This was almost accomplished this last summer where a window of opportunity arose after initial vaccination efforts proved useful at curbing the spread of the virus…before Omicron that is. After unpleasant Omicron news during the last holiday season it seems as if the worst is over. There is a big push for relaxed travel restrictions and less red tape as the situation improves. This should help our industry recover from the shortfalls of the last holiday season and level off from the pandemic in general.
During Quarter 4 of 2020 we saw an unprecedented increase in demand for private charters. Unfortunately the industry as a whole incurred obstacles which impacted the servicing of such demand. Aircraft had been widely purchased and/or removed from charter certificates, supply chain disruptions extended maintenance downtimes, vaccinated crews began testing positive for Omicron as they flew heavier schedules and the steady rise in fuel costs/inflationary pressures led to higher operating costs for owners. At the same time, larger firms and many operators were unable to promise availability/pricing and in order to help service the demand, halted jet card sales and increased fees in other areas inside their terms to supplement, take advantage or recoup earnings from the earlier pandemic crisis that left everyone grounded.
As availability was curtailed and pricing rose, we saw an increase in charter flight inquiries from our clients, new private flyers and a spill over from larger firms and operators that could not handle the volume. Fridays, Sundays and Holidays became difficult to cover. With inflationary driven operational costs, fewer aircraft and massive demand, clients became aware that last minute flights that used to be possible and “deals” were now hard to come by. Domestic travel was driven by international Covid red tape (except Mexico) and everyone was traveling to popular destinations at the same time. About half the booked charters saw a tail or crew change due to pandemic related disruptions. We are happy to report very minimal inconveniences here!
Our offices have mostly sat empty while we have remained in “remote” status and phones ported out. Remote work became required! If there was a last minute obstacle (covid or otherwise), we had to be healthy and in our command centers. Standing near running aircraft, on the road or even wearing a mask during operational hours wasn’t an option. Showing up to the airport to greet clients used to be the best part of the job! When our presence was required for aircraft acquisitions, ramp access, client requests, we did mitigate risks and complete each mission successfully. Aircraft and ground crews remained on the front lines and we’re highly appreciative of their efforts and hard work.
Holiday weekends, Fridays and Sundays are still in high demand. The obstacles faced in Quarter 4 are prevalent today throughout the industry but slowly improving. Where a roundtrip flight over a few days would typically occur with the same aircraft/crew, most are now booked as discounted/flat rate one-way flights. The same aircraft/crew are already booked on another flight or may have scheduling conflicts and downtime. In many cases this is to your benefit as you are not paying to keep an aircraft/crew with you the entire time. In other instances it may be more expensive because an aircraft might have to make the journey twice. We try to avoid the latter as much as humanly possible but we did have some record transactions in Q4 servicing peak availability requests that required specific scheduling. The point being, you will likely see two different tails to complete a round trip while we work harder to seamlessly provide the transition without inconvenience. This is becoming the new norm for the few trustworthy services left and a time honored tradition of many in years past.
Covid protocols for international travel are still a hurdle but on the mend. More countries/territories are opening up to international travelers as their situations improve and jumpstarting a much needed boost to tourism. Declaration forms, QR codes, insurance, testing and uploads are not quite a thing of the past but we’ve recognized some major improvements either to the process or relaxation mostly for vaccinated passengers. We are constantly examining multi layered, international Covid restrictions/protocols. One positive test could create quite a trip disruption, inconvenience and costly recovery solution so while the restrictions ease, and Hollywood goes maskless, this is still something to consider at least for international travel.
The best advice from this seasoned jet-setter of 20+ years is to plan ahead. Last minute Larry’s can get the occasional deal but don’t expect it on a peak travel day. A heads up, secured funds in advance can be the keys to saving thousands and opening up doors. Inquiring during business hours helps or If you just need a general price estimate, you’re welcome to use the website tool 24 hours a day to see what live market rates look like. Bottom line, the relationship with your trusted aviation advisor is key where everyone else is being turned down or paying more than double.
While the pandemic may have changed the market and demand/pricing are higher, the commodity you are buying is safety, anonymity, luxury and time. We thank you for your loyalty, trust and patience to help move the world and make even the smallest of miracles possible.
Chief Executive Officer