The pandemic was famously bad for the airline industry. Even after billions in taxpayer bailouts, the big carriers aren’t back to where they used to be. And the ongoing spike in reports of mask-driven air-rage incidents isn’t helping.
But that’s not to say the entire aviation sector has been pummeled. One particular niche, in fact, has benefited from the airlines’ woes: private aviation. As virus-weary Americans came to see commercial flights as fraught—and as the master-of-the-universe types who used to occupy private jets began doing meetings via Zoom—a neat wrinkle in the market has opened up. According to the Robb Report, first-time leisure customers increased by 300 percent in 2020, even as corporate users of private jets decreased by 80 percent. Whatever this may say about the chasm between our haves and have-mores, it means folks who run air charter outfits are some of the happiest in the travel industry.
The destinations of those jets have changed, too. It used to be a lot of business travel, now it’s a lot more trips to beaches and to the mountains. We all know the hassles of commercial air travel. Getting to the airport early. Standing in a TSA line. Checking a bag and wondering if it will show up at the other end. Hoping to make a connection. That’s before getting on the plane—and before the added anxieties about Covid.
Private-aviation passengers bypass security and are given permission to drive right up to the plane, where someone takes their bags and valet-parks their car. They depart at a time of their choosing—it’s even fine if they’re late—and fly directly to wherever they want, which could be a regional airport closer to their destination.
Private aviation’s high-flying sales are partly due to the March 2020 CARES Act, which, in an effort to revive the airline business, suspended the 7.5-percent federal excise tax on domestic air transportation through the year. Some frequent fliers stocked up on jet cards during the tax holiday—and are using the hours on those cards this year without incurring taxes. Charter customers benefited, too, from both the tax suspension and the lower fuel costs.