A shift toward private flying that more wealthy Americans saw as a necessary luxury during COVID-19 is now showing signs of becoming something else: a pricey but sought-after alternative to a premium ticket on a commercial flight.
Many stayed for the convenience, with analysts and industry executives saying they see both more first-time jet owners and families and even small- and medium businesses flying private.
Airlines had an 80% share of premium travel in 2021, down from 90% before COVID-19, according to Alton Aviation Consultancy.
Business jets were often associated with entertainers and top executives. They now account for a quarter of U.S. flights, roughly twice the pre-pandemic share, according to research and consultancy WINGX.
And consultancy McKinsey & Company estimated that before the pandemic, only 10% of those with the means to travel privately did so.
Flying private covers a whole gamut of transport. For some, like Stockbridge, that means owning a private plane. Other services include operators of charter flights that sell either by the seat or the entire plane, as well as services that sell fractions or shares of jets.
U.S. private aviation traffic is up about 15% from its 2019 levels, while airline traffic remains down about 13%, according to data from flight-tracking website FlightAware.
Analysts do expect a rebound in commercial flights to eventually draw some wealthy travelers back to scheduled airlines. But there are signs that some of the shift to private jets could be permanent, especially on shorter-haul U.S. flights.