beth and Dan Ring said Air Ambulance Worldwide was able to find them a plane that could depart on December 29 if they had a letter of approval from Jamaica's medical director, the only way to end quarantine early. They submitted the request and waited, Beth Ring told Insider, and after 20 minutes, a letter arrived saying they did not comply with the ordered quarantine but were fit to fly, as medical air evacuation was a permitted practice.

They boarded the plane, and it landed in Chicago that evening.

While a private plane typically conjures images of luxury, Ring said the flight wasn't a typical chartered flight since it was an air ambulance. Two medical professionals were on board with the couple, the Rings wore masks the entire time, and there was no bathroom.

Ring said they were fortunate to have the means to charter a flight. She added that if they had been able to quarantine at the Mais Oui, they might have considered staying but going home as soon as possible was their goal.

Beth said she would travel again with a better quarantine plan — and travel insurance

Ring said she thought booking a private villa would be the safest way to vacation since it seemed more isolated than a resort with Mais Oui's 11,000 square feet of living space, fully vaccinated staff, hands-free check-in, and meals served outdoors.

"We cannot guarantee that our guests won't get COVID-19; however, we go above and beyond most villas to provide an environment with protocols to reduce the odds as much as possible in our villa," Looney told Insider.

But for future vacations, Ring said she was more likely to consider a resort — many of which have quarantine floors for guests who test positive — to avoid another state-run quarantine.

She also said she wished she did more research on COVID-19 travel insurance. Covac Global, for instance, costs between $750 to $1,000, depending on the location and length of a trip, and covers the cost of a private flight if needed.

"We were lucky enough to buy ourselves out of trouble," Ring said, adding that she wondered what would've happened if a room at El Greco hadn't opened up and if she wasn't in the position to afford a chartered flight.

"There were so many ways it could've been worse," she said. "We felt OK, our kids got to go home, and we weren't sick."

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