Worldwide private jet operator VistaJet is celebrating National Aviation Day – it was earlier this month – by taking visitors to its website inside the lives of employees as they carried on during the COVID-19 crisis, providing an essential lifeline to those of us who needed to get somewhere.
Under the banner of “Meet the global aviation experts,” VistaJet is presenting interviews with a cabin hostess, captain, operations duty manager, program sales executive, customer experience manager, and vice president of charter sales.
While the interviews were of the laudatory vein one expects on a corporate website, they also provided some good insights.
VistaJet is known for its global jet card offering (it calls it the Program), so it was interesting customer experience manager Zak Rarhibou noted of its U.S.-based clients, “It might take a while for them to feel comfortable traveling outside of the States, but I know a lot of business travelers are keen to get moving.”
He also pointed to customers using their membership to fly family members. “I’ve seen customers request flights for their sister, grandmother, dad, to bring them back home. In that way it’s been great, we’ve definitely helped to bring a lot of people closer.”
There was also a sense of community among its customers, Rarhibou said. “Initially, when we did the majority of our repatriation flights, we had quite a few of our customers offering to share their fights, even with people they didn’t know. It’s pretty incredible that in tough times like this everyone is open to helping others.”
He noted customers have reacted to concerns about avoiding COVID-19 in a number of ways. “Some customers want to have as much control over their flight as possible, others want to have all the details — where the aircraft has recently been, the crew — and some simply want to be hand-held through the whole process. In any case, we have to understand that every passenger is different, and we will accommodate for this.”
Particularly interesting was the interview with Heinrich Gericke, an operations duty manager based in Malta. He noted, “As a preemptive measure the company set up a safe house in Malta. Earlier on in the year, 13 of us moved into the facility to work as a support unit.”
Asked about how he kept up with government regulations, Gericke said, “Regulations change hourly, sometimes even in minutes. The best we can do is remain vigilant and think fast. It has required a lot of people working diligently and quickly to find solutions, but that’s what we do.”
While wearing masks has developed into a politically charged subject. Fortunately, Fatiha Ouchin, a Dubai-based cabin hostess said that hasn’t been the case with her passengers. “More customers are coming on board wearing masks, particularly our customers from Asia. During service, they would usually remove their masks, as they would get comfortable and feel at home. Once it came to disembark the aircraft, they would wear their masks again.”
She noted some customers don’t want any contact, so she prepares everything they would need in advance. She also notes that VistaJet has been able to maintain its fine dining since it has the facilities onboard to provide clean plates and cutlery.
Even during the biggest crisis the world has faced in decades, Ouchin notes the power of human connections. “I had a recent flight on a Global 6000 with a family from Asia, I was the only Cabin Hostess onboard, and spent a total of sixteen hours with them, from departure to landing. We were able to offer a full service and even managed to keep the kids entertained by playing movies and offering them snacks. When they disembarked, the children, especially the youngest one, was so happy that he wanted to hug me (we of course did not hug!), but it was amazing for a five-year-old to feel so appreciative of the service I had provided.”
She hasn’t seen her boyfriend since the beginning of the crisis. On the bright side, she has more time to keep up with her studies in International Relations.
Meanwhile, Dutch captain Michael van der Voort notes, that new rules and regulations are adding to time and workload. “In Sydney, customs used to come to the aircraft – now we have to go to their office. The new process takes 75 minutes.”
On another trip, “I had to fly from Portugal to Austin, Texas. We had to stop in Chicago, one of the largest airports in the world, park up next to the FBO and shut down the aircraft. It then took us 45 minutes to walk across the airport with the passengers all the way through to the COVID-19 checkup point at customs, clear our passports and then all the way back to the aircraft.”
Private aviation’s recovery has been driven by leisure travel. However, Harvey Murphy, a New York-based sales executive said the company is seeing interest related to business travel. Tech companies as well as medical manufacturers and labs want to charter private jets to transport goods.
Underscoring that business travel hasn’t completely gone away, Murphy said he recently closed a deal for 600 flight hours.
James Clark is a Hong Kong-based vice president of on-demand charter sales. He noted at the beginning of the crisis, the biggest challenge was “an influx of flight requests with people wanting to get back to their homes. We were looking at hundreds of inquiries and had a constant stream of phone calls; there was a lot of pressure to manage everything…Inquiries were coming in every hour for 24 hours”