BEIJING/MONTREAL: As the coronavirus spreads across the United States, Chinese students from wealthy families are persuading their parents to pay tens of thousands of dollars for seats on private jets to get home.
The alternative, in a world of locked borders and grounded commercial planes, is 60-hour flights with multiple transit hops over the Pacific.
Jeff Gong, a lawyer in Shanghai, asked his daughter, a high school student in Wisconsin, if she wanted 180,000 yuan ($25,460) as pocket money or a ticket on a private flight home.
“My daughter begged me to get her back home … She said ‘No papa, I don’t want the money, I want to go home’,” he told Reuters.
US-based Chinese students are scrambling to get home as US infections top 50,000 while new cases in China – where the flu-like virus emerged in humans late last year – have fallen to zero.
The sense of urgency is further heightened by the dramatic cutback in flight capacity. On Tuesday, 3,102 out of 3,800 planned commercial flights to and from China were cancelled, according to aviation data provider VariFlight.
“(Education) agents and schools are the ones making contact on behalf of the Chinese families looking to group together to arrange a private charter, given the lack of airline flights,” said Annelies Garcia, commercial director for Private Fly, a global booking service for charter flights.
But even the window for chartered flights is closing fast, further elevating prices. Beijing has banned all chartered flights from overseas and Shanghai is expected to follow suit soon. Hong Kong and Macau have blocked transit flights.
US-based Air Charter Service can fly passengers from Los Angeles to Shanghai on a 14-seat Bombardier 6000 for 2.3 million yuan ($325,300), or about $23,000 for a spot.
“We have arranged a number of private jets travelling from the US to China repatriating Chinese nationals with routes
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