With commercial airlines struck by the whirlpool of the coronavirus pandemic, a sector of the industry favored by the rich is flourishing: private jets.
Fear of massive bankruptcies and calls for bailouts have hit global airlines in recent days with a leading warning from the US authorities that the outbreak threatens the industry even more than the September 11 attacks.
But for Richard Zaher, CEO of a US-based private jet charter company, emails and phone calls keep on coming.
"Inquiries went through the roof," he told AFP, noting that Paramount Business Jets had seen a 400 percent increase in inquiries, with bookings up about 20 to 25 percent.
"It's completely corona virus," he added.
"We see our regular private jet customers flying as usual. However, we have an increase in customers and most of them have never flown privately."
Airlines around the world have reduced capacity and passengers have canceled travel plans as countries block arrivals to curb the spread of COVID-19.
ForwardKeys, a travel analytics company, estimates that up to 3.3 million seats disappear on transatlantic flights alone.
Zaher said that many new bookings came from customers who had emergencies and either could not find seats on commercial routes or did not want to risk them.
A recent booking concerned a woman who flew her older mother across the United States.
"Her mother had oxygen and had to be flown from coast to coast," said Zaher.
"They thought it was necessary to pay a premium so as not to fly commercially and to be together in this uncertain time."
Customs without crowds
The costs vary greatly depending on the aircraft, region, number of passengers and flight duration.
A round-trip flight on a 12-seater airplane from London to New York can cost around $ 150,000. Hong Kong to Japan costs around $ 71,000 one way.
However, if you book a private flight from the UK to the South of France, you can get back a little over $ 10,000.
In Asia, where the outbreak originated, there has been a steady increase in new customers in the past two months, according to charter companies, as people who fled the virus in January returned in March from places where their own epidemics now occurred are.
Commercial flights to and from China have dropped by around 90 percent in the past two months.
A spokeswoman for the Air Charter Service in Hong Kong informed AFP that the number of firm bookings in the financial centers in Shanghai and Beijing increased by 70 percent in January and February, and that new customers increased by 170 percent during the same period.
"It is the kind of people who are wealthy enough, but would not necessarily charter, who might charter one time," said James Royds-Jones, Asia Pacific Director Executive Jets for Air Charter Service.
A new job was for a family moving from Hong Kong to the city of Chiang Mai in Thailand.
"People are just trying to put their house almost on a private jet," he said.
"Moving too, I think the only good thing about the private jet side of things … you can have your pets with you."
Hong Kong-based charter company MayJets' Daniel Tang said he has received five times as many requests since the outbreak began, with three times more bookings than usual.
Customers chose to charter because they didn't want to limit themselves to hundreds of people with "unknown" travel histories, and found that private passengers usually handled customs and immigration separately from the airport's crowded main terminals.
"Both are usually just the benefit of flying a private jet, but have become an invaluable asset for chartering a private jet in these uncertain times," he said.
However, Tang said that the increasingly restrictive travel conditions – in many countries EU citizens have to be quarantined if they are not completely excluded from entry – would ultimately affect private transport.
"As more countries tighten their borders, even private jets will find it more difficult to fly," he said.