More Canadians inquiring about private jets amid pandemic
TORONTO -- While the federal government's global advisory against all non-essential travel remains in effect, it has not stopped some Canadians from exploring their travel options.
Charter companies say they are seeing an increase in Canadians inquiring about the cost to charter a private plane amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stephanie Ste Marie, head of private jets for Air Charter Service Canada, said the company has seen interest in private charters spike since the start of the pandemic.
"We've definitely seen an increase in inquiries, bookings haven't increased that much as of yet. I think that's still mostly because of all the restrictions that are still in place. There's still a lot of quarantines that are in effect or self isolations… so a lot of people have been holding back," Ste Marie said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.
While tourism is gradually resuming in parts of the world, Ste Marie said there are other reasons why someone would charter a private plane including for work or to see family.
"Where we've seen a lot of the increase has been with families. So, whether it's parents and their children not wanting to go through the airport and potentially come in contact with hundreds or potentially thousands of people… or people looking on behalf of their elderly parents," Ste Marie said.
"On the corporate side, we've seen some existing clients looking to potentially ramp up their spending on private travel just for employees so that they have sort of peace of mind," she added.
Ste Marie said some people are still required to travel amid the pandemic for their work and may not be comfortable flying commercial.
"If their company is going to make some travel for work, they have to understand and know that travelling commercially is going to be a big concern for their employees," Ste Marie said.
PRIVATE PLANE MEASURES
While commercial airlines are taking measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, Ste Marie said flying private involves less people therefore limiting points of contact.
She explained that passengers who charter a private jet can avoid checking in and going through the main airport terminal. They can also skip screening at security or spending any time waiting in airport lounges or boarding areas.
"You can drive directly to the aircraft, only come in contact with your crew which would either be two pilots or two pilots and a flight attendant and then that's it," Ste Marie said. "If it was just you and your family or you and a couple people travelling together, you may only need to come in contact with as few as two people throughout the entire journey when chartering."
Jet Charter Canada marketing director Adam LeRoy told CTVNews.ca that his company has enhanced cleaning procedures on their charters including regular disinfecting before each flight, removing pillows and blankets, and making hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes available to passengers.
"We have also asked clients to submit a health declaration form regarding recent travel and contact prior to their flights, and have worked with government agencies to submit accredited laboratory results when required for entry," LeRoy said in an email to CTVNews.ca.
Ste Marie said all of Air Charter Service Canada’s aircraft are being "very thoroughly sanitized before and after each flight" including major touch points such as toilets, sinks, armrests and tray tables. The plane's cabins are also being sprayed with aerosol disinfectant through fog machines between flights and the company has adjusted flight schedules to give more time for the completion of enhanced safety measures.
Additionally, Ste Marie said most of the stock has been removed on their flights.
"There really isn't any sort of snacks, drinks, magazines or anything that's going to be touched by multiple people. We just advise everybody to bring their own or we set up catering for people on their flights so that everything is fresh for them," Ste Marie said.
While regular clients continue to fly on their jets, Ste Marie said the majority of Air Charter Service’s uptick of interest in private planes is from Canadians who are new to the charter experience.
"I would say most of it is with new potential clients who have never chartered before. They're looking into the feasibility and what the difference is in terms of the check-in, safety protocols and the cost from commercial airlines to private jets," Ste Marie said.
CALCULATING CHARTER COSTS
LeRoy said Jet Charter Canada has also seen a significant increase in charter inquiries with the company reporting "a more than 100 per cent increase in traffic and a 300 per cent increase in requests" since the beginning of the pandemic.
However, chartering a private plane is not cheap.
LeRoy said the cost of chartering a private jet varies depending on the size of the aircraft and the length of the trip, but can cost up to $100,000 each way.
"Flying internationally, especially when traveling overseas, will require a larger jet than domestic flights," LeRoy explained. "The flight from Toronto to London would require a heavy jet with costs starting at around $100,000 each direction. Whereas a flight to New York may be one-tenth of the cost."
Ste Marie explained there are multiple factors that go into calculating the price.
"It could be anywhere from, say, $10,000 for a trip between Toronto and Montreal, to potentially up to $80,000 for a cross country trip if you were on a larger, heavy jet. The prices vary so much, depending on really where you're flying to and from," Ste Marie said.
The majority of the cost is calculated based on the flight time, according to Ste Marie. She said how far one is travelling plus how many people are aboard will vary the price "pretty drastically."
"Depending on the number of people you have, the hourly cost of an aircraft substantially increases as you go from a light jet, to a midsize jet to a heavy jet. So travelling with five or six people, versus 10 to 14 people will change your price point by $3,000 to $4,000 an hour," Ste Marie said.
The scheduling and availability of private jets in a person's area can also impact the price, according to LeRoy.
"From the planes available in your local market, it can change based on the size, model, age, and amenities of the aircraft. An hourly rate is often advertised, but this only covers the cost to rent the aircraft," LeRoy said.
He added that fuel, taxes, airport and landing fees, overnight hangar rates and other charges are not included in the initial rate and are later added to create the total charter cost.
Despite the high price tag, LeRoy said flying private during the pandemic may limit the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus, making the charter worth it for those who can afford it.
"Whether it's a short hop from Toronto to Montreal to avoid ground traffic and gas stations, or a private jet overseas to avoid airport terminals and recirculated cabin air, your exposure throughout the entire process is reduced substantially," LeRoy said.
Ste Marie said it is hard to say if flying private is "100 per cent safer" than flying commercial. However, she says that chartering can ease Canadians' anxieties about travelling amid a pandemic.
"It just gives people the peace of mind to know that if they do have to travel, if they're flying privately, they can do so coming into contact with as few people as possible, and just sort of mitigate their risk levels," she said.