• The newly-discovered Omicron variant of COVID-19 has the wealthy looking to leave South Africa. 
  • Searches for private jet flights have increased to more than 600 inquires in one week’s time for one company. 
  • Only a select type of private jet can fly non-stop from South Africa to places like the East Coast of the US. 

Southern Africa is among the latest COVID-19 hotspots following the detection of a new variant, named Omicron by the World Health Organization, that has prompted new travel restrictions from countries including the US and the UK. 

And while the variant already has already been detected outside of southern Africa, travelers are looking to leave the region and the wealthy are once again turning to private jets for safe passage. Searches for private jet flights are breaking records for some companies specializing in private aircraft charter.

“Our private jet cost calculator has recorded over 600 departure queries out of Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban since November 21, which is more than the total number of queries recorded in the nine months prior,” private aircraft charter brokerage EvoJets told Insider. 

The US, however, wasn’t a top destination for those looking to leave South Africa on private aircraft. Rather, countries with more severe travel restrictions such as Australia, New Zealand, and the UK are at the top of EvoJet’s list. 

“Of the 600+ departures recorded out of those cities, the top destinations were Sydney, London, and Auckland, and 92% of the requests were one-way flights,” EvoJets said. 

EvoJets did not say how many searches turned to bookings but one-way bookings on short notice to far-off destinations are likely to set travelers back tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars. Only a select type of private aircraft have the range to fly non-stop between southern Africa and those cities, and only a select few private airlines have those aircraft in their fleets. 

Ultra-long-range aircraft such as the Bombardier Global 7500 and Gulfstream G650ER can fly up to 7,500 nautical miles, enabling non-stop flights between Johannesburg and the US East Coast under the right conditions. But those aircraft are among the most expensive to charter, as Insider found on a Gulfstream G650ER demonstration flight in August

Flying on a Gulfstream G650ER — Gulfstream G650ER Demonstration Flight

A Qatar Executive Gulfstream G650ER.

Thomas Pallini/Insider


Private aviation is one of the few choices left for travelers looking to leave southern Africa as some global airlines are refusing to take passengers from the region. Qatar Airways and Emirates, both of which gained reputations as repatriation airlines early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, are refusing to fly travelers originating in some southern African countries including South Africa and Zimbabwe. 

US airlines have said they’ll continue to fly to South Africa despite the new traveler restrictions that limit travel for non-US citizens and legal permanent residents. United Airlines and Delta Air Lines both fly to Johannesburg, South Africa non-stop from their Newark and Atlanta hubs, respectively, and United is keeping its plans to open a new route between Newark and Cape Town on December 1. 

Private aviation has been an increasingly popular method of transportation for the wealthy since the pandemic began and commercial aviation became viewed as inferior from a health safety perspective in their eyes. Repatriation flights accounted for a surge in traffic during the pandemic’s early days, and health safety concerns have turned first-time flyers into repeat customers

The wealthy have used private jets for myriad reasons including to flee lockdowns in the UK and also to vote in their home states on Election Day

Private aircraft charter is likely to keep booming as uncertainty surrounding commercial travel lingers. On Friday, a total of 61 travelers across two flights from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving on commercial flights in Amsterdam, where they were held for at least four hours while authorities deciphered new travel restrictions

All travelers, whether on commercial or private aircraft, must still submit to COVID-19 testing before boarding a US-bound flight. Vaccinated travelers must take their tests, PCR or antigen, no later than three days prior to departure while unvaccinated must take theirs no later than one day prior to departure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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