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COVID-wary seasonal residents return to Southwest Florida... on private jets

November 27, 2020

COVID-19 forced an abrupt end to the 2019-20 tourist season. Seasonal residents quickly packed their belongings and scrambled to find a safe way home. That brought Southwest Florida’s economy to a screeching halt.

Their return to Southwest Florida this fall, however, is looking very differently.

Modes of transportation 

Many affluent travelers are not buying tickets on commercial airlines, even first-class seats. Commercial travel does not allow for social distancing, flight options are substantially limited and nonstop routes are few and far between.

Driving is not a great option, either. It is a two- or three-day drive from most snowbird hometowns. That requires multiple nights in hotels and stops at gas stations, restaurants and rest areas. 

Instead, many well-heeled travelers are chartering private jets. That way, it is just their traveling party, the captain and first officer.  

Flying privately has always been an attractive option for those with ample resources. However, this fall, Elite Jets and other charter air services have noticed an uptick in first-time travelers flying privately. It is safer because passengers are not exposed to 100 or more fellow travelers at the ticket counter, security check, boarding line, onboard the aircraft or at baggage claim. It is more convenient because passengers can schedule their own departure time and fly direct routes to airports closer to their final destination. It is still a VIP experience because private jets have upgraded seats, entertainment systems, plentiful amenities and concierge services. 

While Elite Jets’ serves seasonal residents from traditional snowbird states like New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Michigan, Teterboro Airport – located just outside of New York City and Newark – has been the No. 1 origin for travelers flying into Naples Airport, as well as the top destination for passengers departing Naples Airport.

READ MORE: First time flying on a private jet? Here’s what to expect 

Time difference 

Assuming a couple’s Manhattan home is in SoHo and their Naples home is in Port Royal, below are breakdowns of the three travel options: 

  • Flying commercially: SoHo to LaGuardia Airport (45 minutes); Recommended arrival before departure (2 hours); Flight time to Southwest Florida International Airport (3 hours nonstop; 4 hours, 30 minutes with connection); Deplaning, baggage claim and car rental (45 minutes); RSW to Port Royal (45 minutes). Total travel time: 7 hours, 15 minutes to 8 hours, 45 minutes.
  • Driving: Behind-the-wheel drive time (20 hours); Gas station stops (1 hour). Total travel time: 21 hours driving, usually over three days.
  • Flying privately: SoHo to Teterboro Airport (30 minutes); Recommended arrival before departure (5 minutes): Flight time to Naples Airport (2 hours, 45 minutes); Deplaning and baggage claim (5 minutes); Private transfer to Port Royal (15 minutes). Total travel time: 3 hours, 40 minutes.

READ MORE: Comparison: Flying first class commercially vs. flying privately with Elite Jets 

Convenience and safety 

Convenience has always been a top reason to fly privately. Now, passengers are citing superb safety measures for flying privately. For instance, Elite Jets uses a fogging disinfection process that kills 99.9% of bacteria, viruses and allergens, as well as EPA-approved disinfectants to clean arm rests, tray tables, seatbelts, window shades and lavatories after each flight. Private jets also have different ventilation systems, capturing and treating outside air during flight rather than continuously circulating cabin air like commercial aircraft.

Southwest Florida’s economy struggled in the late spring, summer and early fall. Each time a jet lands at the airport, though, it could be bringing seasonal residents back to the region, helping to fill restaurants, retail stores, attractions and entertainment venues. High season may look differently, but the aviation industry is proud to be flying our northern friends back to Southwest Florida.

READ MORE: Private jets offer solution for safe, stress-free holiday travel 

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