The word’s most exclusive private jet is flying medical supplies for COVID-19

Apr 17, 2020

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The most exclusive private jet in the world has found a new job to do during the coronavirus pandemic: transporting medical equipment, instead of wealthy passengers. The Boeing 777 owned by Florida-based Crystal Cruises, which in its normal life is chartered for private travel at up to $50,000 (about £40,150) an hour, just flew a load of personal protective equipment from China to the United States. It will be called upon to do so again, since its usual customers aren’t flying these days, like everybody else.

“Our core business segment has, of course, been impacted by this global pandemic and that is why we are shifting charters to move cargo in the belly of the plane”, Richard Ziskind, vice president and managing director of Crystal Air Cruises, said in an email. “There will be more flights during this period of COVID-19”, he added.

TPG’s Zach Honig toured the Boeing 777-200LR in 2018, and was impressed by the luxurious ambience. Fitted with just 88 seats compared to up to 300 in airline service, it even has an onboard mixologist. But on this recent flight from China, there was none of that, just three pilots, all with the rank of captain and a load master to oversee the cargo.

Related: Look inside the world’s largest, most luxurious charter jet — a $50,000-an-hour 777

Flight-tracking site Flightradar24 showed that the plane flew from its home base in Florida to Shanghai on 13 April and flew back to Indianapolis on 15 April, both nonstop flights. The cargo it carried back from China was transported in the cargo holds: “We were transporting PPE in the belly of our aircraft”, Ziskind said. Airlines are doing the same to keep up revenue during the pandemic, switching some of their aeroplanes to carrying cargo in the holds where passenger luggage normally goes.

Crystal Cruises is going to employ its 777 to fly people as well during the pandemic. It will be used for repatriation flights, Ziskind said, and to transport doctors and nurses: “We have a projected plan to move medical teams around the globe as COVID-19 hotspots develop”, he added.

You may find yourself on the Crystal Skye even if you’re not a medical professional: “When businesses become operational, many companies have inquired about using our Crystal Skye for shuttle services,” Ziskind said. “They are going to need to move employees around to reopen several facilities around the globe.” The plane may even be pressed into service as a substitute on regular airline flights. “We have spoken with several airlines to provide ACMI services to fill the gap (…) for when they begin to phase in long-haul operations,” Ziskind said, using an industry acronym for a practice also known as “wet leasing.” That’s when an airline, finding itself short an aeroplane or more, contracts a third party to provide “aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance” — hence the acronym. Usually, wet leasing entails far more ordinary aircraft, although it sometimes happens that the leased plane is a huge trade-up.

Passengers on the Crystal Skye will find an aeroplane quite unlike what most of us are used to. The 777-200LR is the longest-range version of the 777, and in this VIP layout it can fly for up to 19 hours without refuelling, since it does not carry anywhere near its maximum load.

The 88-seat cabin isn’t, in fact, much more luxurious than some commercial options, but the real luxury happens in the dining and lounge sections of the jet.

Because of the risk of contagion, only half the seats will be used. “We have a huge benefit to our all-luxury configuration”, Ziskind said, “we can carry 44 passengers all within six feet of each other for social distance. They still have enough room to utilize our large lounge as well, within a six-foot distance of one another”.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

In normal times, the Crystal Skye 777 flies infrequently, as is often normal for private aeroplanes. Flightradar24 shows it flies on average a handful of times per month, always with flight number CS772, on routes as long as 17 hours, for example, Mumbai to Los Angeles and Acapulco to Melbourne, Australia.

The 777-200LR also holds the record for longest nonstop flight by a civilian jet. In 2005, Boeing flew one for 13,422 miles from Hong Kong to London eastbound, as opposed to the normal westbound route. It was not an airline scheduled flight and there were just 35 people on board — the flight would not have been possible with a full load. So the record for the longest regularly scheduled passenger flight is still in the hands of Singapore Airlines, with its Singapore to New York 9,000-plus mile service on the Airbus A350.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy

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