New York - For Private Jet Industry, Airport Chaos Is a Gift
New York - NOT long ago I talked with Phil Mathews, the president of a worldwide private aircraft charter company called Air Partner, who was on vacation in Wales.
Aware that there has been increased use of long-haul private jets for international travel in the last year, I asked him, “How’d you get to Wales? Private jet?”
“If only,” he said ruefully.
The comment seemed prescient. As recently as Monday, many air travelers had occasion to mutter the same thing: If only I had put off that last-minute preholiday business trip, I could have avoided the security mess at Newark, where major disruptions occurred on Monday after a terminal was shut down by a “suspicious package” that turned out to be a computer monitor.
Or, if only I had avoided that trip to or from Europe, as snow and freezing temperatures threw air travel into chaos, shutting down Last week London’s Heathrow Airport and this week all airports in NY NJ, where television images showed thousands of stranded passengers, (as was reported here on Vos Iz Nias).
As the year comes to a close, those images simply reinforce for many travelers the sense of frustration that has replaced the mere resignation of early in the year. Security body scanners, pat-downs, cancellations, rising fares, impossibly crowded planes - are all having an impact. Statistics show that passenger demand grew steadily in the third quarter - but no one I know approaches an airport these days with anything other than a sense of foreboding.
The private jet industry, struggling to find its way out of two miserable years, sees opportunity in this. Sales of business jets have picked up - but few passengers, obviously, can afford the price, which can be as much as $70 million.
On the other hand, companies that offer private jets on which flights are sold by the seat - the charter market - say that business is booming. That’s because more people, particularly those who are accustomed to flying first-class or paying full-fare coach prices on business trips, are looking at the alternatives to the obstacles at the airport and deciding it may be worth the extra cost.
Private jets usually use smaller, less-congested general-aviation airports. And private jet passengers do not experience that dreaded meet and greet with the Transportation Security Administration that is a standard part of the commercial airport experience.
Companies like Air Partner that broker charter flights have been promoting themselves pointedly as offering a reasonable, if admittedly costly, alternative. On Monday, Air Partner said that, despite the frigid weather, its charter flights were getting airborne from smaller airports that were not experiencing the snarls affecting airports.
No one says this option is cheap. But partly because so many used business jets are on the market, charter companies say they have been able to lower the price barrier in the last year.
Air Partner gives this example: Typically, it costs a company about $9,000 to fly six employees first-class from New York Kennedy to Chicago O’Hare, the most popular business travel route. The charter price on a private jet for those six would be $10,580, Air Partner said, while pointing out that flying private often means being able to get there and back more efficiently.
Meanwhile, for the well-heeled last-minute Christmas shopper, Flexjet said Monday that it was offering a holiday package that provided 25 hours of private-jet flight time on a Learjet 40 XR, operated by Jet Solutions. The special so-called jet card includes three nights of luxury accommodations in Napa Valley, Calif. The price: $132,000.
These prices may seem ridiculous to the average road warrior, but companies have been loosening up on higher-end travel spending. The American Express Business Insights report released on Monday said, for example, that spending on business-class fares for commercial airlines jumped 60 percent in the third quarter. For small businesses, the companies that are least likely to have their own private jets, the increase was 71 percent.
“Private charter flying is still expensive. It’s not going to be for everybody,” Mr. Mathews of Air Partner said. “But we’ve been seeing a steady uptick in bookings and inquiries all year, accelerating in November. Can I exactly correlate that to the effect of what people are experiencing in commercial airports? No. But we do know that some of that business is coming from people who are looking at charter for the first time ever.”
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