Rich evacuees scramble for private jets out of Florida

Key Points
  • Private jet companies said demand Wednesday and this week is shaping up to be double or triple the usual demand.
  • Prices are skyrocketing, with some rich flyers paying 30 percent or more than usual for a seat or plane.
A file photo of a NetJets plane
Victor J. Blue | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Private jet companies are seeing a surge in demand from wealthy Florida residents scrambling to leave before Hurricane Irma.

With commercial flights booked or canceled, and the roads clogged with traffic, private jet companies said demand Wednesday and this week is shaping up to double or triple the usual demand.

While this is normally a slow time of year, they said calls and bookings are more like a Super Bowl or U.S. Open golf day, with hundreds of wealthy flyers trying to book flights out.

"I think the technical term is 'off the charts,'" said Bradley Stewart, CEO of XOJET. "It feels more like a top-10 demand day."

Prices are also skyrocketing, with some rich flyers are paying 30 percent or more than usual for a seat or plane.

Of course, all the private jet companies say they're not trying to exploit the storm or their clients. They say they're trying to take care of their top clients first and bear the added costs of the shifting demand.

Yet they said Hurricane Irma has once again highlighted the benefits of private aviation.

"This is the time when private aviation really proves its value," Stewart said. He added that a client in Turks and Caicos called frantically wanting a plane out Wednesday, so the company pulled a jet from maintenance and raced the plane down for a "turn and burn" run to pick them up.

"It's turning into more of rescue operations for us," he said.

NetJets said Wednesday is "shaping up to be one of the busiest of the year" for the company. "The demand we are seeing this week is not typical for this time of year."

"Safety and service are our top priorities and we are doing everything we can to serve our Owners and team members who live in the region," NetJets said.

JetSmarter said it has around 75 flights booked between Wednesday and Friday from South Florida. That compares with about 10 during the same time last year.

Stewart said most of the customers heading out of Florida are going to New York, Boston or other areas of the Northeast.

While chartering a jet from Florida to New York would normally be around $14,000 to $15,000, this week it's more likely to be over $20,000. And that's for the lucky ones. Most people trying to book a flight Wednesday can't even get a jet or seat — no matter what they're willing to pay.

Jet companies say they're diverting all the planes they can from California, the South and the Midwest to handle demand from Florida.

"Without a strong relationship with the company, it's going to be tough" for people to get a plane, Stewart said.