Traveling via private jet? You’re not alone.
In fact, unless you own the jet itself, you may, at times, be hard-pressed to book an available charter. That’s how big demand is, experts say, even with inflation, including, most recently since Russia invaded Ukraine, causing the cost of jet fuel to skyrocket.
James Prinzivalli, the president of Executive Fliteways, which is based at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, says that business – it came to a “screeching halt” during COVID’s earliest days – has ramped up so, that by fall, things were “busier than it’s ever been” in the company’s 41-year history.
“There’s so much demand, prices are really spiking,” Prinzivalli said.
The reported spikes align with industry reports. Private plane travel has surpassed pre-pandemic levels, with 3.3 million business jets flying worldwide in 2021, according to WingX, a data research and consulting company. That’s up 7% from 2019, a previous peak. That kind of demand is driving up prices for charter flights. By March of 2022, the rates for private jet charters jumped to $10,204 per hour, up 21% from December of 2020, according to Private Jet Card Comparisons, which analyzes the sector.
As prices soar, the trend may serve as a seismic shift in the demand for private jets among those who can afford high-end travel.
In the wake of the still-lingering pandemic, people have reassessed how they want to spend their time. And flying commercial airlines isn’t it. It’s easy to see why, given the reports of cancelled flights, ornery passengers, conflicts over changing mask rules, lost luggage, Transportation Security Administration protocols and the list goes on.
Nick Tarascio, CEO of Ventura Air Services, witnessed that shift in values in real time. He recalled the 2008 recession when the executives of the big three automakers were criticized for traveling in separate private jets to Washington, D.C., seeking loans. For those who might opt to fly privately then, doing so “became a mark of shame” of “excess luxury,” Tarascio said.
Fast forward to the pandemic, as a primary focus on staying healthy and safe became the priority. People who can afford to fly privately, he pointed out, are saying, “I need to see my family and not get my grandparents sick. Whatever it costs, it’s worth it because I can’t get on an airline.” It’s as though people are putting aside the idea that that private jets are all about glitz and glamor. Instead, they see that flying private provides a way to control one’s life and schedule, avoiding the stress and unpredictability that comes with commercial travel, he said.
Flying private offers other benefits that commercial airlines do not. On a private charter, for example, there are fewer passengers, and with that a lower risk of COVID transmission, and more room for social distancing.
The pandemic, Tarascio said, “may have taken an emotional toll that is greater than what’s been assumed.” So if a change of scenery is in order, travelers with means can hop on a jet to their second or third home.
And in a busy year of mergers and acquisitions, executives are flying to destinations as part of the deal-making process, Tarascio said. Or they are checking operations at other locations.
Experts say the most popular route right now is New York to South Florida, given all the real estate development in the Miami area.
As Prinzivalli tells it, a one-way trip from Islip to West Palm Beach that might have recently ran between $12,000 and $15,000 not too long ago, “today is easily $25,000 to $30,000, for a trip one way on a smaller plane,” he told LIBN.
And given the high net worth of some Long Islanders, that jump may not be all that surprising.
For those with “disposable income, once they start flying privately, they’re not going back,” Prinzivalli said.
Other popular routes include Texas as well as Aspen, Scottsdale and Southern California, Tarascio said.
Once the charter is booked, the rest of the travel is typically seamless. For this clientele, private parking awaits. There is no need to arrive two hours early at the airport. And there is no TSA screening, Prinzivalli, said. All passengers need to do is show their official identification, and as long as they are not on the TSA’s no-fly list, they can board the jet and head to their destination of choice.
While on a flight to Europe, say, via Executive Fliteway’s Gulfstream G550, passengers can get a good night sleep, as the seats convert into flat mattresses, Prinzivalli said. The carpets and linens are all high end.
For the busy executive, the hushed space with its ready wifi transforms into a private haven where one can work productively, Tarascio said.
Customized menus accommodate any special preferences. With so many options to choose from, those new to private jets might go for a menu with filet mignon, lobster and champagne, Tarascio said. And the more seasoned flyer might opt instead for some sensible sandwiches and paper plates.
A larger jet typically has a three-person crew, including a flight attendant who caters to menu preferences, the bed set-ups, cabin decorations for special occasions and even luxury pet accommodations, according to Executive Fliteways.
It’s easy to get used to this level of accommodations.
Conceding that a “small percent” may return to commercial flying in a post-COVID era, Prinzivalli said that for the “1% of the 1% who own their own airplane or charter, they’re not getting on an airline, ever.”
In this sector, it helps to be a known entity. Executive Fliteways has been around since 1981. Ventura was founded in 1955.
To serve this market, companies must stay on top of their game. Bringing on top talent – pilots, technicians, operations, accounting and other professionals – is essential, and the companies say they are hiring. And both have added jets to their inventory.
Meanwhile, the industry shows no signs of slowing down – even with the price of jet fuel soaring.
“When the cost of fuel doubles, costs go up,” Prinzivalli said, adding, “clients are still paying it.”