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“People Won’t Be Like, Oh, Okay, I’ll Go Ahead and Fly Commercial”: Why the Private-Jet Travel Boom Might Not Be Going Anywhere – Vanity Fair

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Last week, actor and Schitt’s Creek cocreator Dan Levy made some light ripples among privilege watchdogs on the internet when he tweeted, “Hi @airfrance @AirFranceFR someone on your end has moved my seat home after it was pre selected and nobody has any answers? Considering people pre-book seats for very specific reasons (worldwide virus) this feels very weird and sketchy? HOURS spent on the phone. Fly next week.” Levy added. “Also, never do this but when the phone doesn’t work…”
He is not the first, and he is not the worst, and he won’t be the last to tweet in frustration at an airline. Flying is arguably harder than it’s ever been in its roughly one hundred years of existence, especially internationally, if you count the sheer number of things to triple-check and remember: protocols in departure cities, protocols in layover cities, protocols in arrival cities, information gaps between airline websites and what you learn you should have done after you’re already at the airport, generalized pandemic fear, passport backlog, unruly passengers, exhausted flight attendants, the abject nightmare of a surprise dry flight. It’s madness in the skies. 
And while it’s easy to vilify the verified for trying to leverage their blue check mark into customer service results, hear me out: The Levys of the world are men of the people. Because if your only recourse is to tweet a tweet, then you don’t have much more power than the regular unverifieds of the world (and the overwhelming majority of those who get responses from airlines like Air France or Delta or American are not even actors). Do you see Jennifer Lopez tweeting at airlines while making her way across Europe? Absolutely not! The real privilege is not having to deal with the airlines at all, an increasingly common occurrence in these pandemic times for those who can cut the check. 
Between private jets and luxury travel agents, businesses well set up to handle—or simply skip over entirely—the nitty-gritty, grueling, unfun uncertainty of flying during COVID are enjoying a bit of runaway success. Between July 2020 and July 2021, VistaJet, a Malta–based company that provides luxury private flights on an ad hoc or extended membership basis, reported a 184% increase in U.S. to European flights. And “71% of VistaJet’s new incoming requests” are from those who hadn’t regularly tapped the private market for all of their flight needs. There are, that is, many, many more 1 percenters finding that hiring a jet might be the right choice for them right now. 
The company—which offers seasonal meals from seasoned chefs, in-flight entertainers who put on customized performances with and for one’s children, specially tailored menus for pets, a library of books that hue to each client’s taste and the length of flight—chalks its growth up to friction, per a spokesperson. That is, there is less friction when you charter your own plane. They’ve put a number to it: “The number of touchpoints significantly decreases when flying private—20 interactions as opposed to 700 when flying commercial.”
From 700 “interactions” to 20. Can you imagine? I don’t know how they got either number, but once I start counting “interactions” from my last domestic flight, I got exhausted by the time I get to security (roughly my 60th “interaction”). Here’s what all us peons are dealing with back on the land: The wait times for customer service calls at major airlines can often last longer than the flights themselves. Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, recently explained to The Washington Post that the backups are in part thanks to all the scheduling changes as demand for flights grows—changed flight times means more calls means overwhelmed call systems. 
The other more talked about complicating factor is the staffing shortage—it’s affecting airlines’ customer service call centers, sure, but it’s also affecting the number of planes that can even take to the sky. At the start of the pandemic, many airlines encouraged their pilots and flight staff to take an early retirement. It takes time to hire and train new pilots, so there’s been a huge lag. At this point it falls far behind demand for domestic leisure travel, which has recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
And one more devastating data point in the madness: Some airlines, like American and Southwest, recently extended bans on serving alcohol in the beverage cart, because many customers can’t handle following directions. 
From colleagues and friends traveling for work to the Cannes Film Festival in France or couture week also in France or to trade shows in Italy speak of a laundry lists of small indignities—friction—that make flying (almost) not worth the effort right now: Websites might list differing regulations from what airport staff are told, resulting in emergency testing and more missed connections. And all of that stuff adds up—the unplanned rushed COVID tests, the fact that you probably want a direct flight now more than ever, and protecting oneself from the general uncertainty about safety? It all takes a toll on one’s wallet. 
The people in the best position are those who have the funds to get away and the flexibility to be taken for a ride, no pun intended. Angie Licea, president of Global Travel Collection, under which a few luxury travel concierge services live, told me recently that this has been a big moment for hiring an actual travel agent. Besides making sure their clients are aware of the oft-changing regulations (which they can do thanks to an updated database that they contracted access to), the agents are finding that they are planning five trips at once for a person, so that when three of those trips become untenable before takeoff for whatever COVID reason, there are still two more to choose from. 
They can ensure isolation on a trip, finding more and more remote locales, or ones that are simply off the beaten bath, like in Bucharest, for example. “Private is still very attractive right now in our segmentation, so private jets, private islands, private villas, places that you could go and experience luxury and peace, but do it safely because you control the environment. That’s very, very hot right now,” she said.
Likewise some of the more basic tourist destinations are suddenly open and empty. They’ve sent clients on a safari with virtually no other tourists around, a rare thing, or to the Amalfi Coast, Alsace-Lorraine, and all the hits in Spain—Granada, Valencia, Barcelona. They can be like Kim Kardashian at the Vatican, maybe the only time someone that famous can go to a major tourist attraction almost like a normal person (despite having a travel buddy in, you know, Kate Moss). 
And people are going big. “There is this concept of treating [yourself], for sure,” Licea said. “I think a lot of the people who are going private maybe have done private in the past, but maybe not to the extraordinary level that they’re doing it.” Many customers are used to taking several trips a year, and now, after 16 months or so of limited opportunities, they are going all out, she says.
“An adviser asked me the question yesterday, do I see the budgets for these trips coming down? I really don’t. Once things start leveling out, people won’t be like, Oh, okay, I’ll go ahead and fly commercial. It’s kind of like you get a taste of it and you can’t go back. You fly first class, you don’t want to sit in coach.” 
And surely, once you can have someone else listening to hold Muzak for hours with customer service at Air France, or what have you, you’ll never do it yourself again. 
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