I've always been enamored with the golden days of air travel. In the 1950s, flying was a glamorous experience that merited the finest attire; the voyage as exciting as the destination.
These days, the trip isn't what it used to be, with airlines slashing amenities and piling on the fees. The experience is more chaotic than classy, and airports are simply a necessary headache to get you where you want to go. So, when I heard about a new semi-private flight service from the Bay Area that promised "no lines, no crowds, no waiting, and no stress," I was intrigued. Could it be legit?
Turns out, it is. JetSuiteX, which launched its initial semi-private service from Burbank to Concord back in 2016, has quietly expanded its flight service to include Oakland, San Jose, and Las Vegas among its regular destinations, and also offers seasonal service to Mammoth Lakes and pop-up flights to events including Coachella.
The best part? Fares start at $129 each way (and can be less if you purchase on sale)—only slightly more than an average commercial flight. With the promise of an elevated flight experience for the price of a normal ticket, I had to see this for myself. So when JetSuiteX invited me to try it out, I packed up my husband and our pup and boarded the plane for Burbank.
We arrived leisurely at the Oakland terminal (about a five-minute drive from Oakland International Airport) at 8:30am, just 30 minutes prior to our 9am flight, and parked in the lot right across the street. (It seems we could have rolled up with just 5 minutes to spare and still have easily made it, but the airline recommends 15). The check-in process was seamless and, in a matter of minutes, we had our tickets and our luggage was checked.
We made our way to the lounge where I grabbed a Kind bar and some free coffee, reflecting on the fact that I went from my car to ready to board in about 10 minutes without ever having to file through TSA—no security agent, no X-rays, no taking off our shoes. Instead, the security happens behind the scenes, with the vetting of all passengers before arrival; bags are scanned out of sight before being loaded onto the plane. I sat down on a leather couch in front of a TV and tossed a treat to my dog; even he looked chill.
The lounge at JetSuiteX's Oakland terminal.(Clara Hogan)
The semi-private flying experience is becoming increasingly popular as a growing number of companies are seeking to make non-commercial flying—something traditionally reserved for the ultra-wealthy—available to normal folks. Blackbird, launched earlier this year with flights from Palo Alto to Truckee and Santa Monica starting at $174, promises a private experience by partnering with independent charter operators and letting people book seats via their mobile app. Other companies, such as Surf Air and Jetsmarter, go the all-you-can-fly membership route for a flat monthly fee. (The latter are still geared toward elite travelers, however, Surf Air's basic membership starting at $1,950 per month. Yikes.)
We boarded about 15 minutes late due to strong winds that morning, but the pilot promised to make up the time in the sky—and he did. Boarding on JetSuiteX happens curbside, meaning you just strut up to the plane like a celeb, with no jockeying for position and no stale-smelling jet bridge.
Once inside the 30-seat Embraer 135 aircraft, you'll need to forget what you've seen of private jets in music videos or on Kim Kardashian's Instagram—these planes aren't that fancy. But there's no question you're getting a major upgrade—leather seats have plenty of legroom and there are electrical outlets in every row. Our flight was only about half full, so we had our choice of seats.
(Courtesy of JetSuiteX)
The ride was smooth as we cruised at 25,000 feet, giving us a perfect view of the California coast until we touched down in just under an hour—less than two-and-a-half hours after leaving our house in near Lake Merritt in Oakland (I'll never drive the eight hours to L.A. again.)
And with that, I was hooked. What I had just experienced was enjoyable. Maybe not 1950s glamour, but it was actually fun to feel like a paying customer being taken care of rather than like a piece of human cargo being shuffled around as cheaply as possible. Call me crazy.
The big bummer, of course, is the dearth of destinations (even if I had the dough to fly Surf Air, their destinations are all inside California), though JetSuiteX assured me more locations are coming soon; the airline has also just signed a deal with Jet Blue so that passengers can earn points for flying.
So with a points program, the time saved, no luggage or pet fees, free parking in Oakland ($10/day at San Jose), and complimentary snacks and cocktails, it's possible to actually save money flying semi-private. Here's hoping that doesn't change when everyone else catches on. // jetsuitex.com