Did you have a good flight on a commercial airliner recently? Me neither.
Even if you’re flying first class, you battle your way through the terminal (appropriately named!), stand in queues, wait to get your luggage checked and then board like herded cattle. Once aboard, the wine is the same temperature as the ho-hum food, and later you fight to find your bags.
What if you arrived at a terminal, strolled inside and were greeted by a pleasant staff? Checked in and settled into a pleasantly quiet lounge with a cold drink? When ready, you were personally escorted to your plane; the starched cabin attendant tucked you into your wide and comfy seat; your carry-ons disappeared and you soon had delightful cuisine in front of you.
“Bizjets” first arrived back in 1963 when Bill Lear introduced the Learjet 23, regarded as the first business jet though other private jets preceded it, and, by the way, we don’t call them bizjets anymore, they’re private jets.
Since then, the private jet world has exploded with aircrafts of all sizes to fit every need. Celebrities and businesses have embraced them and ordinary citizens can now easily fly private. Let’s look.
Why fly private? First, it’s convenient—fly when you want (even last minute) and where you want. Nearly every airport in the world handles private jets, so you can fly directly without going through airline hubs. Second, it’s just that: private. You choose who is aboard with you so you can talk and work freely. That means it’s also more productive, with Wi-Fi and phones to conduct business.
A good example of the luxury and productivity associated with private jets can be found at Sheltair Aviation Services, situated on the private jet side of Tampa International. They have recently completed a $26 million construction project, which includes four hangars, an arrival canopy, covered parking, and, most importantly for private fliers, first-class concierge services. Additionally, there’s a relaxing lounge offering complimentary refreshments and snacks, along with an executive boardroom and conference room. This family-owned company truly pampers its fliers, and the hangars facilitate easy boarding for jets, accommodating up to 18 passengers, including the Gulfstream G650.
Another Tampa-based private jet provider is Odyssey Airways, which offers a wide variety of aircraft (from helicopters to large jets) to fit any mission and number of guests. Founder Ryan Gucwa notes that Odyssey provides full concierge services from departure to destination and, as a former corporate pilot, he is “hands-on” for any private jet flight.
Private jet travel is also affordable, and many private jet fliers find the cost competitive or less than first class with the hordes. Airline limitations on baggage are forgotten, so you can (within reason) bring as many bags as there is space. You can also bring pets (with vaccinations) and liquids (code for your own booze). One reminder: it has to be served by the cabin crew and most jet providers ask you to leave the merlots and pinot noirs home (spills!).
Last (but arguably most important), it’s luxurious. Large lay-down seats and attentive service make flying a breeze.
What are my choices? Huge. Assuming you don’t want to own a plane, you can buy into a “fractional” ownership just like a condo, which gives you a set amount of use (often 50 hours) for a pre-arranged price. You can also charter a private jet through the hundreds of private operators at a fixed rate as you need it. This is more expensive—like buying wine by the glass instead of the bottle—but it offers the greatest flexibility.
Less expensive are the jet cards, which are purchased from a provider with a large fleet of jets. These give you a balance of hours to use (often 25), and you can even specify the type of aircraft you want.
A more recent addition is the “semi-private” or “hop-on”. These are companies that provide scheduled service but on smaller (usually less than 30 passengers) and more comfortable jets. These have easier check-in with private lounges and lower fares to allow you to fly private without the price tag. The downside is that you have to go where they are going, which leaves out many small airports. Companies such as JSX offer private jet comfort on Embraer 30-seat jets for as low as $389 from Miami to Dallas or $299 from Miami to the Bahamas – keep in mind prices fluctuate depending on routes, demand and other factors. This is jet-setting without the price tag.
How to Fly Private: Ask friends for private jet services they like and when you contact them, be ready with the time, destination and number of people. Questions to ask should include added charges (landing fees, fuel costs, repositioning charges) and don’t forget Uncle Sam wants his 7.5 percent. Ask about ground transportation and parking, Wi-Fi, and, of course, price.
If you don’t want to shop a variety of providers, my vote is to use a good charter broker, who can tailor your needs to a company that will provide you the best service at the lowest cost. Again, ask around to find a broker that you like. A good broker can advise you on all the ins-and-outs of private jets and has the connections to get you great deals.
Yes, private jets are the civilized way to fly. Be a jetsetter!
Chris Caswell is an award-winning writer and the former editor of several yachting magazines. He has appeared on Oprah as a boating lifestyle expert and hosted the Marine Voyager series on the Speed Channel.