How COVID-19 Affects Private Travel

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.
  • Changing airline policies: Airline companies continue to deploy health and safety best practices following health experts’ recommendations. Health-related policy changes have included removing high-touch objects such as in-flight magazines and food menus, requiring passengers to wear masks, adding hand sanitizer stations in terminals, and increasing the frequency and rigorousness of plane disinfecting.
  • Ongoing scheduling alterations: With governments encouraging its populations to suspend all “non-essential” travel, many airlines have announced they will continue to cut flights, even past the summer season, possibly extending through 2020’s fourth quarter.
  • Employee layoffs, airliner bankruptcy: Without government intervention, airline industry representatives forecast between 60% and 70% of airline employees will lose their jobs due to the economic impact of COVID-19. That translates into roughly two million unemployed Americans currently working for major airlines and airports.

Private and Business Flight Travel and Schedules

In contrast, the charter jet industry saw a near-immediate surge in bookings at the onset of WHO’s pandemic announcement in March. The private and business flight industry has seen trends like:

  • Early increases in long-distance travel bookings: In the week following the World Health Organization’s official declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic, demand for private jets increased by over 100%, compared to the same period from the previous year.
  • Sustained uptick in intercontinental demand departing European hotspots: The U.S.’ European travel ban alone is responsible for over 500 canceled cross-Atlantic flights in April 2020. Booking a private jet offers an immediate solution for travelers looking to return to their U.S. home and quickly leave emerging European hotspots — sometimes arranging outbound flights in as little as a few hours.
  • Dip down to regular demand: February and March 2020 data revealed higher bookings for private jets, particularly in regions with surging COVID-19 cases, such as China, in late February. These booking upticks, on average, tend to last between two to four weeks before stabilizing to comparable booking levels from the same time period in 2019.
  • Some geographic discrepancy: The demand for private aircraft remains up by 46% in the Middle East, according to the latest industry reports. Conversely, private jet trips from areas like Italy are down over a quarter — about 33% — from last year’s rates, due primarily to the country’s strict and unilateral lockdown.

Health Advantages of Flying Private

There are several health advantages to flying in a private aircraft over a crowded commercial vehicle, particularly during these times. The most considerable advantages include:

1. Fewer Human Touch Points

The average commercial airline passenger will experience nearly 700 exposure-prone touch points during their journey on a traditional airplane. Those risk-prone touchpoints include handrails, elevator buttons, escalators, ticketing kiosks, terminal and plane seating, shared plane armrests, and restroom doors, to name a handful. The figure also accounts for the much higher risk for interpersonal exposure to germs and viruses within enclosed, tightly packed aircraft.

Flying via a private aircraft minimizes these human touchpoints. Private jets carry far fewer passengers and airline attendants, protecting their health as well. What’s more, the end-to-end travel procedure when flying on a chartered aircraft creates ideal sanitary conditions, from a private boarding process in a separate terminal — or better yet, planeside valet parking — to touch point-minimized disembarking and baggage collection.

2. Lower Overall Infection Exposure

Industry analyses reveal that flying on a private aircraft reduces coronavirus exposure — and other exposure to viruses and germs — by up to 30 times compared to flying on regular commercial aircraft.

This calculation accounts for reduced person-to-person interactions, as well as the fact that private flights operate out of dedicated aviation terminals, not mass transit centers or hive-like terminals. This privacy affords greater distance from germs when traveling, providing immune-system protection as well as peace of mind during these stressful times.

3. A Clean, Dedicated Aircraft

Private jets and aircraft see far lower usage rates than commercial vehicles. On average, a privately booked jet will fly between 20 and 80 hours per month. Alternatively, average commercial aircraft experience upwards of 200 to 250 travel hours per month, sometimes more. 

Lower aircraft-usage rates are a critical way to minimize aircraft contamination and passenger exposure. This fact alone makes private aircraft a safer bet for traveling during health crises.

Plus, many aircraft brokers, owners, and operators are opting for medical-grade jet cleaning products to use across an already rigorous, industry-leading aircraft cleaning system. Private aircraft are thoroughly cleaned after each booking. Some operators may even disclose the exact cleaning products, disinfectants, and sanitizers used aboard aircraft when prompted by clients. 

