Would you believe me if I told you that for under $300 you could fly aboard a posh executive jet? It’s true, thanks to the folks at the promising new upstart airline OneJet. Here’s their [very compelling] pitch: Due to airline consolidation and the resulting proliferation of hub-and-spoke networks, business travelers between many medium-sized city pairs are without non-stop service. Enter OneJet and their seven-seat Hawker 400s: For slightly more than a two-legged economy ticket with the other guys, passengers can ride direct, in style, aboard a modern lavish business jet.
When I first learned of OneJet via my friends at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell airport I was cautiously optimistic. I immediately began researching the company, its leadership, and business model. Far too often in this cutthroat industry with historically razor thin margins, things which seem too good to be true, simply aren’t. Or at least they don’t last. Imagine my surprise when I learned that OneJet has a cast of longtime industry veterans on board as their leadership and advisory team. Big names like Fred Reid, who after being being the president of Lufthansa went on to lead Delta and later become the first CEO of Virgin America. And not just airline leaders, but governmental leaders as well.
John Pistole, former TSA administrator, and John Porcari, former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Combine these diverse industry leaders with others, each bringing decades of experience from other airlines, and it’s tough to discount what they are trying to do.
OneJet had attracted my attention and I needed to know more. There’s no better way to get to know an airline than to experience it first-hand. Their inaugural flight between Milwaukee, WI and Pittsburgh, PA was in just one week; a few hours later I broke down and bought my $283.10 ticket
A non-traditional airline:
Before we proceed, I’m compelled to acknowledge that OneJet isn’t exactly an airline. Not in the most traditional sense, at least. OneJet’s service is different than regularly scheduled airlines which operate under part 121 of FAR, the Federal Aviation Regulations. Instead they, through their partner Pentastar Aviation, offer public charters under similar, but different, part 135 regulations. At this point the arrangement might sound a little too foreign, and while the following comparison isn’t quite right, it’s close enough.
Think of OneJet as Delta or American, and Pentastar as SkyWest, a regional carrier. You buy your ticket from OneJet and unless you pay extra close attention, most never notice the actual carrier is someone else. A rough comparison for sure, but the point here is to demonstrate the idea of doing business with one entity, and having a third actually deliver, is common place.
An excellent airport experience:
I arrived at Mitchell Airport bright and early to take my time loitering about, listening to customers, and chatting up employees. It was good to be back at the Midwest’s best kept secret and most underrated airport.
Upon entering the facility and walking no more than 15 steps to the counter, I was immediately greeted by Jonathan Snook, one of OneJet’s Executive Advisors and former American Airlines SVP. In speaking with Mr. Snook it was clear that he was passionate about the industry and had a vested interest in this company’s success.
I was surprised at how intuitive the self-check-in kiosks were — easier than the other guys, by a long shot. While I had no real need to interact with the ticketing agent, neither of us were pressed for time so I took the opportunity for small talk. She was friendly and happy to oblige.
At this point, it became clear to me that the niche the airline is looking to fill is one with real potential: Quick-in, quick-out, small plane loads and a great deal of personal service. What a treat to stand in a ticketing line and be able to have a conversation with an employee who isn’t rushed to serve dozens of other impatient passengers. The ultimate definition of “busy” in the OneJet context would constitute seven passengers in queue. Refreshing!
Paper ticket in hand, I made the very short trek to security. There was no line at this early hour on a Friday, but had there been, OneJet is the only public charter approved for “TSA Pre“ participation. There are large, bonafide part 121 airlines who can’t make that same claim.
OneJet’s single gate is down a set of stairs just past security. Noticing a trend here? The distance between stops along the way were all very short. Unsure if this is by design, but it felt less like the typical airport experience and more, for lack of a better word special.
The in-flight experience:
Our Pentastar-operated Hawker 400 (Beechcraft Beechjet 400) taxied up ahead of schedule. A few business passengers quickly deplaned with ear-to-ear smiles. Perhaps not AvGeeks, but very obviously fans of the service. Fifteen minutes prior to departure the doors opened. After a quick scan of my boarding pass and a final farewell from the ground crew, it was time to board via the ramp. I LOVE boarding from ground-level — especially onto a private jet.
