Earlier in the month, the Queen and Prince Philip boarded a private jet at RAF Northolt to fly to Aberdeen, onwards to Balmoral, for an annual break.
The quick flight to Scotland meant no airport queues for Her Majesty to get cross at, brooch removal at the metal detectors, motorway traffic and erratic drivers to dodge, or rowdy passengers getting tanked up on booze – overpriced or complimentary.
Can one also travel in such style? Or are private flights just too expensive to justify – a pipe dream like boarding a Concorde?
Well, according to one specialist company, the number of people who have both looked at and booked a private plane in the last few months has rocketed, mainly driven somewhat by rather ordinary, but still relatively well-off passengers.
Air Partner, a firm which is 60 years old, offers quotes for chartered planes and has revealed to This is Money just how busy it has been keeping up with demand.
This has mainly come, it says, from those new to private travel who are choosing to travel in the name of ‘safety, convenience, and flexibility’.
The travel industry has been hit extremely hard in the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve seen airlines struggle, frustrated people having to wait a long amount of time for refunds and quarantine rules in and out of the country change overnight.
For example, last weekend when it was revealed France was being put back on the Foreign Commonwealth Office list, there was a stampede from those trying to get home to beat the cut-off point.
But nonetheless, some are still planning foreign jaunts, with some countries still off the list – and some that could be removed, depending on infection rates at certain destinations.
Many will be looking to travel like the Queen: mainly, to avoid the masses and the heightened chances of getting coronavirus by being around too many people, and they may think a private plane might be the answer.
Consumer Trends delves into how much it costs to charter a plane, who a typical customer is, what the experience is like and whether it is set to grow in popularity thanks to the coronavirus crisis.
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Huge surge in bookings and quotes
According to Air Partner, before the pandemic hit, global private travel was growing steadily. However, It says it has seen a huge surge in enquiries and bookings in recent months.
It believes this is down to the unique safety and convenience benefits that it claims commercial airlines cannot offer.
When travel restrictions in Europe began to ease, Air Partner saw a boom in private jet travel demand as people regained appetite for travel.
Initially, it saw a 210 per cent increase in private jet requests for future flight bookings compared to last year. This grew to 321 per cent by June.
It says the demand has been primarily from leisure travellers and critical business flights, when Zoom just won’t cut it.
The most popular cities it has received enquiries for in recent months are Nice, Faro and Mykonos, in France, Portugal and Greece respectively.
Prior to travel restrictions in Spain, it also had a number of bookings for Spanish locations, with Ibiza proving particularly popular.
Trends are also driven by quarantines – so, with France, Malta and the Netherlands added to the quarantine list last week, Croatia emerged this week as the number one choice for those looking to fly privately.
However, that has now also entered the quarantine list, so it is likely that Portugal – now off the list – will likely become the new number one.
How much does it cost?
I asked Air Partner to provide two sets of quotes, one to give a typical price for the rest of August up to mid-September, and one for a popular Christmas market destination in December.
Flying from London Luton or London Stansted, the prices one-way are as follows:
A party of four would pay around £11,400 for Nice, France (numbers crunched before the travel restrictions), £12,300 for Pisa, Italy – a gateway into Florence – and £20,900 for Mykonos, Greece, which is quite a bit further than the previous two destinations.
Per person, this works out at £3,800, £4,175 and £5,225 respectively.
When you move to a party of 12, Nice is £16,700, Pisa £19,600 and Mykonos £31,100 – or £1,392 each to France, £1,633 to Pisa or £2,592 to Mykonos.
Prices include all taxes, Air Passenger Duty, insurance, catering and fixed-base operator handling. If you wish to fly from a far smaller airport, such as Farnborough, it is typically £2,000 more expensive per flight.
Given the unpredictability over overseas travel at the moment, Air Partner can only give a rough price indication for a December flight to Munich.
A one way flight in early December from Biggin Hill on a light six seater jet would cost around from £8,500, or for 8 passengers from £9,500 – around £1,188 each, for a full eight seat plane.