4. Personalized Service

Private aircraft and their crew members can accommodate individualized health situations in ways commercial airlines simply can’t. Passengers can submit travel requests, including necessary medical accommodations, during their booking, knowing attendants will be briefed and prepared the moment they step into the jet.

Travelers can expect more personalized care and attention across any of the following health circumstances:

  • Passengers with oxygen tanks, respiratory devices, or any other breathing aids.
  • Passengers requiring necessary medical equipment on-board with them at all times.
  • Immune-compromised individuals with pre-existing conditions.
  • Older passengers as well as other most-at-risk populations.

By offering more tailored amenities, services, and greater safety precautions, private flights curate a safer environment for anyone worried about the health and safety of their families, colleagues, business associates, and more.

5. “Lifeline” Routes

Chartered jets may still be able to travel to and from countries in lockdown — even when commercial airlines cannot.

To do so, carriers submit flight plans to relevant airport authorities, as well as a detailed safety and travel needs assessment. Airport authorities often work in tangent with appointed health experts and government agencies to review the flight plan before approving it with a list of requirements. The crew members are given a full briefing on the route, including its safety requirements, passenger needs, and levels of risk entering a particular hotspot. Crew members are typically also given a “no overnight” mandate, remaining inside the jet while the vehicle is grounded.

During emergencies, these “lifeline” routes — as they’re often called in the industry — may be the only form of emergency transportation in or out of a lockdown zone. Today, the private aviation industry services significantly more of these lifeline airport routes compared to those accessible by major carriers. These lifeline routes are also responsible for vital activities, like transporting first responders, medical equipment, and critical resources into emergency zones, as well as doubling as air ambulances in remote areas.

Conversely, the availability, flexibility, and responsiveness of chartered jets mean passengers can plan routes to avoid hotspots altogether and bypass layovers in concerning airports or regions as travel rules change by the day, if not the hour.

How Private Flights Are Combating Coronavirus

Chartered aircraft and their crew members take extreme precautions to keep passengers safe and comfortable. In many ways, flying via a private jet provides inherent health advantages over traditional flights, with private jet operators in a prime position to combat the traveler-based spread of COVID-19. Here are some of the ways private flights are combating the spread of COVID-19:

1. Outstanding Aircraft Sanitation

In addition to maintaining rigorous cleaning schedules after each chartered usage, private jets and carriers are following the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) sanitation guidelines surrounding COVID-19.

This aircraft sanitation best-practices include but aren’t limited to:

  • Medical-grade disinfectants applied to high-touch aircraft areas (armrests, door handles, etc.) and all surfaces.
  • Electrostatic spray equipment and cleaning methods.
  • Contactless waste disposal.
  • Single-use deployments of blankets, pillows, catering equipment, and other in-flight amenities.
  • Additional sanitation strategies, within and exceeding CDC recommendations.

Plus, crew members assigned to private jets are not under the same time constraints as commercial aircraft crew. This translates to slower, more methodical jet cleanings without the pressure to rush and maintain a busy back-to-back aircraft cleaning schedule.

2. Expert Crew Members

Chartered flight crews are considered some of the best in the field, often with years of experience working for traditional airlines as well as corporate or business charters. This resume assures the utmost professionalism, knowledge, and industry acumen.

In times like these, extra steps are taken to ensure crew health and safety. A healthy, happy crew is a critical line of defense in safe air travel. All jet crew members are briefed on the latest protocols and safety parameters prior to departure, understanding route risks. They are prepared to operate the safest, swiftest transportation to bring you home safe.

In addition to onboard staff, chartered aircraft are serviced from smaller, dedicated air terminals with its own fixed-base operator (FBO) crews, fuelers, cleaners, and trusted third-party partner vendors, minimizing exposure touch points and further bolstering private jet travel’s level of expertise.

3. Unparalleled Aircraft Options

Flying with traditional airliners subjects you to whatever aircraft that company currently operates. You have virtually no say in the matter — unless you strategically travel with companies flying only specific aircraft models, and only for specific routes.

