- Private aviation firms are reporting an increase in bookings from over the weekend out of London as the UK government imposes new lockdowns.
- A new strain of coronavirus prompted the government to shut down most of London and South East England.
- Over 40 countries have closed borders with the UK or implemented stricter entry restrictions, leading airlines to cancel flights.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
As Londoners flocked to train stations over the weekend in a last-ditch effort to escape new lockdown restrictions, British high society went to London’s private jet terminals to catch charter flights out of the country.
Parts of the UK entered into a “Tier 4 lockdown” this week amid news of a rapidly spreading new strain of the novel coronavirus. London is among those regions impacted by the lockdown that severely limits travel and mandates residents to “stay at home,” unless they have a “reasonable excuse” to leave.
The new lockdown is expected to extend through the Christmas holiday, causing a mass exodus from the city before it became illegal to leave, as the BBC reported. While the masses turned to cars, trains, commercial airliners, and busses to flee the city, those fortunate enough to do so turned to private aviation firms, who’ve say they have seen an increase in UK bookings from the weekend.
“Enquiries reached a peak yesterday, with many looking to travel to second homes for Christmas or bring forward pre-booked flights with us to warmer destinations such as Dubai or the Maldives,” Mark Briffa, the CEO of private charter brokerage Air Partner, told Business Insider.
Fleeing the country was made more difficult as the rest of the world closed their borders to Britain amid news of a deadlier strain of the novel coronavirus. A March redux, over 40 countries from Canada to Singapore, Argentina to Hong Kong have banned flights from the UK, the New York Times reports, or are requiring quarantines for inbound passengers.
“As some countries suspend travel to and from the UK, many of our clients are making last-minute arrangements with us to leave the country before borders close,” Briffa said.
Lockdowns have bolstered private aviation travel as the wealthy are willing to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for safe passage away from the hardships at home. While it’s helped to keep the private aviation industry afloat, it’s also highlighted a division in how the wealthy are thriving during the pandemic in luxury while everyday people struggle through it.
Travellers filled London’s St. Pancras International on Sunday looking to flee the country on what they thought would be the last train out of London bound for Paris.
The next day, rail operator Eurostar — which connects the UK with mainland Europe via the famed Channel Tunnel — cancelled its trains from London as France, the Netherlands, and Belgium closed its borders with Great Britain.
Similar queues formed at Heathrow Airport on Sunday to board last-minute flights before airlines began cancellations.
And while the train stations remained empty…
The wealthy flocked to London’s smaller airports like Biggin Hill, Luton, and Stansted.
“The trend we are seeing of our clients leaving the UK will likely increase over the next few days as the threat of a UK border closure looms, and as other countries continue to impose temporary bans on arrivals from the UK,” Briffa said.
Private aviation is billed as the safer alternative and more reliable as airlines have been cancelling flights due to lockdown restrictions throughout the pandemic.
The luxurious exodus continues a trend that started in March as the wealthy have been turning to private jets in fear of commercial airline travel in the wake of the pandemic, despite the best effort of airlines to calm an anxious travelling public.
“On Monday, we saw a huge surge in clients requesting to fly out of the UK, so much so that demand reached similar levels to what we usually experience in normal peak summer season,” Toby Edwards, co-CEO of private charter brokerage Victor, told Business Insider in a statement. “And just like in peak season, aircraft availability is a challenge.”
Victor saw a 167% increase in bookings with all UK flights since the lockdown announcement on Saturday being booked on a “go now” or “go tomorrow” basis.
The average time between booking and departure in December was less than a day compared to 23 days this month last year.
“The list of destinations still open includes countries such as Spain, Greece, and Dubai,” Andy Christie, group private jets director at private jet brokerage Air Charter Service, told Business Insider in a statement. “However we are still monitoring the situation, which is changing rapidly.”
As Spain’s El Pais reported on Monday, Spain has not followed suit with European counterparts and has allowed flights from the UK, provided passengers come with a negative COVID-19 test in hand.
Testing for entry has been a key strategy in reopening the world’s borders and even facilitating domestic travel between certain states but travellers can be infected by the virus and still test negative before symptoms appear.
“We actually saw a 30% increase in bookings over the weekend compared with the corresponding weekend last year mainly with people travelling home for Christmas,” Christie said.
Mainly the areas of the UK surrounding London and extending as far as the English Channel are in Tier 4. Other populated regions including The Midlands, West Country, North Country, and Scotland are still in varying stages of lockdown but yet not at the strictest level, as the UK’s Express outlines.
Some private jets found on Flightradar 24 were heading across the Atlantic as not all Western Hemisphere countries have restricted flights from the UK.
The US and many Caribbean countries, among others, are still welcoming UK travellers.
Private jets often have their flight plan data shielded from public view so there’s little way of knowing where all of these jets are headed or if all are carrying British citizens fleeing lockdown.
Border closures with the UK can also lead to an influx of flights to the country as residents don’t want to be stranded abroad.
“If this situation continues we will expect scheduled airlines to start cancelling more inbound flights as well as outbound, and as a result, we could see an increase of private jet bookings with more people trying to get back to the UK for Christmas who have seen their scheduled flights cancel,” Christie said.
Known as repatriation flights, these flights are typically reserved for emergency situations.
“Currently, the UK border remains open, but if it were to close, there would be very few exemptions for those wanting to travel in or out of the country – it would be limited to business travel and emergency evacuation flights,” Briffa said.
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