On a Christmas vacation in Jamaica, Beth Ring and her husband tested positive for COVID-19.
After spending two days in a state-run quarantine hotel, the couple chartered a $35,000 flight home.
Beth told Insider she wished she had a better quarantine plan or purchased travel insurance.
On Christmas morning, Beth Ring was relaxing in a villa in Jamaica.
Beth, 53, her husband Dan, 54, their five children, and their son’s girlfriend were wrapping up an eight-day vacation at the Mais Oui Villa, a luxury accommodation they said cost around $2,250 a night.
Beth told Insider they took a number of precautions: most had gotten their booster shots, they ate outdoors, chartered private boats to avoid strangers, masked up in public, and prioritized activities outside.
However, as the trip came to a close, Beth said she noticed a dry throat and cough. The day before she was set to fly home to Chicago, Illinois, Beth said that she and her family took at-home antigen COVID-19 tests.
A negative test was required to board their return flight, but Beth and her husband tested positive.
The couple ended up spending two-and-a-half days in a government-run quarantine hotel before ultimately choosing to leave the mandated quarantine and pay $35,000 for a private air ambulance — a luxury service that is becoming increasingly popular among those who can afford it — to get home.
Dan and Beth Ring say they had limited options for where to quarantine after testing positive
At the time of their trip, Jamaica’s Health Ministry required travelers who tested positive to quarantine for 10 days (the current policy has since been shortened to five days for US travelers, as long as you’re asymptomatic). As part of the original policy, positive travelers would then have two options: either find accommodations at their own expense or go to a free, government-run quarantine hotel.
Beth and Dan said they had limited options. Mais Oui is rented to one group at a time, and new guests were set to arrive, so quarantining there wasn’t possible. Darrell Looney, an owner of the villa, told Insider that they do have reciprocal arrangements in place to accept COVID-19 positive guests with other villas and properties, however, at the time of Beth and Dan’s travel, those locations were booked due to an influx of holiday vacationers. According to the Jamaica Observer, in December, Jamaica experienced a surge in tourists with numbers comparable to pre-COVID-19 times.
Because of the influx of tourists, they also had trouble finding another hotel with an open room. “Our hosts were making calls, trying to find us another villa where we could stay, but everything was booked,” Beth said.
They were able to book a room at the El Greco Resort, a free, government-run quarantine hotel. Beth said she knew El Greco wouldn’t be the Mais Oui with its private chef, butler, or luxury environs. But she said spotty Wi-Fi, a lack of hot water, and concerns about the hotel’s COVID-19 protocols cemented Beth and Dan’s decision to charter the private flight home. (Representatives for Jamaica’s Ministry of Health did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment about the accommodations.)
The couple started filling out paperwork for Air Ambulance Worldwide on December 26, shortly after checking in and wired Air Ambulance Worldwide $35,000.
Private jets and air ambulances have seen a boom in the pandemic as those who can afford them enjoy the freedom of private air travel
For a fee, a private air ambulance service could take Beth and Dan back to the US, and in the event that they got sicker, they’d be back home for medical care.
They’re hardly alone in seeking out this type of travel. Since March of 2020, there’s been a surge in demand for the private air industry, whether for medical flights or pure leisure. Largely fueled by concerns over the pandemic, private jet travel removes the need to enter crowded airports or airplanes, making it a go-to option for those who can afford it, according to ABC News.
As Wired put it, the pandemic has created a “middle-class private jet boom” and indeed, Bloomberg reported that departures this year from New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport, a popular private-jet terminal, was up 61% from a year earlier and that private jet travel was 19% higher in Europe and Asia in October 2021 than it was for the same time period two years prior.
And like the Rings’ flight, these planes are not cheap. CNBC reported that a private flight for a family of four from New York City to Washington, DC, could easily cost between $10,000 to $50,000, while individual flights can range from $1,200 to $36,000 depending on the company, route, and amenities.
Beth said she reached out to a few emergency air-evacuation companies for price estimates. Air Ambulance Worldwide quoted them between $30,000 and $35,000 for a flight, while another company quoted them twice that amount.
Representatives for Air Ambulance Worldwide did not respond to Insider’s request for comment. However, Ross Thompson, the CEO of Covac Global, a membership-based medical evacuation and repatriation company, told Insider that his company completed over 60 air evacuations between Christmas and January 6. Typically, Covac does two or three evacuations a month, he said.
The Rings said their private flight experience was not the height of luxury it sounds
While some private planes exude opulence, medical charters are quite different.
Beth and Dan said Air Ambulance Worldwide was able to find them a plane that could depart on December 29 if they had a letter of approval from Jamaica’s medical director, the only way to end quarantine early. They submitted the request and waited, she told Insider, and after 20 minutes, the letter arrived stating that they did not comply with the ordered quarantine but were fit to fly, as the medical air evacuation was a permitted practice.
They boarded the plane, and that evening it landed in Chicago.
While a private plane typically conjures images of luxury, Beth said the flight wasn’t a typical chartered flight since it was an air ambulance. Two medical professionals were on board with the couple, Beth and Dan wore masks the entire time, and there was no bathroom.
Beth said they were fortunate to have the means to charter a flight and had they been able to quarantine at the Mais Oui, they might have considered staying, but going home as soon as possible was their goal.
Beth said she would only travel again with a better quarantine plan — and travel insurance
Beth said she thought booking a private villa would be the safest way to vacation since it seemed more isolated than a resort with Mais Oui’s 11,000-square-feet of living space, fully vaccinated staff, hands-free check in, and meals served outdoors.
“We cannot guarantee that our guests won’t get COVID-19, however, we go above and beyond most villas to provide an environment with protocols to reduce the odds as much as possible in our villa,” Looney told Insider.
But for future vacations, Beth said she’s more likely to consider a resort — many of which have quarantine floors for guests who test positive — to avoid another state-run quarantine.
She also told Insider she wished she did more research on COVID-19 travel insurance. Covac Global, for instance, costs between $750 to $1,000 depending on the location and length of a trip and covers the cost of a private flight if needed. Beth said she looked into Covac but said the company wasn’t accepting clients at the time of her trip.
“We were lucky enough to buy ourselves out of trouble,” Beth said, adding that she wondered what would’ve happened if a room at El Greco hadn’t opened up and if she wasn’t in the position to afford a chartered flight.
“There were so many ways it could’ve been worse,” she said. “We felt OK, our kids got to go home, and we weren’t sick.”
Read the original article on Insider