As more cities and states close restaurants and implement restrictions to combat the COVID spike – in New York State, in-home gatherings are restricted to no more than 10 people – the private skies continue to be busy. However, there’s a mix of bookings and cancelations.
The CEO of a large private jet operator who asked not to be identified said in the first 72 hours after Governor Andrew Cuomo put a dent in many Thanksgiving plans, phones started ringing. “We have definitely seen an uptick in requests since this last announcement. We also have gotten a ton of requests for basic information and regulations about the process of re-entering the state.”
Paul Class, a senior vice president with Solairus Aviation, the sixth-largest Part 135 operator in the country, said he does not see an exodus from the Empire State. “In fact, it’s been the opposite. We’ve actually had a few cancelations this week with people traveling into New York who figure the hassle is just too great.” He adds, “Overall, Thanksgiving travel still looks solid.”
Patrick Gallagher, president of NetJets, the world’s largest private jet operator, says, “What we see right now is a lot of uncertainty. Flights are being booked and canceled, then rebooked more so than usual.”
Instead of big family gatherings, he says customers are opting to get away with their nuclear family.
“The most noteworthy change that we have seen this Thanksgiving is the increase in international travel. While intercontinental travel remains depressed for NetJets and the industry at large, we see increases in travel to the Caribbean and Mexico. At a time when our overall demand is still down about 15%, we see year over year Turks & Caicos bookings up 21%, Bermuda up by 30%, and St. Martin and Los Cabo up by more than 50%. Hawaiian reservations are also up about 25% year-over-year. These patterns and the number of passengers suggest that if they can’t be with their extended families this year, many of our customers are choosing to visit their favorite places with their immediate families.”
Others are also saying they expect healthy Thanksgiving activity, although much of the momentum had begun before the latest round of restrictions. Magellan Jets president Anthony Tivnan says, “We see a large migration trend from New York City to South Florida, Aspen, Scottsdale, and Hawaii destinations over the next few weeks.”
Vincent Kavanagh, senior vice president of Air Partner, says he is seeing jet card customers “leaving New York and predominantly heading west to Aspen and south to Florida.” For ad-hoc charter, he says, “requests north to south have bubbled a lot leading to Thanksgiving.” However, he says there was no noticeable change after the New York State mandate.
Some operators are saying it’s business as usual. “As with every Thanksgiving, we see an increase in charter inquiries from and to a range of states,” says Leslie Cheshier, a vice president with Jet Aviation, a unit of General Dynamics and the 12th largest charter operator.
A spokesperson for Flexjet, the second-largest fractional fleet operator, said Palm Beach and Naples, Florida, Los Cabos, Nassau in the Bahamas, and Southern California airports in Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and San Diego are the top places its customers are headed for Thanksgiving.
She notes, Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, and Westchester County Airport to the north of New York City are the top departure airports. Teterboro is second in terms of scheduled arrivals.
Speaking during the Corporate Jet Investor Americas 2020 conference, Andrew Collins, CEO of Sentient Jet, one of the largest players in the jet card market, said the Directional Aviation brand recently reinstated it original pre-pandemic budgets for the year and is “hitting most of those numbers.” He added, “Acquisition and retention pace is stronger than I’ve ever seen it.”