Travel

What it's like to travel by private jet

The private jet tour is taking off as a hot-ticket luxury trip, a multi-destination model reaching new heights for those who can afford it.Wednesday, July 3, 2019

By Jonathan Thompson
Halong Bay, Vietnam.

It’s the ultimate package holiday for high-flying customers. In the space of just a few weeks, you can tick off even the longest of bucket lists while circling the globe in unadulterated luxury. From the moment your chauffeur knocks on your front door to the moment you let yourself back in with a passport full of stamps, you won’t have to lift a finger. Over the course of a single trip, you could be hiking Machu Picchu, snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef and hot air ballooning across the Serengeti, as well as sampling the finest restaurants in Marrakech, Shanghai and St Petersburg. No need to worry about tiresome airport banalities like visa-filling, luggage-collecting or customs-queueing, either — with all of that taken care of, you’re free to hopscotch your way around the planet in style.

Private jet holidays like this are the latest trend for the cash-rich, time-poor: tailor-made journeys traversing the globe in constant five-star luxury, aboard state-of-the-art aircraft. In addition to the regular crew, you’ll find an elite concierge, a dedicated doctor and an executive chef on board, with your every need anticipated and professionally met. And then there are the destinations. From UNESCO World Heritage Sites to picture-perfect beaches, exhilarating cities to tropical islands, this is the way to embrace the Earth’s highlights a la A-list. 

Despite the high cost of these trips (you won’t get much change out of £100,000 for a full round-the-world itinerary), their popularity is soaring. The market leader, TCS World Travel, has reported a 25% growth in the number of its jet tours between 2017 and 2019, with five new itineraries recently added, and many trips sold out up to 12 months in advance. The company now has a fleet of three dedicated jets, including a specially adapted Boeing 757, plus an Airbus A318 with 28 lie-flat seats for shorter tours.

“Private jet vacations make things seamless and worry-free, optimising travellers’ time where it matters most,” says company president Shelley Cline. “We allow guests to dispense with the hassle of expeditionary travel without losing the adventure, ensuring that the only thing they have to focus on is being immersed in the moment.”  

That ability to switch off — to fully engage with a place without worrying about your schedule, or how you’re getting back to your hotel or onto your next destination — is key to this model. It’s maximum engagement for zero effort, as you drop into a carefully chosen cavalcade of exotic global highlights. Essentially, companies like TCS have taken the cruise-ship model, replacing the boat with a plane and cranking the speed and luxury up to 11. 

Four Seasons private jet.

Despite lengthy waiting lists for tours like this, the guests keep coming. Laine Silverfield, a 68-year-old from Florida who was recently a passenger on a TCS round-the-world trip, says the rewards of a trip like this more than outweigh the price. “This is an experience which goes far beyond the journey itself,” she says. “The concept of being truly immersed in a culture appealed to us, yet we didn’t want to have to compromise on luxury. Travelling by private jet was the perfect way to have the best of both worlds. It allowed us to maximise our vacation time too, because we didn’t waste a moment standing in line at airports, waiting for baggage or sourcing local currency. We simply walked off the jet and the cars were there waiting for us on the tarmac. Travel doesn’t get any better than this.”  

A number of traditional luxury tour operators are on board with the trend too, including Scott Dunn and Abercrombie & Kent. According to the latter, most of the passengers involved are professionals or entrepreneurs aged between 50 and 70.“These are educated, active and accomplished people,” says Geoffrey Kent, the company’s founder, chairman and CEO. “Many weren’t able to travel before as they were building their careers, and now they’re making up for lost time. We’re seeing requests for private jet holidays from multigenerational families too. With family members often spread out across the world, a shared holiday like this is seen as valuable, uninterrupted time spent together.”     

Not to be outdone, luxury hotel chains are also embracing the private jet action, with flight paths adapted to take in five-star properties. Four Seasons, for example, recently announced the commissioning of a second palatial plane, following the success of its own round-the-world itinerary. Stops on its current tour include New York, Tokyo, Beijing and the Maldives, with passengers given Mongolian cashmere blankets, Bose noise-cancelling headphones and iPads loaded with the latest Hollywood releases to keep after the trip.

That level of luxury is par for the course on this kind of tour, where frills might include capacious Italian-leather seats, diamond-encrusted cutlery and generous purses of local currency handed out. It’s hard to think of a more opulent way to see the world — though, of course, the private jet industry’s environmental credentials need to be addressed. For the majority of us, all we can hope is that as popularity and competition rise, prices will fall, because round-the-world private jet tours have to be the ultimate in globetrotting.

National Geographic Expeditions: Africa by Private Jet

Discover the wonders of Africa during this 19-day adventure with top National Geographic experts, visiting six countries and taking in a wide spectrum of wildlife, landscapes, and cultures. This once in a lifetime adventure starts from £70,945 per person.

Aman: The Grandest Tour

Aman’s 22-day itinerary takes in everything from Vietnam’s beaches to Greece’s historical heartland, while staying in Aman’s beautiful properties. There are only 16 seats on the annual trip, each costing £89,000.

TCS World Travel: World of Adventures 

Taking in four continents and nine countries over 24 days, layovers include the Seychelles and the Galápagos. Activities range from gorilla trekking in Rwanda to river rafting in Bali.

Scott Dunn: The Ultimate Foodie Tour 

A three-night tour of Spain’s gourmet hotspots by private jet, with exclusive cooking experiences in San Sebastián, Seville and Majorca. £8,000 per person.

Abercrombie & Kent: ‘Wings over the Mediterranean’

A 14-day private-jet odyssey taking in the likes of Nice, Barcelona, Dubrovnik, Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. All for just £25,000 a head.

Four Seasons: International Intrigue 

Jet from Seattle to London, ticking off nine bucket list destinations over 23 days. A snip at just £113,000 a seat.

Published in the July/August 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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