Semi-private jet travel is the Goldilocks option: slightly more expensive than flying commercial, but much cheaper than chartering a private jet. The best part? No chaos at the airport.
Emany days to weeks, airports around the world have tallied more than 20,000 flight delays and 2,500 cancellations, according to FlightAware tracking data. The headlines tell of lost luggage and long queues. Experts say this will be the new normal for some time to come.
Sunday was a typical weekend travel day this summer, as 17 major US airports saw at least 20% of their flights delayed. The worst offenders were Charlotte/Douglas International Airport and Las Vegas Harry Reid International Airport, where 38% and 32% of all flights departed late, respectively.
It’s not surprising, given the difficulties of flying these days, that many travelers would look for an easier way to get from A to B.
For a growing number of them, semi-private jet travel has emerged as the Goldilocks option, the “right” alternative that captures the best of the private travel experience—being able to bypass crowded airport terminals and to show up 20 minutes before departure – and offers point-to-point flights for far less than travelers might have imagined.
Instead of flying with 180 other passengers on, say, an Airbus A320 or a Boeing 737, going semi-private means sharing the cost of a private jet with up to 30 passengers. Every company in the semi-private space operates differently, so the price and experience can vary quite drastically. Some companies have a subscription model, while others simply charge per flight.
“People either assume they have to fly a major carrier for a few hundred dollars, or they have to get a private jet for tens of thousands of dollars. Historically, there’s been nothing in between, and that’s where we come in,” says Alex Wilcox, CEO of JSX, an innovative airline that offers semi-private hop-on service on 30-seat Embraer jets for as little as $199 in any direction.
“What if we could offer a private jet ground experience at a commercial price? That’s how we came up with JSX.”
JSX was launched in 2016 and, like every other airline big and small, saw its business collapse in the first days of the pandemic. But it has seen a faster and more robust recovery than larger airlines, doubling the size of its fleet every year and adding a number of new routes including, bstarting mid-August, twice-daily service between Phoenix and San Diego. While JSX’s largest hubs are in the Southwest, the airline has expanded to the East Coast, including service between New York’s Westchester County and Miami.
In this summer of airport chaos, the JSX experience makes an obvious appeal. There is no need to arrive at the airport several hours early. Private terminals without crowds. Business class legroom. Free snacks and drinks. Two free checked bags. Contactless registration.
While semi-private air travel has been around on a smaller scale for years, Wilcox says JSX is the first brand to try to do it on a national scale. “This is a relatively new space,” he says. “And so, lack of awareness is probably our number one problem.”
But make no mistake; awareness is growing. During the Covid-19 pandemic, more travelers discovered the advantage of bypassing the major airlines. “Since 2019, private and semi-private aviation has grown 22% in terms of the number of flights we’re seeing,” says Kathleen Bangs, FlightAware spokeswoman and a former commercial airline pilot.
“During Covid, many people did not want to travel commercially, just for fear of exposure,” adds Mark Baier, CEO of AviationManuals, a leading provider of aviation manual development services and safety management system software. “And lately a lot of people are traveling privately because of the complications of commercial air travel now.”
“We definitely saw an influx of new customers during Covid,” says Wilcox. “And now I think there’s a new willingness to look at alternative ways to get from point A to point B.”
The difference today, he says, is that growth is no longer driven by concern for physical health. “Now, it’s actually about mental health.”
Because JSX flies in and out of private terminals, passengers can go directly from their car to the plane. “Historically, private terminals have been reserved for the ultra-wealthy who fly private jets. We found a way to get up to 30 people to be able to share a private jet and make it that much more accessible,” says Wilcox.
Beyond having more legroom and no threat of getting stuck in the dreaded middle seat, the semi-private experience in the air is very similar to any other commercial airline. “When you look at all commercial shipping, the standards, the training, the safety requirements are really uniform across the board.” says Baier. “So there’s no need to worry that with a non-traditional carrier, the safety and training standards will be different.”
“Airplanes all travel at the same speed at the same altitude,” agrees Wilcox. “The big difference is that passengers see real-time savings because we’re in those private terminals.”
With travelers showing a willingness to try alternative airlines, Wilcox sees boom times ahead. “The Northeast is our most fertile ground for growth,” he says. “It is also the most challenging airspace in the world. But to me, it’s even more opportunities for passengers to get out of the massive mega hub airports and into the small community airports.”