It is the historian’s business to show that everything changes. “The past is a foreign country; ”wrote L. P. Hartley, “they do things differently there.”
In some cases the only change is the technology. Take, for instance, the wealthy fleeing a pandemic lockdown whilst the rest of the population remain trapped in their neighbourhoods.
Early in his Journal of the Plague Year Defoe reported on the flight out of London by those who could afford the transport:
“… and the richer sort of People, especially the Nobility and Gentry, from the West-part of the City throng’d out of Town, with their Families and Servants in an unusual Manner; and this was more particularly seen in White-Chapel; that is to say, the Broad-street where I liv’d: Indeed nothing was to be seen but Waggons and Carts, with Goods, Women, Servants, Children &c. Coaches fill’d with People of the better Sort, and Horsemen attending them, and all hurrying away.”*
Now it’s Lear Jets. There was a rise in bookings before the first lockdown in March. Companies were marketing “evacuation flights” out of countries hit by the virus. Whilst commercial airlines have almost ceased operating, private planes, which avoid crowded terminals and aircraft cabins, have continued to do good business.
Travelling to a second home, or for a holiday, is specifically banned under the second lockdown restrictions which come into force in England tomorrow. There are, however, ways around the prohibition. It is reported this week that there is a renewed growth in business for alternative means of escape:
According to the Guardian: “Wealthy people in England are booking private jets to escape the lockdown set to be introduced on Thursday, according to jet brokers. Air Partner, one of the biggest aircraft charter firms, said there had been a ‘sharp rise’ in private jet bookings out of the country before Thursday. The company, which supplies planes to Premier League footballers, celebrities, the royal family and six of the eight governments in the G8, said it had been overwhelmed with inquiries.”**
If you are tempted to follow suit, you may wish to know that the cost of a private jet to Tenerife for five people is about £24,000, one way. Buying a Lear Jet yourself will cost about $20m for the long haul version. Who knows when it might be useful.
Should you worry about this? There is the moral issue. Also the ecological. Private jets apparently emit about 20 times more carbon dioxide per passenger mile than commercial flights.
* Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (1722; London: Penguin, 2003), p. 9.