Long lines, delayed flights, lost baggage, crabby flight attendants. These are just some of the reasons to abhor commercial air travel, even for those who benefit from the endless, growing perks of flying business or first class.
For coach passengers, the misery seems only to get worse. But for the ranks of business and first-class fliers in the US, a more glamorous set of commercial airlines is emerging to meet their needs. Many commercial airlines have souped up their premium cabins in recent years, but none have tackled the hassles customers experience before they even set foot on the plane.
These startups aim to mimic the serenity of flying private, at a fraction of the cost. Some sell all-you-can-fly subscriptions on shared private planes. Others sell discounted seats on private chartered flights.
Tickets still aren’t cheap, destinations are limited, and schedules aren’t as extensive as traditional airlines. But these upstarts still beat the costs of owning a plane or chartering a dedicated private flight, while offering an escape from the hubbub of major airports. Instead, passengers drive up to a small airport, hand their luggage to a concierge, and step directly onboard.
There could also turn out to be benefits for high-end customers who can’t quite afford these services: If they succeed, traditional airlines and airports may have to work harder to compete for fancier fliers.
Here’s a sampling of the businesses trying to make the model work:
Surf Air: The California-based company, launched in 2013, sells an all-you-can-fly monthly subscription on an eight-seater turboprop plane for $1,750 per month. The company, which began by flying business people between Southern California and Silicon Valley, is expanding to four other California cities (Santa Rosa, Monterey, Sacramento, and Palm Springs) by October geared toward the personal traveler. It also wants to expand into Florida and Texas.
HoboJet: A private-jet version of Uber, this Arizona-based company works with charter jet companies to sell empty seats on private planes at a discount. Because the deals tend to be last minute (often when a private plane is flying empty from one location to another to pick up passengers), the flights are one-way and discounts can be steep. Most flights start or end in Scottsdale, Arizona, but the company is working on adding more destinations.
Beacon: The former CEO of Surf Air, who was pushed out in a management shakeup, is angling for a similar subscription-based service on the US East Coast. Flights are planned to begin this summer between New York, Boston, Nantucket, and the Hamptons. Rather than owning its planes, like Surf Air, Beacon will partner with charter operators to arrange flights. Fees will start at $2,000 per month for scheduled flights between small private airports.
Jumpjet: The Las Vegas-based company has sold subscription access on private jets for travel between dozens of US cities since 2012. Its annual memberships are based on how far the passenger wants to fly and how far ahead they book their travel. For example, a year’s membership might cost $2,350 per month for 10 round-trip flights. Jumpjet says its tickets average out to roughly what a passenger would pay for a first-class seat on a commercial flight.