Celebrities like Kylie Jenner are so accustomed to flying privately that they use their personal jets like most people use their cars.
But what about the average middle- or upper-class American citizen? A new survey by BestPrivateJet.com of 1,250 Americans who earn $50,000 or more annually found that nearly one-third have flown on a private jet at least once.
In fact, one-third of those individuals did so for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted commercial air travel due to travel restrictions, mask mandates, staff shortages, and more.
While most people may think that flying private is just for the ultra-rich, our survey showed that’s not always necessarily the case.
When broken down by income brackets, 41% of Americans who earn between $100K and $149,999 annually have traveled by private plane at least once, followed by 37% of those who make $150K or more each year, and 27% who earn between $50K and $99,999 annually.
Regardless of income level, the majority of Americans who’ve flown privately, 69%, did so for the first time prior to 2020. The other 31% took their first private flight after 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Fourteen percent took a private plane for the first time in 2020, 13% in 2021, and 4% during the first half of 2022.
For 26% of those who flew privately for the first time since 2020, the pandemic and its effects factored into the decision.
Twenty-six percent chose to fly private ‘for added safety when traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic.’ Meanwhile, 20% were trying to avoid federal mask mandates on commercial flights.
Even those who started taking private flights prior to 2020 took the pandemic into consideration when choosing how to travel recently. Twenty-four percent of these individuals selected private planes for the increased protection they provided from COVID. Seventeen percent flew private to avoid mask rules.
Regardless of the reason why these Americans chose to start flying private during or after 2020, they’re sold on traveling this way going forward.
Seventy-four percent of respondents in this group say it’s ‘very likely’ they’ll fly privately in the future, while 26% say it’s ‘somewhat likely.’
Their confidence may be inspired by the fact that, despite their fairly recent entrance into the world of private jet travel, the majority have already taken multiple trips via this mode of transportation.
Forty percent have taken between 3-5 private flights. Fifteen percent have flown private 6-10 times since 2020, and 10% have had more than 10 private flights between 2020 and now.
By comparison, 59% of individuals who started flying privately before 2020 have taken 3 or more private flights in total. While 88% of respondents in this group say it’s very or somewhat likely they’ll fly privately again, 12% say it’s ‘not at all likely.’
How much are middle- and upper-class Americans willing to shell out for the privilege and prestige of private flight?
As of July 2022, 60% of individuals who started taking private flights in 2020 or later have spent upwards of $50,000 in total on private flights. A similar percentage of individuals who started flying private prior to the pandemic, 57%, have spent a similar amount of money.
Nineteen percent of those in the highest income bracket ($150K or more annually) have spent more than $150K total on private flights, compared to just 1% of people who earn between $50K-$149,999.
However, 50% of middle-income earners, and 49% of high-income earners, got their private flights for free, or have paid less than $20K total for private air travel. Middle-income and high-earners are equally likely to have gotten their private flights for free or under $20K.
When it comes to non-pandemic-related reasons why middle- and upper-class Americans have chosen to fly privately, the top two responses boil down to occasion and opportunity.
Thirty-eight percent of all respondents who have flown privately say it was to celebrate a special occasion, like a honeymoon or birthday. Thirty-seven percent just happened to know the right people; they were invited to be a guest on someone else’s private flight.
Efficiency and practicality were also factors. Twenty-seven percent chose to fly privately because it’s faster than flying commercial, while 26% say it was the only option for getting to their destination.
Twenty-five percent of private plane passengers wanted to avoid the hassles of flying commercial, like delayed flights and lost luggage. Twenty-two percent wanted the comfortable cabin experience a private plane provides, and 21% say the private flight was for work-related travel and paid for by their employer.
Among the 68% of Americans who haven’t had the opportunity or privilege to fly private, 20% say they’re not willing to pay anything to do so.
Forty-four percent of these respondents would pay up to $4,999 to fly privately. However, considering most private plane charters start at around $4,500 per flight hour, they’ll likely be in for a short trip.
Part of the reason these individuals may not want to pay a lot of money for a private flight is because there’s another mode of luxury transportation that’s captured their imagination: private yachts.
We asked individuals who had never flown on a private plane to rank different forms of luxury transportation from most interesting to least interesting.
Private yacht came in number one, followed by private plane, exotic cars, vintage or classic cars, custom RV, limousine, and private helicopter.
All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by BestPrivateJet.com and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,250 American adults who earn an annual income of $50,000 or more were surveyed. Appropriate respondents were found using Pollfish’s screening tools. This survey was conducted on July 15, 2022. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities.