When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Florida resident Ross Thompson was working out of the Mexico City office of HRI, a company he manages that offers response services for international kidnap-for-ransom victims.
"You don't want to get Covid in a place like Mexico City," he said.
So Thompson set about looking for a service that would guarantee to get him out of Mexico if he contracted the virus. But he couldn't find one.
Now, his new company, a membership service called Covac Global, seeks to fill that niche. Covac Global bills itself as the first fully indemnified Covid-19 air transport service for U.S.-based leisure and business travelers. For $999 annually, members are covered for up to 30 days of international travel (there are 60- and 90-day options, as well).
If they contract Covid-19 while abroad, Covac Global says it will provide private air transport to their home U.S. airport at no extra cost. The service is available even for those who have a mild case of the virus and who won't require hospitalization upon arrival. All that is required, Thompson said, is a positive Covid-19 test.
"We want to be able to get this in the hands of every travel agent in the country, not only so they can help their clients feel comfortable, but to help the travel business recover," Thompson said. "People are not going to travel should they feel they're going to be in a bad situation if they get Covid-19 on their trip."
The company will pay advisors commission of 20% on new memberships and 10% on renewals.
Thompson launched Covac Global after more than a dozen years working in crisis response, intelligence and security. His team is also heavy on special operations and security expertise. One advisor and board member is Robert Saale, who from 2017 to 2019 headed the U.S. government's Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, which coordinates recovery efforts for hostages held abroad.
Thompson emphasizes the evacuations are not luxury experiences. The aircraft are equipped for medical evacuation and are owned by air ambulance companies or charter companies that have medical authorizations. In most parts of the world, he said, evacuations will typically take place within a day, though it can take longer, especially in countries where making arrangements is challenging, such as China or Iran.
Thompson explained that what enables Covac Global to fill its market niche is that it alone is indemnified to fly Covid-19 patients, even in nonemergency situations. The company will cover travel expenses up to $250,000. At market rates, a medevac from Europe to the East Coast, he said, could cost $120,000, and a flight from Asia to the West Coast could cost $200,000.
Covac Global, though, is protected against such costs by its reinsurance partner, the London-based Lloyd's broker C J Coleman.
Unlike Covac, more traditional air medical transport membership services provide medevacs for all manner of emergencies. But policies can be restrictive when it comes to transporting Covid-19 patients. The provider Medjet, for example, says on its website that it cannot transport a member who is actively infected with the virus.
Bill McIntyre, spokesman for the membership service Global Rescue, said that company has no such blanket policy in place. But quarantine requirements and other governmental regulations make the movement of Covid-19 patients complicated.
"The bottom line is that if someone contracts Covid-19 outside of the United States, then evacuation home, if you are infected and contagious, will be extremely unlikely and difficult, if not impossible," he said.
Though both Thompson and the Covac website say that a positive Covid-19 is all that is needed to qualify for transport back to the U.S., the company's membership agreement also states that members, "must exhibit a set of symptoms consistent with the published CDC list of Covid-19 symptoms."
The Covac Global membership agreement includes exclusion clauses freeing the company from the obligation to provide transport to Covid-19 patients in certain situations, including from countries that have closed air space or that have a stay-at-home order in place.
Thompson, though, said that countries are agreeable to facilitating the removal of Covid-infected foreign nationals. Encountering a situation where that isn't possible is, "highly unlikely," he added.
In addition, Covac Global does exclude one major travel segment: Anyone whose trip includes a cruise isn't eligible for the transport service.
"Cruises have proven that they are really just high-risk environments for contracting this. So it was a risk decision to leave them off for the time being," Thompson said.
This report was updated Sept. 15 to clarify language in the Covac agreement and make minor editing changes.