Flying Private Is Easier Than Ever. The Cost? Well, Um ...
THURSDAY, MARCH 11, 2021 -- You say you absolutely do not want to trek through an airport and rub shoulders with other passengers? Sit three across in a middle seat jammed in coach? Pay up with cash or miles to sit up front and get a cold sandwich in a box? Try to figure out which routes the airlines are flying and which they've abandoned?

Welcome back to the "good times" of flying. Now that we can, it seems pretty unappealing. In point of inconvenient fact, traveling commercial during the late (we hope) days of the pandemic is fraught with inconvenience, with financial and medical risk--and all the woes we left behind when we stopped flying about this time last year.

Solution? Try flying a private jet out of a smaller airport nearer to your home or office. Sure, you will dig (a lot) deeper and pay for the pampering, but options are plentiful and more varied than ever before.

Here's a quick look at three current private-jet providers and their marketing strategies.

Ajax Jets flies 8-passenger Hawker 800XP twin-engine aircraft as well as 9-passenger Falcon 50 and 13-passenger Falcon 900B tri-jets. The Falcon 50 carries no flight attendant while the Falcon 900 has one aboard.

There are no membership fees or repositioning charges when you "pre-fund" a flight at $7,000 per hour for the Falcon 50 or $11,000 an hour for the Falcon 900, says Justin Sullivan, the founder and president. The minimum is two hours per flight.

"We are half the cost of NetJets," says Sullivan, referring to Warren Buffet's fractional-ownership private jet company, he claims.

Based in Massachusetts, nine-year-old Ajax Jets also has a corporate membership plan based on the number of employees who use the planes. "The $7,000 or $11,000 hourly rates are darn good," Sullivan insists. Need aircraft for shorter flights? Ajax can book a 6-seat Pilates turboprop plane for $3,000 per occupied hours.

Based in Florida, JetASAP is trying to position itself as the Airbnb of the private jet charter market. It says it acts as a conduit between a customer and hundreds of certified private-jet "providers" who can offer their availabilities and rates for any requested route.

The brainchild of Lisa Sayer, the founder and chief executive, JetASAP removes "the middle man that has long controlled the [private-jet] industry and created a DIY service that gives the traveler flexibility and transparency."

Sayer points out that JetASAP itself charges no memberships or commissions. Costs depend on the equipment, distance and in-flight frills as charged and provided by the jet operator.

What's a private jet cost? Sayer says it typically ranges from $9,000 to $35,000 one-way. A flight from West Palm Beach, Florida to Oxford, Connecticut, on a small Beechjet 400XP is $9,125. From Miami to Teterboro, New Jersey, the cost is $9,548 on the mid-size jet like a Hawker 800XP. On a so-called super-midjet such as a Citation Sovereign, one-way between Teterboro and Las Vegas is $21,000. And from an airport near Washington, DC, to Hailey, Idaho, on a Gulfstream IV, the cost of the plane is $29,000.

Fares vary depending on the quote, of course, but Sayre says airport location is another variable. For instance, flying to Boston from Oakland is usually less than from San Francisco just across the Bay Bridge. Prices are also impacted by fuel costs and lighter aircraft often have to make fuel stops and cannot fly nonstops.

Sayer says every flight request averages six-to-eight price quotes per trip. Some will only generate three or four, but popular routes can garner 12 quotes for the run.

SimpleCharters is selling simplicity to travelers, most of whom are understandably flummoxed by the complexity of arranging a private charter.

"Private aviation is super-fragmented with 10,000 aircraft around the world" available, says Charles Denault, founder and chief executive of the New Hampshire firm. "We make it simple as 1,2,3 online clicks," a mantra that also appears on the company's Web site.

The booking process on the site looks familiar to anyone who's ever bought a commercial airline ticket online. You enter departure and arrival cities, travel dates and times and the number of passengers. You choose a one-way, roundtrip or multi-city trip.

When you enter your choices, the SimpleCharters site "shops" your request to 3,000 private jet owners and charter operators. Customers choose the best deal from a roster of options, not all that dissimilar from booking a commercial airline ticket.

"Best deal" is a relative term, of course, since flying private is never cheap and depends on the aircraft type, the airports chosen and several other factors. The SimpleCharters site actually does a decent job laying out your options, costs, amenities and taxes.

On a sample one-way flight for two passengers from the small airport in Poughkeepsie, New York, to Portland, Maine, SimpleCharters returned eight quotes ranging from around $5,000 for a turboprop to $12,000 for a super-midsize jet. It also notes options if the flyer wishes to switch from the Poughkeepsie airport (POU) to the larger Stewart International (SWF) across the Hudson River in Newburgh.

"These are personal private chartered jets, no shared charters," explains Denault, a former software engineer. "All aircraft are provisioned with light beverages, coffee, snacks, sometimes alcohol. A flight attendant can be added at cost, no markup."

Looking to escape the cold in the days ahead? Three couples can fly roundtrip on a 7-seat aircraft from St. Paul Downtown Airport (STP) to Glendale Municipal (GEU), about ten miles from Phoenix. Price? Around $40,000 roundtrip for all six flyers. Restrooms, minibar, coffee and WiFi included, of course.

Too pricy? There's always commercial first class on Delta Air Lines nonstop from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Phoenix Sky Harbor. Six travelers will pay a total of about $7,500 roundtrip. But, of course, it comes with all the baggage of public flying in the (late) age of Coronavirus.