Sunday, August 20, 2017

Eclipse travel keeps NetJets busy

Millions of Americans who aren’t in the 10-state swath of the country in line for the best view of Monday’s eclipse will still try to get a glimpse the best they can.

But a fortunate few who are determined to get a front-row seat are fueling a surge in private-jet bookings to places such as Nebraska, Wyoming and southern Illinois.

Columbus-based NetJets, the world’s largest operator of private jets, is seeing a rise in flight bookings through Tuesday, tied to eclipse-viewing trips.

The company, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, operates and maintains planes for owners of timeshare-like fractional shares. It expects Monday to be its fourth-busiest day of the year, behind perennially busy dates around holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Most NetJets owners plan to view the eclipse from the ground, though a few have requested to be airborne during the eclipse (commercial airlines also have seen some demand from passengers seeking a sky-high view). While NetJets can’t absolutely guarantee optimal viewing conditions either in the air or on the ground, they have created flight plans that were approved by air traffic control officials.

Popular destinations are towns such as Jackson, Wyoming, and Grand Island, Nebraska, which are squarely in the prime viewing path for the eclipse.

Unlike commercial flights, which operate on set routes and fixed times, NetJets flights are limited only by the imagination and the availability of a suitable airfield. The company has nearly 500 bookings to and from destinations in the path of the eclipse, flying to 59 airports.

“Everybody will get a flight, but we’ve been advising owners that it’s going to be a very busy time ... We’ve been suggesting that owners considering flying a day earlier or a day later if they don’t need to travel on Monday,” said Diana Oreck, executive vice president of owner experience for NetJets.

Oreck, by the way, joined NetJets from luxury hotel brand Ritz-Carlton, highlighting NetJets’ need to provide high-end customer service to its well-heeled owners.

On Monday, she said, there have been a number of requests for such eclipse-tied food items as Moon Pies and Eclipse gum. The company will automatically supply eclipse-viewing glasses to those on flights to Jackson, Wyoming, the most popular eclipse destination on NetJets.

Oreck said NetJets always tries to glean information about the “context” of travel so they can cater to owners accordingly.

“If I know you’re traveling to a wedding versus a funeral, the crew is going to treat you differently,” she said.

One owner settled on going to Grand Island, Nebraska, to see the eclipse after chatting with a NetJets pilot who shared her fascination with astronomy. Captain Carl Walker will fly the owner there, where both of them plan to take photographs and enjoy the rare event.

NetJets has even set up a “war room,” Oreck said, where 20 or so workers at any given time are working among meteorology maps and banks of computers to track weather patterns and prepare for any special requests or itinerary changes that may arise.

“Things are going to be moving so fast,” she said. “But we’ll be ready.”

Original article can be found here ➤ http://www.dispatch.com

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