Shared from the 3/22/2020 Houston Chronicle eEdition


Wealth has its privileges when it comes to travel, dining and self-care


Miriam Garcia prepares for departures at the Million Air terminal at Houston’s Hobby Airport.

Jon Shapley / Staff photographer

While much of Houston faces the coronavirus by stocking up on toilet paper and hunkering down at home, an elite few are chartering planes and even opting for plastic surgery. Social distancing is, after all, the perfect opportunity to recover inconspicuously.

Airlines like United and American are reducing domestic and international services to deal with the economic impact of drastically decreasing sales. But that’s not the case for private aviation.

Kinston, N.C.-based company flyExclusive, the nation’s seventh-largest private charter company, is seeing a 20 percent year-over-year increase in flight requests, including in Houston.

“It became apparent a couple of weeks ago to the point we have added additional personnel to handle the number of inquiries and trip planning,” said executive vice president Allen Thomas.

There are cancellations, of course. But there are twice as many new bookings.

“People are still going where they need to go. It is just a matter of their resources,” said Thomas, who noted that his clients include both families and corporate travel. “They are looking to limit exposure to the virus and this is what they feel is a common-sense solution.”

For some businesses, flying private is strategic. “They are repositioning people within the company to create separate work teams in different parts of the country for redundancy,” Thomas said.

The majority of Houston’s outbound flights are heading to New York, Florida, the West Coast and Chicago. The Citation Excel midsize jet, which seats eight, is the most requested at the moment.

What’s it cost to charter a flight? From Houston to New York City, you can expect to pay between $15,000 and $25,000 for a one-way trip.

With the hefty price tag comes special requests: In light of the coronavirus pandemic, that includes traveling with pets and disinfecting measures.“We are getting requests for maintenance of the aircraft. We are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines,” Thomas said. “And we allow pets.”

Thomas said the company has reached out to its contemporaries in Europe and Asia for guidance. “They are ahead of us on the curve, and we can learn from them about logistics and how to stage resources. It’s been a big help. We are modeling our operations based on it.”

Thomas sees no reason to think business will slow down. “There is still a significant amount of air travel in Europe and Asia. People still have to do business and handle priorities.”

Unlike Thomas, Ali Davoudi, vice chairman of Houston’s Million Air airport, foresees a possible bump in the road. “For now, the private air market has an uptick, but if people are sequestered, it could come to a halt.”

Private aviation is a good substitute for flying commercial, according to Davoudi. “People that don’t own planes but want to fly are paying to lease a flight, and companies that are telling their employees not to travel are still sending their top executives.”

These wealthy consumers aren’t just taking to the sky. They’re also self-isolating at home, like the rest of Houston. Just differently.

“I usually do seven to 10 private dinners a year. I did four last week,” said private chef Charles Clark, who owns Clark Cooper Concepts. “I can definitely see a difference.”

Clark was recently hired to travel with a client, who did not want to dine out amid increasing fears of the pandemic. “I went with him on a private jet to Miami and Atlanta. He brought me with him out of concern about the coronavirus.”

In Braselton, Ga., 50 miles outside Atlanta, Clark prepared meals at Chateau Elan Winery & Resort. “I cooked for his office team at a private dining facility at the hotel. He let the hotel know his personal chef was with him and they had no problem with it.”

Clark, who was also recently hired to cook dinner for a party of 12 at a private home in Memorial, prepares the menus based on the type of guests. “They are not pulling back on spending on products because the meal is at home. I am making filet mignons and red snapper.”

Clark doesn’t expect the demand to decrease. “People are picking out chefs they know and trust so they don’t have to be out at restaurants. I am seeing a number of people changing their habits,” he said.

“The pulse of this city is changing. I have a feeling I will be even busier as people do more dinners at home.”

For many that extended home time means watching Netflix while school and businesses are suspended. But a privileged few are utilizing this free time to recover from plastic surgery.

For Dr. Franklin Rose of Utopia Plastic Surgery & Med Spa, business is booming. “We are booked. The well-to-do are using spring break to book their surgeries.”

The Bellaire-area hospital Rose uses caters to elective orthopedic or plastic surgery procedures. Thus, his clients are not taking hospital beds from the ill.

“I have an affluent patient who, instead of cruising with her family in the Mediterranean, is having plastic surgery,” he said.

Patients are not holding back when it comes to the types of procedures they’re selecting. Rose has received requests for breast augmentations, liposuction and “mommy makeovers” — a tummy-tuck, breast-lift, liposuction combination.

Post-surgery, patients can relax at home without needing excuses to hide the bandages and bruising.

“If they are going to social distance, why not have a procedure done and then lay low and recover at home? They go hand in hand,” said Rose.

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