At its outset, 2020 looked to be a terrific year for travel. Business activity was soaring, the markets were in full swing, and private jet travel was booming.
Then, everything changed.
How we work, how we live, how we educate and how we travel were all upended by COVID-19. Travel restrictions and safety concerns pulled the entire industry down by as much as 70%.
But, through all the of all the uncertainty and questions, private jet travel became a bright spot for the travel industry and started to rebound quickly. It quickly outpaced commercial travel with reduced capacity and safety concerns with crowded planes and airports.
As of October, private aviation as a whole was only down a little more than 8.5% year over year. At flyExclusive, we experienced a rebound to almost 90% of the pre-COVID flight volume through October.
As the holiday travel season ramps up, private jet travel offers the safety, convenience and accessibility travelers crave at a value they can’t find anywhere else.
Why Fly Private Charter?
Choice. Convenience. Control. Safety. Security.
In a normal setting, these may sound like buzzwords, but they really are the difference maker when considering private jet travel – especially as the global pandemic persists.
Think about the advantages and control that come with the private charter experience, then how these are amplified during a pandemic:
- Choice – Private jets provide more options naturally as they serve over 5,000 airports domestically compared to only about 500 from commercial carriers. And with a variety of cabin sizes from Light, Midsize, Super-Midsize and Largen cabin aircraft, customers have the ability to evaluate their needs on a trip-by-trip basis.
- Convenience and Control – Private jets also depart when the passengers want and with a group of individuals they choose. They can travel with family, friends and associates they know and trust, mitigating exposure to outside conditions that may create an unsafe or uneasy experience.
- Safety & Security – Travelers can also take comfort in knowing that the aircraft is operated by a crew that they can greet ahead of the trip, and that the plane that has been thoroughly and properly sanitized. There is no better feeling than flying to your destination on your terms with a crew that has only one thing in mind – your comfort and safety.
A Range of Choices
There are several considerations to flying privately, including buying a plane. The convenience of either full or fractional ownership can be tantalizing, but it carries significant tradeoffs. There are management expenses, operational costs and upfront capital costs in the millions.
Now consider that there is a way for travelers to conveniently access private aircraft whenever and wherever they want, without the excessive costs of ownership.
This is where private jet travel comes in. Travelers have many options for accessing private jets, all of which come with their own considerations. Here are some recommendations for choosing to fly private:
- Choose the right type of operator: For many high-net-worth business or luxury travelers, the best option for flying private is a Part 135 operator. This means the FAA recognizes the operator as being licensed for commercial, non-scheduled aircraft operations. Part 135 operators are held to high standards, and only a select few (less than 5%) hold the highest safety standards including ARGUS Platinum and Wyvern Wingman status.
- Understand their fleet: Next, consider whether the operator owns and operates their own fleet. There can be beneficial cost savings derived from the relationship with the operator. Additionally, if the operator owns and maintains their own fleet and employ their own crews, they are intimately familiar with their planes, providing a greater level of service, safety and peace of mind.
- Consider the destination: Travelers need to consider their range of destinations. They have a need to fly domestic, international, or both. Not all private jet operators have international capabilities. And, even if they do, it does not necessarily mean they can travel anywhere in the world. Smaller jets can still reach Canada, Mexico or the Bahamas, but if passengers are looking to go farther into the Caribbean or even cross an ocean, then they’ll have to do so on larger equipment of Super-Mid or Heavy jets, which not every operator can provide.
Private jet membership options often provide the greatest value for high-end travelers, providing a premium experience without the overhead of ownership.
Jet cards and membership programs offered by charter operators fill a vital role for flyers expecting to take multiple trips per year. These programs usually require a pre-funded deposit, but they significantly reduce the costs of flight hours and provide guaranteed availability. This creates certainty, predictability, ease of use and fixed hourly rates. Just as not all charter operators are the same, not all memberships are the same.
It is to the traveler’s advantage to consider programs that balance low hourly rates with fleet capability and access to the fleet, while providing flexibility and choice of which program works best for the client. It might be that they fly between 10 and 30 hours per year, and there are cash-based programs that address that. There are also programs that provide additional flexibility and savings for the use of more than 30 hours. A tremendous advantage to cash-based programs is that travelers are not locking into a prescribed number of hours in a particular size aircraft – e.g., a 25-hour light jet card. Look for options that allow access to all cabin sizes and apply pre-paid funds on a trip-by-trip basis.
Finally, as part of the CARES Act, the federal government waived the 7.5% Federal Excise Tax. This means some select private jet operators are offering tax-free memberships until the end of 2020, with the tax break lasting during the life of the memberships or, in some cases, until funds in the membership are depleted. Simply put, the time has never been better to secure a membership in a private jet program.
As 2020 comes to a close, uncertainty seems to be the constant. But amid the uncertainty, private aviation – and private charter memberships – can provide both the financial and safety-related certainty travelers need to get back flying again.
The time to explore private charter has never been better, whether it means escaping for the holidays or just getting time away. Private jet travel offers a premium experience, convenient access and level of safety many now seek as a means of travel. As travelers continue to adjust to the long-term implications of the pandemic, expect private jet travel to provide a safe, reliable and valuable service.
Brad Blettner is Senior Vice President at flyExclusive. Brad leads the development of flyExclusive’s industry-first Jet Club Partnership Program. The Jet Club Partnership Program expands on the Company’s proven aircraft partnership programs and provides personalized service, convenience and fleet access for Jet Club Partners. Prior to joining flyExclusive, Brad’s experience includes serving as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Delta Private Jets and the Vice President of Business Development for the Cincinnati Reds Major League baseball team. Brad is a graduate of the University of Kentucky with degrees in Marketing and Management, and he earned a Master of Science in Sports Administration from St. Thomas University in Miami, FL.