Chartered jets allow the option to select the exact size and type of aircraft you desire. You call the shots, booking the size and subsequent model fitting your number of passengers, amenities, route length, and more.

  • Light: Light chartered jets are ideal for short trips lasting up to four hours, or up to 2,000 miles. Light jets comfortably seat five to seven passengers and contain amenities like a private lavatory, plush cushioned seats far larger than commercial seating, electronic plug-ins, and a refreshment station.
  • Midsize: Midsize chartered aircraft service transcontinental trips with up to ten passengers. Ideal midsize routes range between 2,000 and 3,000 miles and contain a more spacious cabin, perfect to set up as an in-flight office to accomplish business comfortably while you travel.
  • Super-midsize: Super-midsize jets are designed for private intercontinental travel. Seating up to ten passengers, guests on super-midsize aircraft enjoy a larger refreshment station, cabin work areas, and entertainment stations, optional lie-in sleeping furniture as well as in-flight baggage access.
  • Heavy/large: Heavy or large private charters service long intercontinental trips as well as large passenger parties with up to 20 guests. With route ranges up to 7,5000 miles, a heavy/large private jet is your ticket around the world in style — literally. The size of this aircraft allows for a multi-room cabin, allowing you to separate it into dedicated conference rooms and workstations as well as a full-service cabin for relaxing and entertainment. Heavy/large private jets also tend to come serviced by a flight attendant as well as a full refreshment center, meal service, and optional drink/bar station.

4. Continual Situation Analysis and Adaptation

Private aircraft brokers and operators are in a unique position to monitor and respond — almost immediately — to COVID-19-caused travel changes.

The private charter industry is capable of in-the-moment adaptations and action, unlike massive airline companies that are operating under layers of organizational hierarchy and contingent on airport restrictions, border closures, top-down corporate scheduling, hordes of customer requests, and other red tape and restrictions. Larger commercial airliners simply cannot provide the same immediate and individualized response to emergencies and customer requests, both in the moment and pre- and post-flight.

Charter aircraft still must abide by Federal Aviation Administration regulations, including submitting flight plans and coordinating with air traffic control. However, many operators can receive a booking, then submit and execute a client’s travel plan in less than two hours, depending on the route. Plus, private carriers maintain connections with dedicated airports, private terminals, and their servicing FBOs, creating a tight-knit network capable of smoothly coordinating turn-key solutions for passengers, even in the most stressful circumstances.

Other Benefits of Traveling via Charter Jet

Few forms of transportation offer the amenities and level of attention a charter jet does. These are some of the benefits of flying in a private aircraft, regardless of the state of the world, where you’re traveling to, or who you’re traveling with:

  • Around-the-clock availability: Need to arrive at your destination before dawn? Have a sudden change in plans that means you must board a few hours early? Charter jet bookings work on your schedule — not the other way around. This tailored scheduling offers unparalleled convenience that other modes of transportation can’t match.
  • Comfort: From plush, ultra-comfortable lounge chairs, sofas, and reclining lie-in sleepers, to refreshment carts and snack stations, the comfort of traveling via a private jet is unparalleled, even compared to a luxury first-class commercial ticket.
  • Privacy: Make important business calls, manage meetings, tackle critical projects, and cut deals in a comfortable, reliable, and private setting — minus the crying baby three rows down. This spatial privacy also lends safety during health emergencies such as COVID-19.
  • Expediency: No long routes, no layovers, and no waiting in line. Booking a private aircraft ensures you get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

Fly During COVID-19 With Confidence, Convenience, and Peace of Mind

Private flights offer a bespoke travel experience. Private flights with Latitude 33 define what that bespoke experience should be, time after time.

Latitude 33 Aviation is among the top 5% of U.S.-based private jet operators. Our elite status comes backed by a stringent ARGUS Platinum safety rating, industry-leading concierge servicing, a luxury aircraft fleet, and one of the most experienced crews in the field.

Contact our charter department to ask questions about custom routes and trips, including arranging transportation during COVID-19.

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