Escape the Unfriendly Skies and Fly Private for Less
What do airports have in common with bus terminals these days?
Alas, just about everything—overcrowding, understaffing and a generally unpleasant experience for anyone trying to get from point A to point B.
Up in the air, the situation isn’t any better, with skirmishes between passengers and flight crews having increased tenfold as a result of COVID-19. Part of it is that some people refuse to wear masks, and part of it is that some people have simply forgotten how to socialize with other human beings in small spaces after being locked away in their homes for two years.
So what’s a business or pleasure traveler to do?
The traditional answer has been to fly private, and for those who cannot afford the cost of their own jet, which is most of us, one of those cards from a fractional jet ownership company that lets you fly private when and where you choose.
Unfortunately, some of those fractional private jet programs have taken it on the chin during COVID—too many passengers seeking too few aircraft, pilots and even maintenance crews. As a result, some of the top fractional firms have been changing their terms and conditions, limiting access for members with more blackout dates and other barriers to takeoff. Some even curtailed membership for a time, until they could get enough pilots and aircraft to meet the burgeoning demand.
A few savvy entrepreneurs recognized the gap in the marketplace caused by the increasingly unpleasant airport/scheduled airline experience and increasing limits on availability of the best-known fractional programs. So, they’ve come up with their own ways to provide high-end, relatively low-cost private flying to a public that’s tired of flying the unfriendly skies.
Nick Davis, part of the team that brought NetJets to Europe, founded Instajet when so many of his friends and business associates told him about their frustrations with continual changes in terms and conditions among the fractional companies.
“High net worth people expect to be treated with respect when they charter private aircraft,” Davis says. “They’re not to be taken for fools. I thought, what if you could provide simplicity, in the form of an app, no registration and completely transparent pricing, that would allow you to travel on some of the most desirable routes in the country without having to buy blocks of hours?”
And thus Instajet’s City Pairs program was born. For core routes like New York City to the Hamptons, or Peterborough or Westchester to Miami, the Dallas/Houston/Austin triangle, and Las Vegas to Van Nuys, California, you can fly Instajet for a fraction of what the fractional jet ownership firms will charge.
“It’s super quick and easy for our passengers,” Davis says. “From the time you reach the private air terminal to getting on board, you spend less than 15 minutes. The crew meets and greets you, takes care of your bags and provides white glove simplicity, safety and security.”
Davis focuses on these heavily traveled city pairs because this offers Instajet a variety of benefits: fixed costs, the ability to pre-buy fuel and organized crews and the ability to keep jets in the air for the maximum amount of time.
“Our aircraft don’t position or sit idle,” Davis says, “which is the bane of any provider of private jet service. They just go back and forth on the fixed route. Our clients go where they need to go quickly and easily, and everybody’s happy.”
Another entry in the space is Wheels Up, which offers an Uber-like experience for private jet passengers. “COVID was a tailwind for private aviation,” says Lee Applbaum, Wheels Up’s CMO. “The pandemic created unprecedented demand of private jets. Instead of cutting back, we responded by hiring more pilots, buying more jets and making better use of technology so we can utilize our fleet more effectively.”
With Wheels Up, you can grab a KingAir for short hops, a Citation for a transcontinental flight or a Gulf Stream if you’re traveling to Great Britain or Europe. You can also decide to share the jet with another member of the Wheels Up “family” or you can opt to have the whole aircraft to yourself.
Unique among service providers, Wheels Up owns its own aircraft, manages jets belonging to private parties and leases jets to augment its fleet.
“If you’ve got a late model car, you can drive for Uber,” says Bill Roberts, senior vice president for global communications for Wheels Up. “Similarly, if you’ve got a private jet, we can help you monetize it. The average private jet sits idle and empty the overwhelming majority of the time. You can seriously offset the costs of jet ownership by letting us use your aircraft for a certain amount of time each month. Let’s say you’re flying your own jet to Aspen for a two-week vacation. Once you land, your jet is parked, incurring fees and costing you money. You’ve got to house and feed your crew, too.”
“Wouldn’t it be better if we could take over the management of your jet, have you use it whenever you feel like it, and then let us ‘borrow’ it the rest of the time? Some of our members are wealthy enough not to care,” Roberts continues, “but typically, people become wealthy by managing their assets efficiently. This is the best way possible to manage an extremely expensive asset—one’s own private jet.”
“Wheels Up is all about having the right aircraft for the right mission,” says Applbaum.
“Gulfstreams are terrific, but you don’t need a G4 for a family trip from New York to Martha’s Vineyard. We’re all about having the right aircraft for the right mission. This is equally important for business customers. It doesn’t make sense to pay for a 16-seat jet for a flight of just a couple hundred miles. If you need a Gulfstream, we can get you the Gulfstream, but having the flexibility of having the right aircraft at the right price is something that only Wheels Up can provide.”
Wheels Up also touts its strategic partnership with Delta, which actually sounds pretty cool. Let’s say you’re in Los Angeles and you want to spend a long weekend in the Hamptons. Fly first class on Delta, make a quick transfer to the private terminal for a KingAir flight out to your beach house in Amagansett and pick up a new 911 Turbo for the weekend through Wheels Up’s partnership with Porsche.
The pandemic may have put travel on the back burner for millions, but for a select few, these new aspects of private aviation make the journey pretty sweet.