As the coronavirus is spreading in United States and most Chinese cities have reported no more new cases, some Chinese parents are paying tens of thousands of dollars for private jets to get their children out of the US and back to China because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Since the first week of March, when the coronavirus epidemic escalated into a global pandemic, some business jet companies have reported a spike in inquires and flights.
“We have surging inquiries for international flights, mostly parents of students studying in Europe, especially London, and the US,” said Christine, a marketing manager at a Beijing-based private jet company. She gave only her first name because she’s not authorized to speak with media.
The company has seen increased international business in the past two weeks because of the pandemic, said Christine, who declined to give the number of jets that have been chartered.
She said she received “countless” phone calls from New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco every day.
“The parents watch the news about the US situation. They fear their children would contract the disease or be discriminated against in the US,” Christine said.
Unlike commercial airlines, business jets companies need approval from the civil aviation authorities for every flight mission.
The flight crew returning from hard hit areas will self-quarantine for 14 days before the next flight mission, said Christine.
At the hourly rate of $10,000, flying private from Los Angeles to China would cost $300,000 for a long-range jet, such as the Bombardier Challenger 850 with 14 seats, according to Christine.
It’s more than 30 hours for a round trip between Los Angeles and Beijing, because flights are supposed to be empty in trips outbound from China, although inbound trips could be full, she said.
Two Chinese students studying at a San Francisco university recently secured a private jet in Los Angeles for $250,000, said an aviation consultant based in the Bay Area, who helped the students’ parents source a private jet.
“It’s big money, but they feel lives are more important,” said the consultant who asked not to be named. “They turn to the private jet market mainly to avoid exposure to crowded airport terminals or passengers in airline cabins, and long wait time during transfers.”
The US has overtaken China and Italy to become the new epicenter of coronavirus pandemic with largest number of confirmed cases. The United States had more than 186,000 cases and over 3,800 deaths from COVID-19 as of Tuesday, according to data monitored by John Hopkins University.
Business jets, which mainly serve the wealthy and big corporations, have recently received public attention in China following reports of a “sky-high-price” ticket for a Boeing 787 private jet.
The flight, executed by Chinese business jet company Deer Jet, took off from London on March 18 and arrived in Shanghai via Geneva, according to Chinese media reports. Tickets sold at $25,365 each (180,000 yuan), and all 40 were sold out quickly.
While the global aviation industry takes a hard hit from the pandemic, many private jet companies report strong sales as wealthy flyers avoid commercial flights.
PrivateFly, a private jet charter broker company with headquarters in the UK and US, said it has seen a significant rise in demand for short notice on-demand private jet charters relating to the coronavirus.
“Inquiries are ranging from evacuations and repatriations from affected areas, to corporate and private individuals looking to book a private charter flight,” the company said on its blog:
“Some following an airline cancellation, others are looking at private aircraft to avoid moving through large crowds at airports and airliner cabins, which have a perceived higher risk of exposure.”
Travelers also choose to fly on private aircraft because the current airline cutbacks make international flights more difficult, said Frank Wang, CEO of US-China Travel Management Consultants Co Ltd in Beijing.
Air fares from the US to China have skyrocketed in the past few weeks due to a lack of planes caused by suspensions by global airlines, he said.
“The US airline companies have suspended all flights to China since February. Some Chinese airlines are still operating a few selected air routes, but those are expected to be further cut,” said Wang.
A one-way economy-class ticket from the US to China costs more than $2,000 now, compared with $600 before the disruptions, according to Wang. “Even if you are willing to pay the price, there’s no ticket available. I can’t find any ticket for April,” he said.
To curtail the spread of the virus from returning overseas travelers, Chinese authorities have imposed new restrictions on Chinese airlines, allowing them to operate one route to any specific country with only one weekly flight. The passenger load on flights in and out of China also can’t exceed 75 percent.
Although the restrictions don’t apply to private jets, Christine said she expected stricter requirements in coming weeks.
After Beijing directed all inbound flights to other cities including Tianjin, Shanghai and Nanjing, the capital city has banned all chartered flights from overseas.
“For other cities, we currently need the clients to provide a letter of acceptance issued by the municipal authorities before we apply for a flight mission to CAAC (Civil Aviation Administration of China),” said Christine.
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