CEOs and really rich people tend to have their own private jets, a luxury denied to the rest of us because the damn things cost millions to buy and millions to maintain and fly. A new service called JetSuite (run by ex-JetBlue executive Alex Wilcox) is bringing the cost of using a private jet down to something closer to affordable.
I had a chance to interview Mr. Wilcox as we took a quick hop from San Jose to the coast earlier this week. I’m now tempted to use the service myself, but it occurred to me that if you wanted to really impress a date or spouse, this could be the ultimate limo ride.
No TSA, no problems
I grew up on airplanes. I started flying around 7 years old alone, and back then took a helicopter taxi service from near my home in Tustin, California to Los Angeles for flights to Northern California and Hawaii. This was pre-TSA, and they didn’t even check your carry-on luggage. You just walked up to the gate, present your ticket, and hop on the flight. You could carry anything — big or small bottles even your own wine. You could arrive right before the flight and just get on.
Private Jets are like this. You typically use a special terminal with a nice lounge, and people actually drive to the plane both for drop off and pickup (you do have to park your car, unless you have a limo or someone not traveling is driving). You get on the plane and just go. If you have a limo at the other end, the car can meet you at the plane and you are off, no baggage claim (you get your bags right as you get off).
Private jets typically are smaller than commercial jets, and the JetSuite jets are about the size of a small stretch limo inside. They don’t hold many people, so you have tons of room. Onboard, the seats are generally better than you’d have in a limo: lots of room, personal headsets, tables, and they serve drinks on board. While meals are limited (they have no galley or kitchen, really) you could bring your own picnic lunch.
The jets also go where you want, and are able to land at regional airports much closer to where you may want to go. They have fighter-like configurations, which makes them very stable and very fast, so you tend to get to your destination far more quickly. If you want to walk up and talk to the pilots (there tend to be two on jets) you can. The JetSuite jets have screen-based avionics, which is kind of like looking at a three-screen gaming computer. They show planes in your areas, topology (a virtual image of the Earth’s surface around you) and I kept looking for the button that would fire the weapons. There wasn’t one. This is all stuff you just can’t do on a commercial jet. You can even have your pets (plural) with you in the cabin on the flight.
Cheaper but not cheap
Private jets typically cost in excess of $6,000 an hour to use, and most existing programs require fractional ownership as well. This means just for the privilege of flying them you have to buy an interest in one, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars initially and thousands a month. A friend of mine owns a dual-turboprop plane: The plane cost into seven figures, and keeping it up and flying it has a similar cost. Even more costly are the private jets.
Interestingly, these jets average about 700 miles a trip. The longer the trip, the less sense they make, because the TSA time becomes shrinking fraction of the time used. That’s why you often see celebrities who could fly private Jets on commercial flights for long-distance trips.
JetSuite is cheaper by comparison, but clearly not cheap. You don’t need to buy a fractional ownership, but you’re looking at $3,000 an hour for the entire plane. If you get two couples, that comes down to $750 a person. But they also often have to bring the plane back empty or partially empty, and those seats can cost as little as $450. The only issue is that you have to be ready to travel when they fly, and it is only one way.
The ultimate limo ride
Most of us wouldn’t do this regularly, but imagine that perfect date: A limo picks you and your date up, takes you to the plane, the plane whisks you to another city. There, you are met with another limo, and head out to dinner or a show. The return trip much the same way, and if you are traveling with another couple, you could likely do the whole thing for under $4,500. It would be the date of a lifetime. For that night you are living the life of a billionaire, and if you truly wanted to impress that special person, I can’t think of a more amazing night.
For those of us in business, JetSuite has more practical applications, too. For instance, a typical two-day trip with hotel rooms can be cut down to one day, based on time saved from bypassing TSA and in the air. Taken against hotel costs for three or four people coupled with commercial flight costs, the JetSuite approach is comparable, particularly when you take into account the time saved.
The real downside to flying JetSuite is how much you’ll hate commercial flying afterward. My trip reminded me how much fun and how convenient it used to be to travel. You just have no sense for how bad things have become on commercial airlines until you take one of these trips. In the future, JetSuite will have more planes (it has around 15 flying now), more interesting destinations (like Belize), larger planes (seating for up to seven), and an app that will alert you to deals (like that $450 ticket). There is already a site where folks picking you up can see the exact location of the plane you are flying.
Right now, JetSuite is an adventure. My hope is that eventually it will become my primary mode of travel. Until then, if you want to impress that special person or just need to get someplace a few hundred miles away very quickly, it is an option you likely didn’t know you had.
Guest contributor Rob Enderle is the founder and principal analyst for the Enderle Group, and one of the most frequently quoted tech pundits in the world. Opinion pieces denote the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Digital Trends.