Growing fear over coronavirus is battering commercial airline stocks, but private jet operators are seeing a spike in demand as well-heeled travelers look to minimize their public exposure and find alternatives to suspended flights.

“There’s undoubtedly been a rise in demand for short-notice, on-demand charter,” said Adam Twidell, chief executive officer of jet charter provider PrivateFly. “We’ve had a very significant number of inquiries, for group evacuations, and from corporates and individuals.”

Requests have included a decontamination team looking for transport within Asia and a family traveling to Bali from Hong Kong who wanted to avoid exposure to other people on a commercial flight. Charter company Victor recently had a film studio ask about flying 50 people to Los Angeles from Tokyo to limit interaction with other travelers.

Such inquiries are becoming more common after the virus, which first emerged in Central China in December, has since spread to six continents, operators say.

“The number of private jet requests have gone up -- especially on long-haul flights,” said Richard Lewis, U.S. president of Insignia Group, which organizes travel for wealthy clients. “They’re not willing to share the cabin with other people.”

Not Cheap
It’s not cheap, but can be relatively competitive with luxury commercial travel.

The cost of flying round-trip from New York to London on a 12-seat Gulfstream IV is about $140,000, although squeezing that many people onboard removes some of the comfort factor. That compares with $10,000 for a first-class ticket flying commercial, complete with a lie-flat bed.

For individuals and companies willing to pay extra, it’s a way to minimize the risk of infection.

JetSet Group, a New York-based charter company that books roughly 150 flights a month, has seen business spike about 25% in the last few weeks. Fear of the virus appears to be driving the demand, said founder and CEO Steve Orfali, based on customer feedback.

Many of his clients have medium-sized business and have to travel to see factories or stores. Others are considering it for family vacations.

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