Private Jet Travel Is Taking Off
Private jet-setting has hit historic highs as the travel boom continues to crowd airports—causing delays, lost luggage, and passenger frustration. With the value of pre-owned jets up 38% last year, global aircraft broker Jetcraft is forecasting continued growth for the sector, despite a market correction already underway.
“The odd thing about 2021 and 2022 is that we’ve never seen business like that,” says Brian Comstock, who cofounded rival jet broker Jeteffect in 2000. The boom was fueled in part by tax incentives that in some cases allowed for a full writeoff, he said. Inventory was so low that planes were selling before they hit the market the past two years. Even with a slight cooling now, valuations are still above pre-pandemic levels, he said.
Good news for billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Kim Kardashian, who own swanky Gulfstream jets; Richard Branson, who sports a Dassault Falcon; and Bill Gates and Jay-Z, both Bombardier fans. These celebrities can afford the $40, $70, and $150 million price tags, plus annual costs that can run two to three million dollars, according to data firm Conklin & de Decker.
Fractional ownership through companies like FlexJet or Berkshire-Hathaway’s NetJets is a less expensive alternative. They also offer try-before-you-buy programs that allow flight time to be bought in batches. For example, NetJets offers a $280,000 package for 25 flight hours over 24 months.
The most affordable options are semi-private jet services featuring separate terminals with expedited security, club lounges, spacious seating, and a dedicated concierge—many providing a VIP vibe for passengers.
A quick survey of websites shows one-way tickets can be as low as $129 on JSX from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, $400 on Tradewind from New York to Cape Cod, and $1,000 to be whisked off to the Hamptons from New York on Blade, to the Hamptons from Palm Beach on XO, and from Los Angeles to Cabo on Aero.
Plush semi-private services operate on a membership model, including Set Jet, which boasts sumptuous sofa seating on certain flights. There’s a nominal membership fee of $99.95, plus a security fee of $99.95. A one-way ticket between any combination of Aspen, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, and Scottsdale ranges from around $750 to $2,100.
But it’s not always chic interiors, artisanal snacks, and craft cocktails that entice flyers. It can be for pure convenience.
“I have flown JSX several times now. To me, the value proposition is not having to deal with the crowds at LAX! They have their own private terminals…small waiting areas with coffee and other amenities,” said USC lecturer Dr. Julie M. Albright. “The terminal at Burbank is especially cool, as you’re actually in the hangar. No big, annoying TSA lines. Everything is personalized, and it makes traveling a breeze.”
Blade, which offers service by helicopter and seaplane, has many fans speeding to popular destinations. “I love Blade, especially living on the East Coast,” said Carla Brenner, co-founder of personal care products startup Roots by Genetic Arts. “It was cost-affordable and very easy to access from downtown.”
You Only Live Once
Five-star resorts like the Four Seasons have also gotten into the game by offering luxury flight experiences jetting patrons to exotic destinations worldwide. Their “World of Adventures” tours eight countries in 24 days and includes roundtrips to the U.S. from Kyoto, Bali, Seychelles, Rwanda, Marrakech, Bogota, and the Galapagos Islands. It costs a little more than $200,000 and includes accommodations and activities like Samurai sword fighting. An on-board executive chef offers culinary classes, and a personal physician attends to any medical needs.
Disney offers a $114,995 bucket list adventure that jets to six countries in 24 days and includes accommodations, activities, and airfare aboard a VIP-configured Boeing 757 operated by Icelandair. It round trips from the U.S. and stops in Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Agra in India, Cairo, and Paris. Travelers visit 12 Disney theme parks and three iconic landmarks: the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Eiffel Tower.
Farewell First Class
According to Citi airline analyst Stephen Trent, the days of flying first class on commercial airline carriers is coming to a close, the result of structural changes across the industry.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a reduction in first class and business class capacity for commercial airlines, especially on long-haul flights, with a push toward a new kind of premium—that is economy plus,” he said. Even though a first-class ticket is costly, it doesn’t make up for the cost of providing the service, which includes a bigger seat with more legroom that consumes more fuel per passenger.
Additionally, onboard service must be robust, and access to airport lounges with food and showers must often be offered. “Migrating that passenger to economy plus, you have more seats available and need less supporting infrastructure,” said Trent.
No-frills first class has become something of a meme across social media, exposing paltry offerings—no seatback screens; no amenities bag with earplugs, masks, and hand cream; no fancy printed menus; no bottled water; no ice cream cart; and no designer pillows, blankets, pajamas, slippers, and reclining beds that used to be a staple on international flights. Some airlines even charge “first class” passengers for onboard WiFi and makeshift lounges without healthy meal selections, bathrooms, or even outlets.
With commercial airliners leaving premium customers underserved, more could move to semi-private jets.”
With commercial airliners leaving premium customers feeling underserved, more of them could find their way to the regional semi-private jets. Some even foster a community atmosphere for making new friends.
Coping with Climate Change
The biggest drawback to private jetting is that CO2 emissions per passenger are five to 14 times higher than on larger long haul airliners. To offset it, some of the semi-private jet services offer passengers the opportunity to purchase carbon credits to fund climate action programs. One of Blade’s offerings supports methane capture from one of New York’s largest landfills.
Aero chief executive officer Uma Subramanian said she is trying to do her part to find a solution. She sits on the advisory board of Volocopter, an electric vertical-take-off-landing aircraft maker that competes with Joby Aviation, Archer, and Vertical Aerospace—all aspiring providers of short-haul aircraft that can be charged using green electricity.
“Long term, we have to find an alternative to fossil fuels,” she said, excited about the prospects of hydrogen and biofuels as sustainable alternatives to petroleum. Subramanian believes that by 2025, short-haul electric air taxis will be operating intercity, whether in the U.S., Europe, or both. But she believes that long-haul flights beyond 500 nautical miles may not be possible until 2035, depending on how rapidly battery technology advances.
Surf Air, which operates small aircraft that seat about eight passengers and flies to Hawaii and the West Coast, as well as pockets of the Midwest and East Coast, is working on a plan to electrify. Soon there might be many options for those seeking to jet around responsibly.