“Take me out” were the three words sent to Charles Robinson. Their author was one of many wealthy Indians who were trying to flee the worsening Covid-19 pandemic in the country by all means.
“This gentleman didn’t care where or how to go and he even asked that we look at helicopter options to take him across the border where he could then transit and head elsewhere,” says Robinson, the founder of the private jet charter company Just Jet.
While India reported a record number of Covid-19 cases over the weekend, those with enough cash are rushing to charter jets or helicopters to fly them out of the country.
Many don’t care where they end up, as long as it’s somewhere with good health care and preferably a decent immunization schedule. At home, hospitals are running out of oxygen to treat Covid-19 patients and vaccine stocks are dangerously low.
But a growing list of countries is now closing their borders to Indians, which means travel, even for the wealthiest Indians, is very limited.
Robinson was able to find a jet plane to transport his client to Abu Dhabi, just before the United Arab Emirates suspended all inbound flights from India on Sunday April 25.
There was a similar rush in London before the UK added India to its ‘red list’, meaning any new arrivals would have to be quarantined in a government-approved hotel for ten days .
Pakistan has also closed its border with India. The country is experiencing a growing number of Covid-19 cases, and doctors fear a crisis similar to India’s as ventilators and oxygen supplies run out.
Not just the ultra rich
“It’s not just the ultra rich. Anyone who can afford a private jet takes private jets,” Rajan Mehra, CEO of New Delhi-based Club One Air, told Bloomberg.
With the exorbitant cost of private flights (a one-way flight from Delhi to Abu Dhabi can cost as much as $ 20,000), many not-so-rich Indians head to the nearest country to take them.
Some transit or find refuge in the Maldives, the island nation off the southern coast of India. WingX, which collects data on private aviation, says private jet connections to and from the Maldives have increased 360% this year.
Not only is the Maldives an idyllic holiday destination, but the country says it will soon offer Covid-19 vaccines to anyone who goes there on vacation, as soon as it finishes vaccinating its own population.
However, this is unlikely to be widely accessible to all Indians: as of Tuesday (April 27), the Maldives Ministry of Tourism has suspended Indian tourists from staying in “hotels and guesthouses on inhabited islands. “.
This means that only the most expensive resorts in the Maldives located on autonomous or private islands will be available to fleeing Indians.
Private jet travel takes off
The rush for private jets in the face of increasing Covid-19 cases and travel restrictions is not new, however.
As parts of Europe entered their first lockdown in March of last year, many travelers or expats interrupted their stays and chartered jets to return home.
Repatriation flights have prevented the private aviation industry from following the fate of its commercial cousin. Charter companies, such as Air Charter Service, have launched 24-hour special request lines to help travelers who want to return home urgently.
Now, many are flying privately just to avoid congested trade routes. Private jet charter companies now thoroughly clean their planes between trips and regularly test pilots and cabin crew for Covid-19.
Today, the private aviation industry is 18% busier than at the same time last year, while scheduled airlines are down 29% according to WingX.
Things in private aviation are also not expected to calm down anytime soon, says Robinson: “I hope India will be back on track soon and the nationals who fled for safety can return home. . “