While the commercial airline industry has been largely grounded following various global lockdowns — with outbound international travel from the UK set to be banned on Thursday — private aviation has soared among new customers. Many of them are families. Once the preserve of millionaires and A-listers, business planes have been taken up by holidaying households looking to make quick, Covid-secure getaways. “We’ve flown more families than ever,” explains Adam Twidell, CEO of jet booker PrivateFly. “Those who can afford have thought, ‘This is the time to use wealth to travel safely.'” Despite aviation’s ongoing gloom, Twidell says that PrivateFly is actually up over this time last year. Much of that has been driven by family bookings over the summer holidays, with 20 per cent of all passengers being children.
The fresh influx of jet-setting customers has also included the ‘pet set.’ Recent animals on board PrivateFly planes have included dogs, parrots and snakes — while one recent flight saw a family fly with 13 cats. “Those who might have gone on holiday with friends are now doing so with extended family,” Twidell says. It was in March, as most of the planet went into lockdown, that private aviation boomed. As more and more commercial airliners ceased routes around the world, families began booking business planes to rush them home. Alain Leboursier, managing director of Swiss charter LunaJets, says that such repatriation missions meant business tripled. “Our best period of the last decade came in the final ten days of March. We had flights around the world taking people home.” With the new lockdown imminent, and much of Europe effectively closing its borders, Leboursier believes there’ll be a further spike in demand. “However, it won’t be as dramatic as what we saw in spring because local lockdowns and restrictions aren’t as strict.” But any surge in numbers will be very welcome in business aviation. “Usually, between September and Christmas, it’s just corporate flights,” adds Leboursier. “Those clients aren’t flying at all now.”