Spotlight: The Private Suite
There’s little doubt that flying private eliminates many of the headaches associated with air travel. But when flying private doesn’t make sense, a new service called Private Suite could be the answer. Launched last year at Los Angeles International Airport, the concierge-style service cocoons guests in security and privacy from the minute they drive onto LAX grounds until they board their flight at their leisure via the aircraft’s back stairs, ensuring they never have to set foot inside a terminal. Travelers can purchase access to Private Suite via an annual membership, as an a la carte purchase or through partnerships with select hotels. The service can be booked no matter what airline you’re flying and is available both for arriving and departing travelers. Private Suite has already proved so successful that Worth has learned plans are now underway for an additional location at New York’s JFK (set to open in 2019), with Miami and Washington, D.C., outposts also in the works.
We tried out the Private Suite to discover if it can truly take the sting out of travel and caught up with one of its cofounders to learn more about what helps set the amenity apart.
The genesis of the Private Suite came from the world of security—specifically, Gavin de Becker & Associates (GDBA), a leading global security firm that has for decades provided public figures, billionaires, celebrities and CEOs with protection, logistical support, threat assessment and other services. “A huge part of that work involves getting clients into and out of places safely and efficiently, and as you might expect, U.S. airports are one of the most challenging places to navigate,” says Joshua Gausman, chief operating officer of GDBA and cofounder of the Private Suite. In researching the issue, GDBA found that international airports in Europe, Asia and the Middle East had developed workable solutions to address these issues for travelers flying commercially—so they worked to create a similar model in Los Angeles, targeted to their discerning, high-end clientele.
Gausman explains that LAX was a natural choice for their first location. “In addition to making the departure and arrival process a fast, smooth and luxurious experience, we solved a very real security issue involving paparazzi, which are a source of distraction, congestion and hassle for the 80 million passengers traveling through LAX every year,” he says. “We were able to develop a service for our clients that didn’t cost the taxpayers, the airport or the airlines a penny. In fact, our solution creates significant revenue opportunities and security improvements for the airport and also helps fill the airlines’ premium cabins with paying passengers who are quite happy with their on-the-ground airport experience.”
In creating the service, the founders recruited experts from airports, luxury hotels, the food and beverage world and more to round out their team. “Blending the worlds of hospitality, security and aviation has worked out quite nicely,” Gausman says. “It has allowed our members to find calm in a world of chaos by experiencing the airport in an entirely different way.” GDBA also worked closely with a host of Los Angeles and LAX officials, from the city council and mayor’s office to local police and airline leadership, to help them secure the necessary tools to “reinvent the airport experience.”
But for travelers, the most notable difference between Private Suite and other similar services are the security agency partnerships. “We are the first and only service in the United States that offers our own dedicated TSA screening checkpoint and our own private Customs & Border Protection immigration facility,” Gausman says. “We’ve found that this has helped make the service wildly popular among international travelers in particular, who find value in clearing customs at our facility in under five minutes compared to the hour-plus wait that you can often encounter in the main arrivals hall.” With major construction now underway at LAX that creates even more challenges for travelers, Gausman anticipates travelers will soon value the Private Suite perks even more. “Our guests don’t have to worry about gate changes, boarding delays, long TSA lines and mile-long walks (or runs!) across the terminal,” he says. “Our team works hard to take on all of those logistical headaches so our clients can spend time with family, watch a football game, take a conference call or walk their dog.”
To ensure such headache-free travel, the Private Suite journey starts well before you’ve packed your bags. Travelers fill out an online reservation form detailing everything from their flight and personal information to the name of the driver or car service who’ll be ferrying them to LAX. (In one section asking who else should have access to the reservation, the drop-down menu choices—which include “Agent,” “Manager,” “Chief of Staff” and “Embassy”—give some indication of the type of clientele using the service.) Each guest is then assigned to an eight-person team that will manage the whole thing—some, like the dedicated logistics manager and escorts, you’ll see and talk to, while others, like the person dealing with your luggage, will remain unseen.
From there, it’s smooth flying. On the day of travel, you’ll head to a facility set a few highway exits away from the actual airport, where an armed guard will wave you through to a collection of low-slung individual bungalows. Outside of one stands your main contact, who’ll show you directly to the suite where you’ll relax until it’s time to depart. (As promised, privacy is paramount, so there’s little chance you’ll spy any fellow guests—even if you’re on the same flight.) The suite itself consists of a large room outfitted with cushy seating, TV and WiFi, a spacious bathroom and a kitchenette overflowing with snacks and drinks both healthy and indulgent; more substantial gourmet eats can also be pre-ordered. Travel-friendly amenities are everywhere—from plug adaptors, chargers and lint rollers to a drugstore’s worth of products lining the bathroom shelf. It’s all included in the rate and yours for the taking.
At some point, the phone will ring and your point person will give you a 15-minute heads-up that it will soon be time to depart. Escorts will then appear to carry your belongings the 10 or so feet to the private TSA station, where two staffers will perform what’s sure to be the most pleasant security screening of your life. Liquid rules still apply, but never fear: There’s a stocked fridge on the other side of TSA where you can reload up on drinks. Also on the other side is a private sedan with two more escorts who will drive you for 10 or so minutes along the airfields, delivering you and your hand luggage directly to the side of your aircraft. (Any checked baggage undergoes its own screening process and is loaded onto the plane separately.) There you’ll meet your final Private Suite contact, who will escort you (and carry your things) up an outside set of stairs and into the aircraft. Clients can choose to board first—so you’ll be there while the crew is still preparing the plane—or at the very end; the latter is preferred by more high-profile travelers who like to slip in unnoticed. Either way, once you’ve actually settled into your seat, the whole thing may seem like a blur, and even a bit jarring. You suddenly find yourself in a plane, and without the chaos and hassles of the airport, it might feel like you haven’t traveled at all.
The Private Suite service can be booked for arrivals, departures and transfers through LAX. (Arriving guests will undergo the reverse of the process described above, and transferring guests receive a combination of the services.) The annual membership fee of $4,500 includes discounted rates ($2,700 for domestic travel, $3,000 for international, one-way) for each suite experience booking, as well as added amenities like valet and eco-friendly vehicle cleaning services, the opportunity to pre-order meals and set up complimentary massages, manicures and haircuts, access to an on-call doctor and more, for members and up to three companions. A la carte rates are $3,500 domestic and $4,000 international (for you plus two guests). The service can also be booked through packages with hotels such as the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills and the Four Seasons’ Hawaii collection.