India’s mounting crisis surrounding a surge in coronavirus infections is prompting wealthy families to flee the country by private jet.
With reports of hospital bed and drug shortages sweeping social media, Indian tycoons and others able to afford fares running into millions of rupees are booking flights to boltholes in Europe, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean.
“It’s not only the ultra rich,” said Rajan Mehra, chief executive officer at New Delhi-based private jet firm Club One Air. “Whoever can afford to take a private jet are taking private jets.”
India reported 352,991 new infections on Monday, the highest daily tally worldwide since the pandemic began. With the country’s health infrastructure creaking under the strain, Bollywood movie superstars were spotted escaping to destinations including the Maldives, while at least three Australian cricketers have quit the Indian Premier League, the sport’s leading club tournament.
Some of the impetus for the wealthy to fly out of India has come from overseas nations taking measures to restrict travel from the South Asian state as the new wave of Covid-19 cases has taken hold.
Canada, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates and the U.K. are among more than a dozen states that have imposed curbs, with others poised to announce measures. The Maldives will restrict Indians from visiting all but a handful of resort-only islands from Tuesday, leading to a last-minute rush in departures.
“There was a huge surge to London and Dubai just before the restrictions took place, and the Maldives too before they announced the ban,” said Mehra, who was previously the head of Indian operations at Qatar Airways.
A one-way flight from New Delhi to Dubai costs as much as Rs 1.5 million ($20,000), including ground handling and other fees, though private-jet operators also charge for the return leg if the plane is empty, Mehra said.
The exodus has echoes of last year, when India banned medical evacuation flights amid concern that the super-rich might falsely claim they need treatment in order to jet around the nation during lockdown after the government banned commercial services.
While private fares were already high and haven’t generally been bumped up, the cost of airline tickets has climbed.
Nishant Pitti, co-founder of Easy Trip Planners India, said there’s limited availability to locations such as London following a surge in bookings for “immediate travel.”
One-way economy-class trips to Dubai are going for the equivalent of $1,300, more than 10 times the regular price, according to Mehra.
“That shows how desperately people are trying to get away,” he said.