Commercial Break

It may come with a hefty price tag, but flying by private jet means you can wave goodbye to crowded airports, annoying delays, missed connections, and lost luggage. By Andrew Conway

Ask Don Smith for a favorite private jet travel story, and he'll tell you about a successful entrepreneur with an ocean home on Nantucket who needed to attend an important business meeting on the West Coast.

"He went from White Plains airport in Westchester County, NY, at 8 a.m. on a Friday, flew to San Jose, CA, had a 90-minute meeting, and was home on Nantucket by 7 p.m. that evening, in time to start his weekend," he says with a broad smile. "That's pretty good stuff."

As CEO of FlyPrivate, a national private jet service based in Hingham, MA, Smith and his business partner Greg Goodwin have been at the cutting edge of this fast-growing, turbo-charged industry for more than a decade, and they are uniquely placed to extol the many benefits of traveling by private jet.

"It's really all about time," says Smith, "and the utility of getting door-to-door in three hours from Chicago to Martha's Vineyard instead of six or seven hours by commercial airliner. For our clients, time has a high value, and they don't want to be wasting it fooling around in airports." While private jet travel comes with a hefty price tag, often many thousands of dollars for a single journey, access to this exclusive and privileged world means you can wave goodbye to crowded airports and check-in counters, annoying delays, missed connections, and lost luggage.

Private jet clients can have their cars roll onto an airport ramp, step on to their aircraft, and settle into plush leather seats as their Lear, Gulfstream, or Challenger prepares for take-off—precisely on their schedule. So begins a journey of ordered calm in which travelers can avoid all the hassles and frustrations of commercial air travel, set their own timetables, enjoy VIP arrivals and departures, fly in and out of airports close to their vacation homes, and maximize precious business and leisure time.

With more than 5,500 private aircraft and 1,900 operators in the U.S. alone—and many thousands more worldwide—choosing a reputable service can be a complex, confusing, and costly business. Countless whole ownership, fractional ownership, membership, and charter options, not to mention an array of complicated industry rules and regulations, are enough to make even the most frequent flyer's eyes glaze over.

FlyPrivate, one of the first companies to introduce a "pay-as-you-fly" membership program in 2002, understood that many of the existing private jet programs included several expensive and cumbersome drawbacks. By combining the best aspects of jet ownership, membership, and charter, Smith and Goodwin eliminated acquisition and management fees, up-front deposits, aircraft positioning and empty-leg fees, long-term contracts, and blackout periods, replacing them with a more customer-friendly and cost-effective "pay-as-you-fly" program in which clients simply pay by the trip.

"Every time you request a flight from us," says Smith, "the first thing you'll get is an e- mail or faxed confirmation detailing the exact cost of your flight. Customers tell us they hate being nickel-and-dimed by surprise taxi fees or fuel surcharges when they get billed by their private jet company. That doesn't happen with us. We make it all very simple, almost like renting a car, packaging everything into one cost so our customers get all the services, on demand, but pay only by the trip."

FlyPrivate doesn't own any private jets but has relationships with top-rated operators in the U.S. and around the world. The company guarantees access to turboprop, light, midsize, and large private jets 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and can arrange departures with as little as four hours notice.

Aircraft options include light jets, which can fly up to six passengers and have a range of about 1,500 miles without a fuel stop. Midsize jets can accommodate five to seven passengers and have a range of about 2,500 miles, while heavy jets have space for up to 12 passengers and can fly about 3,500 miles without refueling.

Jet brands run the gamut, from Citation, Hawker, Embraer, and Lear—which recently added its new Learjet 85, which is available for charter exclusively via Flexjet—to Challenger, Gulfstream, and Falcon. "All air carriers participating in our program are audited by a third-party safety firm and are Part 135 Certified, the most stringent set of FAA standards," adds Smith.

But flying by private jet doesn't come cheap—a one-way trip in a light Citation Ultra, Hawker 400XP, or Lear 31 from Chicago to Newport, RI (utilizing Palwaukee and North Kingston airports), costs $9,987 plus tax—but ever-increasing numbers of wealthy travelers say the benefits outweigh the price tag. Smith says smaller turboprop aircraft are favored by many ocean homeowners who need to access airports with shorter runways. The turboprops also provide a more cost-effective option for shorter trips. Private jet benefits extend far beyond the aircraft itself, starting with a short ride from the client's home or vacation retreat to the closest airport, which can be as little as a 10- to 15- minute drive away (see charts for the best and busiest private jet airports).

Many airports have FBOs (Fixed-Base Operators), such as Jet Aviation and Signature Flight Support, which provide a host of services, from hangar privileges and jet fuel to luxurious terminals complete with plush leather seating, widescreen TVs, gourmet catering, and even conference rooms for time-pressed executives. Private jet clients can also be driven direct to the aircraft door, with any required security, immigration, and customs services done discreetly behind the scenes.

Smith admits the industry has a glamorous image, but he prefers to describe it as "discreetly personalized" transportation. "We really get to know our clients," he says, "so we can anticipate their every need. We know the best options for our customers, what aircraft they’ve flown before, where they travel to, and how they want to arrive. We do the thinking for them."

While most private jet companies will fly you from Point A to Point B, a handful also package entire vacations, taking care of everything from air travel to five-star hotels, private chefs, and experts guides. Florida-based Ultimate Jet Vacations services 20 exotic destinations from the Caribbean to Mexico's Riviera Maya and Pacific Coast, Costa Rica, and Colombia, offering a portfolio of hand-picked hotels, resorts, restaurants, and tours. Remote Lands, headquartered in New York City, is a market leader in private jet travel and vacations in Asia, covering more than 20 destinations from Bhutan to Thailand to Vietnam. In Europe, London-based Jeffersons offers "short breaks" by private jet to an array of stylish destinations, including Monte Carlo, Lake Como, and Verbier, perfect for a special occasion or anniversary.

Other private jet companies offer extended concierge services. Paramount Business Jets, for example, can secure hard-to-get tickets to entertainment and sporting events worldwide through its Paramount TicketAssist program, while its unique SkyParty and SkySpa service can plan in-flight celebrations, as well as massage and beauty treatments so clients arrive refreshed and looking great.

Ultimately, private jet travel comes down to privacy and exclusivity. "Private jet flyers are extremely low key," says FlyPrivate's Smith. "They don't like to talk about it at all and like flying under the radar. Our job is to ensure that same level of privacy and exclusivity they demand and expect of their lifestyles."