As COVID-19 continues to keep the world clutched in lockdown — halting travel plans and decimating commercial airline operations — private jets and their crews are in a position to weather the turbulence in ways others cannot.
Consider how private aircraft can accommodate individualized safety and health measures, provide tailored services, and generally respond quicker yet more cautiously to day-by-day travel changes triggered by COVID-19.
However, does all this truly answer if it’s safer to fly private during pandemics?
In this guide, we’ll outline the current state of air travel during COVID-19, comparing the regulatory statutes, health parameters, and general peace of mind offered to travelers considering private flights — plus what passengers should and shouldn’t expect on a chartered jet during these uncertain times.
COVID-19’s Effect on the Airline Industry
To understand private jet travel’s unique position during global health crises, we must first consider COVID-19’s effects on the wider airline industry.
The one-two punch of border closings and commercial trip cancellations — both domestic and international — has sent carriers reeling. The effects of COVID-19 on today’s major airlines cannot be understated. According to recent airline industry data:
- The global airline industry stands to lose over $250 billion in revenue in 2020, calculated by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
- The ongoing U.S.-Europe travel ban, as well as worldwide restrictions to and from Asia-Pacific, have delivered particularly crippling blows. According to the IATA’s March industry survey statements, passenger revenue for European destinations has declined by $76 billion, surpassed only by the revenue lost among Asia-Pacific passenger flights, at $88 billion.
- The number of flights departing from U.S. airports has been halved, with 58% fewer scheduled flights compared to April 2019, as reported by the OAG Aviation Worldwide.
- Worldwide flight-reduction trends mirror — and in many cases outweigh — the United States for the same period. The United Kingdom and Germany have seen flight reductions decrease by 92.5% and 92%, respectively, while Australia has cut flights by 84.6%, Japan by 40.1%, the United Arab Emirates by 78.2%, South Korea by 60.4%, and Hong Kong by 94.2%.
- Data combined, industry watchdogs predict an $880-billion hit to the global airline industry and a 64% reduction in total scheduled flights globally between 2019 and 2020 — a figure pushing airline industry representatives to pitch government intervention for financial relief.
Coronavirus and Private Jet Travel Versus Commercial Travel
The private jet and traditional airline industries alike have been impacted significantly by COVID-19. However, the adaptability, attention-to-detail, and level of accommodation private aircraft provide in stressful times of travel is vastly different compared to the majority of its commercial cousins.
In many ways, COVID-19 reveals and reinforces these key differences in the operating nature of both modes of transportation.
Commercial Aircraft Flight Capacities and Schedules
Commercial airline operations faced an unprecedented situation when the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic in March 2020.
In an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, as well as respond to rapidly changing border closings and country-by-country travel restrictions, many carriers liaised 24/7 with governments and agencies worldwide to implement appropriate containment responses. Early efforts culminated in curbing flights to and from COVID-19 case hotspots but quickly escalated into limiting routes en masse.
These actions have been the responsible choice — and in some cases, a regulatory necessity. However, they’ve drastically altered the average passenger’s ability to travel via regular commercial airlines and have reduced standard air travel for the foreseeable future:
- Drastically cut flights: In the United States, major carriers, like American Airlines, United, Southwest, and Delta, began rolling back flight schedules beginning in early March. Due to the ongoing EU travel ban, these airlines have completely discontinued service to European nations, including now the United Kingdom. Internationally, the same flight rollback trend continues, with carriers like Japan Airlines, Air France KLM, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Lufthansa, IAG, and more discontinuing up to 90% of domestic and international routes indefinitely.