Wednesday, July 01, 2020

India’s wealthy are still planning their travels—and they’re taking to private jets

As India slowly and shakily emerges from one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, travel as we have known it is still a way off. And while flying has resumed, it’s severely restricted—and stressful. It’s little wonder then that India’s wealthy are looking at private jets travel as a viable option. In fact, demand shot up nine-fold in the days just prior to lockdown, admits Kanika Tekriwal, CEO and founder of JetSetGo Aviation, and they’re presently receiving about 20 enquiries every day. What’s more, close to 70 percent of these potential clients are brand new. “For the first time, we are seeing requests coming in from people who don’t always fly First or Business Class.” This sentiment is echoed by other private jet and flight charter companies, including Book My Charters. Founder and CEO Sachit Wadhwa confirms: “We have witnessed a surge of approximately 60 percent in charter inquiries since lockdown, largely driven by first-time private flyers. Most of these flights are one-way, and originate in Mumbai and Delhi.”
Given the confusing environment in India today in regards to aviation, more and more people are considering these expensive but exclusive options. After a strict two-month lockdown, the government allowed domestic flights to operate on 25 May but initial days were plagued with hundreds of cancellations. Even now, states across India are still figuring out how exactly to handle incoming passengers from other parts of the country in terms of screenings and quarantines. And international travel is an even bigger question mark, especially since the US, UAE and France have objected to Air India’s ongoing Vande Bharat flights in and out of their countries, while other airlines are still banned from India operations until at least 15 July. While private jets and charters still have to abide by the same rules as normal flights in terms of mandatory screenings and quarantines, the interest in and usage of them are largely driven by first-time flyers who are prioritising both safety and convenience.
“Private jets are a more dependable option,” elaborates Wadhwa. The obvious advantages: you can arrive at the airport about 30 minutes prior to the flight (versus the two hours required by commercial airlines); you avoid large crowds and long queues at the airport and in the aircraft; you travel only with passengers known to you; you are in charge of your schedule and itinerary, so you can fly non-stop from any destination in India to another at your own time. Prior to lockdown, according to Tekriwal, the majority of requests came in from people who had children studying abroad (especially London, Singapore and Australia) or elsewhere in India. “Eight-five percent of those flights carried just one to three passengers,” she says. Adults who were stranded while travelling for work, or those who were ill and away from their families also formed the early demand. Nowadays, however, Wadhwa explains, the profile of customers has changed. Today, the typical Book My Charters customer is above the age of 50 and looking to travel to a vacation home within India, to visit family, or urgently for business-related daytrip. Some wish to travel with pets. Goa is the number one destination of choice (no surprise there), and Dubai is likely to be the first international city to see traffic from India.
01/07/20 Divia Thani/Conde Nast Traveller

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