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Alex Wilcox, a founding executive of JetBlue and the current CEO of JetSuite and JetSuiteX airlines, is the first to admit that he’s a “highly frustrated airline flyer.”
I, too, feel his pain, especially when reflecting on the regular treks I make to Los Angeles International Airport (and all that goes along with it).
But thanks to JetSuiteX, a regional airline offering semi-private, affordable flights to destinations such as LA (Burbank), San Francisco (Oakland) and Las Vegas, among others — West Coast-based "frustrated fliers" like me have another option.
Wilcox introduced JetSuiteX to the aviation world about two-and-a-half years ago after finding success with private-jet charter company JetSuite, which he co-founded in 2006.
Today, JetSuiteX is the most on-time airline in the country: Of the 1,000 flights operated by the company last month, 996 were on time (two had flight delays over one hour, and two were cancelled).
Plus, the airport experience at JetSuiteX’s private terminals is actually enjoyable. On a recent JetSuiteX flight, our private lounge at Hollywood Burbank Airport — which is located in a hangar, no less — included both foosball and cornhole games. Meanwhile, in Oakland, we had full access to a stocked minifridge of drinks, plenty of snacks and complimentary phone chargers.
Clients can show up to check in as late as 30 minutes prior to departure. During check-in, bags and hands are swabbed for explosives, IDs are checked and afterward, passengers will receive their boarding passes to enter a 30-seat Embraer 135. (Clients’ names and birthdays are pre-screened against the TSA’s Watch List.)
I spoke with Wilcox to learn more about the JetSuiteX experience — and what’s on the horizon for this innovative airline.
When creating JetSuiteX, what did you envision for the airline?A lot of private-jet customers for JetSuite were paying $5,000 to $6,000 to fly from Burbank to Oakland; I couldn’t fathom why people would spend that much money when they could just fly commercially — at the same departure times — for $200.
However, it wasn’t about, “How fast can I get through the air?” but rather, “How fast can I get through the airport?” It’s about time, and it’s about experience. So, we wanted to provide a private-jet ground experience at a more commercial price point.
Our market opportunity is putting the speed back into short-haul aviation. Since the year 2000, there has been about a 30 percent growth in the number of domestic seats — except in markets under 500 miles. In fact, in that market, there are 30 percent fewer customers flying than in the year 2000.
But it makes sense; people don’t want to spend 90 minutes in an airport just to fly for 45 minutes. Although airports are designing themselves for passengers to spend more time there, that’s not why people travel.
Who is the typical JetSuiteX client?The one thing that we all have in common is that we have 24 hours in a day. The JetSuiteX customer is anyone who values their time. In some cases, we are cheaper than some of our competitors, and in other cases, we are a little more expensive. But what we offer that they don’t is a faster way to get from point A to point B.
On a Friday night, our customer could be someone who wants to start their weekend in Las Vegas as fast as they can. But then, midweek, it could be someone else. One of our customers told me that the difference between flying JetSuiteX and flying a major airline is the difference between being able to see his kids before they go to bed.
What can customers expect during the in-flight experience?I wanted JetSuiteX flights to be comfortable and clean. I hate getting on a plane where the tray table is gross, the seatback pocket hasn’t been emptied or the lavatory stinks. We don’t want any of that, but we also don’t want to be over-the-top.
It’s all about the things that sound immaterial, but make a huge difference. We took out all the overhead bins and replaced the yellow fluorescent bulbs in the cabin with grey-white LEDs to make the cabin feel bigger. We have 36 inches of legroom in every row except for the exit row, which has 40 inches. We also aren’t going to nickel-and-dime people. We don’t charge for seat assignments, checked bags or cocktails, for example. This is a 45- to 60-minute experience; customers shouldn’t have to spend half of that shelling out more money.
What is JetSuiteX’s biggest challenge right now?We’re flying about 1,000 people per day now, but the vast majority of travel agents likely haven’t heard of us. So, that’s the challenge.
The experience will pretty much always stay the same. The Wi-Fi will get faster, we will add frequency and destinations, and the brands of onboard wine and liquors may change — but the core product won’t. We realize that people give us money to get from point A to point B, and we’re going to do as little as possible to interfere with that.
JetSuiteX recently unveiled an enhanced codeshare partnership with JetBlue. What else can agents look forward to?We have the new JetBlue codeshare, but we also have a travel portal that’s available for corporate accounts and certain travel agencies. Beginning Nov. 16, anyone who is flying with JetBlue can apply a deal or discount to JetSuiteX as well, and we will honor that.
And while we’re definitely focused on NorCal, SoCal and Las Vegas — that’s our magic triangle for now — we will be adding another destination in the Southwestern U.S. in the first or second quarter of 2019, in addition to adding more frequencies to our schedule.
Service to Oakland from Orange County will begin Dec. 3, with one roundtrip flight daily from Sunday through Friday. On Dec. 20, we will launch seasonal service to Mammoth Lakes from Orange County and Burbank, which will run until April 7, 2019.
JetSuiteX operates flights between the Bay Area, the Los Angeles Basin and Las Vegas with pop-up routes (such as Mammoth Lakes, Calif.) added seasonally.