Tuesday, April 5, 2016

JetSuiteX to try 'private jet experience' on scheduled flights

JetSuiteX's new Embraer aircraft are seen with their new livery.
(Photo: JetSuiteX)

There will soon be a new option for some fliers looking to book flights in the West. JetSuite, a California-based private jet charter company, will try its hand at scheduled passenger service on select western routes.

JetSuite, which began flying in 2009, will debut a public charter service that sells seats on scheduled flights under the brand "JetSuiteX."

The company promises passengers buying tickets on those flights will get a “private jet experience.” Flights begin April 19, with fares starting at $109 and maxing out at about $300 each way for departures from private-jet terminals.

Customers can even earn points thanks to a frequent-flier partnership with JetBlue. JetSuiteX passengers can earn 250 TrueBlue points per segment on regular fares and 150 points for sale fares.

JetSuite CEO Alex Wilcox, who was on the executive team that helped successfully launch JetBlue in 2000, is bullish on the prospects for the new JetSuiteX service.

Wilcox says fares have been increasing on short-haul flights. Wilcox says that -- coupled with increasing security headaches at major commercial airports -- has created a sweet-spot in the market where JetSuiteX hopes to lure well-heeled, time-sensitive fliers looking for something between low-fare “cattle car” domestic flights and more expensive private jet options.

"That’s created a space for this kind of product where we can charge a little bit more, but provide a lot more – especially in terms of time savings," Wilcox says to Today in the Sky, pointing to the advantage of flying from private jet terminals.

There are security procedures for passengers flying from private jet terminals, Wicox says. But he adds "there’s no TSA line. People can show up 15 or 20 minutes before their flight."

JetSuiteX's initial route map.
 (Photo: JetSuiteX)

JetSuiteX’s inaugural route will operate within California, connecting Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport(BUR/KBUR) to Concord’s Buchanan Field (CCR/KCCR), located about 30 miles east of downtown San Francisco.

JetSuiteX says its initial schedule of up to two daily round-trip flights will give Concord its first scheduled passenger service since the early 1990s, when USAir discontinued the Concord service it inherited via its merger with Pacific Southwest Airlines.

The next JetSuiteX route will begin April 22, with weekend-only service between Concord (CCR/KCCR) and Las Vegas (LAS/KLAS). On June 30 JetSuiteX begins flying its third announced route, offering up four flights a week between Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC/KSJC)and Bozeman (BZN/KBZN), Montana.

While JetSuite’s private-jet charters have so far been flown on smaller 4- and 6-seat aircraft, its JetSuiteX "public charter" service will be on newly acquired Embraer E135 regional jets. The company has 10 on order, all of which previously flew for American’s American Eagle affiliate before being returned to Brazilian jet-maker Embraer.

But Wilcox says customers won’t mistake JetSuiteX's E135s for a planes flying typical domestic airline feeder flights.

JetSuiteX has completely revamped the interior of the aircraft, configuring them with 30 seats. All have at least 36 inches of “seat pitch,” a standard industry measure of personal space. That, says JetSuiteX, is comparable to business class service on domestic carriers.

Overhead bins have been removed to create a more spacious feel to the cabin. The cabin interior is also wrapped in a leather finish.

"There’s no plastic in the cabin anymore," Wilcox says. "It’s all leather sidewalls like a private jet would have."

Also onboard will be free in-flight Wi-Fi and in-flight entertainment that fliers can stream on their personal devices.

JetSuiteX says new destinations will come online as more of its specially configured E135s are delivered. San Diego, Phoenix and Santa Barbara, Calif., are among cities JetSuiteX has singled out as possible expansion destinations.

"There are a lot of markets that can support 30 seats that can’t support 160 (that are typical on bigger jets like a Boeing 737). We’re going to be creative in finding those," Wilcox says.

"We’ve only got 30 seats to fill. And we only have to sell 20 of them to (break even)," he adds.

The company expects to have all 10 of its E135s flying by "mid 2017." The aircraft also will be available for private charter services, selling for about $8,000 per hour for the 30-seat jet.

As for the new scheduled routes, tickets are now on sale via the JetSuiteX website and app.

(Ben Mutzabaugh - Today in the Sky / USA Today)

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