The Booming, Cloistered, & Rarefied World of Private Jet Pandemic Travel

“The islands are extremely popular right now,” says Magellan Jets’ president Anthony Tivnan.

Illustration by II

Illustration by II

Turks & Caicos. Aspen. Jackson Hole. Don’t cancel spring break or put your loved ones at risk — just fly private.

Executives at Magellan Jets saw the coronavirus outbreak hit Europe at least a month ago, and started planning new spring break destinations to promote, said co-founder and president Anthony Tivnan.

“The islands are also extremely popular right now: Puerto Rico, the Turks and Caicos, Barbados. Island travel is extremely active, and we’re counting on it to replace some of the European travel we typically do in the summer months,” he told Institutional Investor in an interview Friday — by phone, naturally.

He need not have worried about the coronavirus hurting business. As commercial airlines bleed out and the 99-percenters stay homebound, private jet travel booms.

And it’s more than just emergency exits from COVID-19 hotspots.

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Corporate travel via private plane is up big-time, and Magellan claims to have had a surge of new, rich individuals sign up for its hourly packages, or membership programs. Take a Gulfstream 450 for only $13,499 per hour, and no pesky surge charges. Chartering a jet from the northeast to West Palm Beach costs $18,000 to $20,000 right now, but just $15,000 normally.

“We’re pretty confident we’re going to see a very large increase in revenues,” Tivnan said. Magellan’s flight activity this month is up 70 percent over last year, and February’s incoming requests were half again that of 2019. “This week has been a very large uptick,” noting that the JetBlue exposure provided an extra boost.

Nearly 5,000 people are dead so far from the outbreak, according to the UN’s health agency.

According to Magellan’s marketing materials, that’s why private jets are so valuable to protecting one’s loved ones, business travel, and vacation plans.

As a pitch sent to journalists Friday noted, “The COVID-19 threat shows how useful private planes can be when commercial aviation options are reduced or eliminated in response to emergencies.” For example, “We are working on promoting domestic travel and providing our clients with alternative spring break and summer destinations. We believe Latin America and the Caribbean will be popular destinations over the next few months, as well as travel within the U.S.”

Asked if any of this strikes Tivnan as distasteful or a poor use of resources during a pandemic, he said no.

“We don’t want to enter into a panic situation where the entire world stops spending. From a corporate perspective, I would say the exact same thing. Business must go on. When things are uncertain, that is the most important time to be front-and-center for your clients.” If corporations stop doing business, he explained, the ripple effect would hurt the rich and poor equally.

As for exposing uninfected island populations to the virus, he dismissed the risk. Leisure and business travelers alike go through screening and must sign health affidavits attesting to their travel history. Beyond that, rich people are going to go on vacation, pandemic or no pandemic.

“Personal wealth and how individuals spend personal wealth…” Tivnan paused. “I don’t think it’s something they’re going to stop doing.”