What It’s Like to Fly Private for Not-So-Private Prices

Companies like JSX are making semi-private air travel a whole lot more accessible.

What It’s Like to Fly Private for Not-So-Private Prices

Your plane awaits.

All photos by Maggie Fuller

There will always be a certain thrill that comes from scoring an incredible deal on a flight. But double that thrill, add in the elation of a magically line-free security checkpoint, and subtract traffic-and-parking-induced stress, and you’ll start to get an idea of what it’s like to fly a public charter air carrier. Essentially, you’re getting the perks of private air travel, but at astonishingly accessible prices.

The concept of a public charter flight isn’t new; business travelers have been using them for years. Some companies, like JetSmarter, connect customers to a range of long- and short-haul flights and an array of charter options, from single seats on a shared jet to a full-plane charter. Some, including Surf Air, are membership-based services that offer unlimited flights for a monthly fee and focus on regional commuter travel.

And then there’s JSX (formerly JetSuite X), the new kid on the block. Launched in 2016, the public charter air carrier is a subsidiary of private jet charter company JetSuite and a distant cousin of JetBlue Airways. (JetSuite cofounder Alex Wilcox was also a founding executive at JetBlue). While JetSuiteX certainly caters to business travelers, with current routes connecting Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and Las Vegas, it’s not a membership service and prices are comparable with those of commercial flights, which makes it a viable option for leisure travelers, too.

The lounge at the JSX Oakland hangar.

The lounge at the JSX Oakland hangar.

Specifically, leisure travelers who hate lines and want to feel very fancy indeed.

Recently, I had the opportunity to enjoy the full JSX experience on one of its flights from Oakland to Burbank. As a Bay Area denizen with friends and family in Los Angeles, I’d been excited about the company for a while. Yes, they promised truly hassle-free travel, free parking, and prices that even a recovering budget traveler could stomach (starting from $129 one-way). But really, the concept of turning an eight-hour drive or a four-hour airport ordeal into a two-hour excursion was what won me over. That, and my daydreams of glamorous old-school air travel: me, sashaying across the tarmac in carefully-applied red lipstick, pausing dramatically on the mobile staircase to peer around from behind dark sunglasses.

I cannot stress this enough: The best thing about semi-private air travel is the lack of wait time. JSX recommends you arrive at their private hangar (conveniently close to the Oakland airport) 20 to 30 minutes before your flight is scheduled to take off. Add three minutes for parking: The Oakland parking lot is across the street from the hangar; in Burbank, it’s right outside the hangar. I am chronically late, so I showed up for my 8:30 flight at about 8:23. There’s a huge difference between sprinting for your flight at a hangar and sprinting for your flight through an entire terminal. Chances are, you’re only going to catch one of those flights.

The other passengers on my 30-seat flight had gotten to the terminal on time, which meant there wasn’t a single person in line to check in. The entire process took maybe a minute, leaving me another two to grab a complimentary coffee and glance around the plush lounge before it was time to board. We shook hands with the pilot as we passed through the doors and out onto the tarmac. By the time I sat down and buckled up, it was 8:32.

The JSX provides Go Rentals car services at the Burbank hangar.

The JSX provides Go Rentals car services at the Burbank hangar.

Don’t expect white leather couches and buckets of iced champagne. On a flight like this, the difference is in the details, but those little things make a big impact. You’ll still have to bring your seat backs and tray tables to their full upright positions for takeoff, but those seatbacks are cushy leather and those tray tables are a respectable distance away from your knees. The safety procedures card is in the seat back pocket, but so is a yoga card, outlining some easy stretches to help you get through your quick flight ache-free.

A flight attendant still walks up the 10 rows of seats, offering complimentary snacks and drinks, but this isn’t your ordinary peanuts-and-water fare. Sip a Perrier or maybe a local craft beer, and munch on Dang toasted coconut chips. You’ll cruise along at a casual elevation of 24,000 feet, which means you’re close enough to study every detail of the California coast as it speeds by below at 465 mph.

And while there may be no personal masseuse on the plane, the JSX hanger at the Burbank airport brings in a few masseuses once a week during busy hours.

On my return flight, I struck up a conversation with a business traveler across the aisle. An architect based in Los Angeles with a few Bay Area projects, he explained to me that he flies JSX once a week or so. “It’s just so easy,” he said. “You just get on the plane, the service is great, and when you get to your destination, they have your rental car waiting for you right at the door.” (In Burbank, Concord, and Las Vegas, JetSuiteX provides Go Rentals car services on site.)

When he found out that I work with a travel publication, the architect shook his head. “Hey, don’t tell anyone about this, will you? We like it when there are only six or eight people on the plane.” My apologies, sir. This article was updated on August 9, 2019, to include current information.

>>Next: Singapore Airlines Unveils a Posh New First-Class Suite

Maggie Fuller is a San Francisco–based but globally oriented writer driven to provoke multicultural worldviews as a multimedia journalist. She covers sustainability, responsible travel, and outdoor adventure.
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