Essentially, maxing out a private plane with people, depending on the size of it, could make it obtainable for some looking to experience a taste of the luxury life.
Anecdotally, a colleague recently told me that not so long ago, a group of parent friends on Facebook chartered a plane for a ski trip and were selling tickets on it for not much more than a regular airline, thanks to the size of the party and peak commercial prices.
Do you really dodge the crowds?
There are plenty of misconceptions about private jet charter and how things work logistically, according it Air Partner.
Right now, safety is the number one priority and selling point when it comes to booking a private jet.
As a passenger, you have the ability to book your travel from a private airport such as Farnborough in Hampshire or London Biggin Hill in Bromley, both of which are dedicated to private jet traffic – although this comes at a higher premium.
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It also operates from other airports such as London City, Luton and Stansted.
These offer an exclusive terminal for private travellers, allowing people to move swiftly through the airport with minimal contact with other passengers.
There are no queues for security or other facilities where you would normally encounter large groups at commercial airports, regardless of which class you are flying.
When travelling private, you have your own cabin and space so you would never need to share – which is where the higher price comes into play. For some, it’s worth it.
You can request whether to have a host on the flight in order to minimize risk.
Air Partner says you can even opt out of having cabin crew service thanks to a newly launched service called Air Partner Protect.
It also says that it has ‘rigorous’ health and safety protocols including disinfecting aircraft, supplying PPE and temperature checking if necessary.
Who is a typical customer?
It says a typical private plane customer is ‘extremely diverse and far ranging’.
Private jets are usually hired to fly fewer than 20 people – perfect for those travelling for business or leisure according to Air Partner.
It says typically, some of the world’s largest businesses regularly use its services, as well as people in film and entertainment, governments and high net worth individuals who seek the privacy and flexibility of private aviation.
But, this has shifted somewhat thanks to the pandemic.
A significant proportion of its enquiries and bookings have been from people who are new to private travel.
People have been confined to their homes over the last few months so the demand for to travel, regardless whether for leisure or business, has significantly grown Air Partner believes.
It has seen more interest in leisure related bookings as summer holiday season means people are keen to spend time with friends and family.
It believes many now see private travel as a safer alternative to avoid often cramped, commercial flights.
Chartering is also a great option for customers and passengers who wouldn’t normally fly very often or want the easiest method of getting around, as you simply schedule your flight, pay and go.
However, it is worth pointing out here that experts say the personal carbon footprint per passenger on private flights is higher – and that’s why some high profile people now refuse to fly this way.
What about the future?
Air Partner is expecting this increase in enquiries and bookings to continue well after coronavirus.
Four ways our travel habits could change
Back in March, I argued that the way we book travel could change for a long time – are the days of budget holidays now behind us?
Here are four travel changes I believe are afoot:
1. Extreme last minute booking;
2. Shunning the firms who have treated us badly;
3. Cruise industry hit could be huge;
4. More careful consideration to travel insurance.
Mark Briffa, chief executive of Air Partner, is particularly bullish.
He tells me: ‘Private aviation gives clients the confidence to feel secure and safe in a Covid-19 world.
‘It will be a method of transportation valued and assessed on the level of security, flexibility and upmost comfort it offers.
‘This will inevitably continue to be a priority for clients and grow in popularity as people begin to manoeuvre in a post pandemic world.
‘People need to travel and will continue to do so, however, we need to provide people with a sense of trust and security as they navigate through this challenging time.
‘Private jet travel gives clients the reassurance to travel safely and will continue to grow in popularity.’
For some, money refunded on now cancelled holidays, commuting costs saved thanks to working from home in recent months and perhaps a lack of spending elsewhere, could mean they are tempted by a blowout Queen-like escape.
For others, overseas trips are off the cards for the foreseeable thanks to coronavirus havoc and quarantine fears, along with cancellation worries.
Video: How to travel safely during the pandemic (This Is Money)