By Betty Yu

OAKLAND (KPIX) — The coronavirus pandemic may have stalled commercial air travel, but more people are getting on board with private jets.

Companies like Sentient Jet are seeing a rising demand from people worried about exposure on a commercial airplane or cramped terminals in the age of COVID-19.

The price for safety and peace of mind starts at $5,000 per hour for a light jet that carries up to six passengers.

“I think the private jet is something that people usually think about as a lifestyle or productivity tool, it really turned into a utility,” said Sentient Jet CEO Andrew Collins.

Sentient Jet is on track for a record-breaking sales month, the best in its 20-year history.

It is now bringing in up to $40 million in jet card purchases with flight hours per month. A typical month would range between $20 million and $25 million.

“When people realized that they wanted to avoid crowds, or they wanted to connect with family, or they wanted to repatriate back to their country or whatever it might be, we started to see a rise,” said Collins.

Business travel has dipped during the pandemic, but new customers are fueling this boom. Sentient Jet is now back to the same volume of flights that it was doing at this time, last year.

The company says in June and July about half of its sales came from new customers. New clients made up about a third of its sale pre-pandemic. Many first-time fliers could afford to fly private before the pandemic, but hadn’t.

The hop-on jet service JSX is also seeing more passengers choose its airline to reduce risks while traveling during the pandemic.

“It’s great timing. I’m not spending an hour, or an hour-and-a-half sometimes, trying to get into the airport and out of the airport,” said JSX client Brad Lim-Senesac. “Check-in makes it that much simpler.”

Lim-Senesac often commutes on a weekly basis between Burbank and Oakland, or Concord, where JSX operates in the Bay Area.

The company says check-in to boarding procedures usually take no more than 20 minutes, minimizing dwell time. There are also no shared TSA plastic bins or removing shoes.

Flights on the semi-private airline start at $89 per person. Like many jet companies, JSX has ramped up cleaning, and rolled out new sterilization and contactless protocols.

“You walk in and they have a machine that actually you stand in front of it, takes your temperature, you get in line, and of course they have the social distancing circles, but it’s not in line with 15 or 20 or 30 people,” added Lim-Senesac.

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