The interior was everything I had hoped it would be: over-sized, supple leather seats with power ports below, large windows, gold-accented fixtures and even complimentary bottled water and copies of the Wall Street Journal. I very much felt like I’d “made it” to executive status.
Captain Jon Graff buttoned up the door, gave us a quick safety chat and made sure we were all tucked in and ready for the quick 70-minute journey over lakes Michigan and Erie.
The taxi out to the runway was fast and short. Before I knew it, I was very firmly pressed against my seat and we were airborne. Like any good aviation enthusiast, I’ve flown on my fair share of plane types including a hand-full of small planes. Unsure if it’s typical for executive jets (this was my first), but I got the distinct impression that the BE40 has a lot of get up and go.
I haven’t felt thrust like that since Honeywell used a steep bank to avoid a mountain while demo’ing their EGPWS (enhanced ground proximity warning system).
Within what seemed like just a few minutes, we had reached our 39,000 foot cruising altitude at a ground speed of 482 mph. Looking forward, I could see right into the flight deck, no door needed on small planes. I later discussed this with one of the OneJet executives. It turns out what to do about a door or divider was a hot topic of debate. I’m glad they went the AvGeek-friendly route.
On this inaugural flight there were four passengers; not bad for a brand-new airline who had tripled its routes in two-month’s time. I was interested in talking to my fellow passengers. My lucky victim was a gentleman whose name and employer he’d asked be withheld. He was excited for the new non-stop service from MKE to PIT and confirmed OneJet’s research in telling me that he has long since avoided travel to PIT from MKE due to the time involved with making connections.
My research found that the next-shortest option was more than double the travel time, more expensive, and would have been aboard not one, but two small regional CRJs… eww.
It wasn’t long before we started to slow down and begin our descent into PIT. Moments later, we made a very soft landing and taxied to our gate. What a great flight and experience it was. My only complaint — it was just too dang short. Great for business, but bad for AvGeeks.
An unexpected meet and greet with the CEO:
Once in the terminal I had the opportunity to meet the company’s chief, Matt Maguire. Between an impromptu interview with him, and a brief chat aboard the plane with Lesley Conzelman, a OneJet SVP, I was provided great insight into OneJet’s strategy.
As the name suggests, the airline began with just one jet and one city pair. Less than two months later, they are up to three planes (all Hawker 400s), nine pilots, and three city pairs. The company is in talks with over a dozen cities, and is looking to add a new route roughly every six weeks to meet what they describe as a “tremendous response” to their initial “soft launch.”
The preferred OneJet flight time is around one hour. While this doesn’t seem like a lot, it opens up many opportunities, in particular with the population-dense northeast and very poorly served Midwest.
While no one I spoke to would comment on specific cities, I get the distinct impression that there is something on the books for Missouri (KC or St. Louis) or Kansas (Wichita). If I was a betting man, I’d put my money on entering the Wichita market.
During the soft launch/start-up window, OneJet is intentionally undercutting the competition (at a profit) but given the convenience, personal service, and experience can and will slightly raise prices. Current thought is to charge a mere $75 over the lowest fare.
Ready to get in on the fun?
Yet another differentiation between OneJet and its public-charter peers: their flights are readily bookable via a number of third parties. I booked my flight on Expedia and found OneJet listed on Egencia, Expedia’s corporate travel engine. Flights are also found on corporate travel engines such as Concur and BCD. With a Kayak.com executive on their advisory board, I suspect it’s only a matter of time before OneJet flights appear there as well.
I often say, “Fly new airlines and old planes as soon as you can, because neither will be around long.” I sincerely hope that isn’t the case with OneJet. This airline stands apart from many of the other start-ups that have come, gone, and are still trying to get off the ground. The leadership is experienced, motivated, and excited.
Their timing is impeccable, right as consolidation is choking small to medium-sized cities yet economic growth is on the upswing. The low-overhead, high-comfort equipment is right and I think the business demand for a fast, quality product at a modest premium is a model with real potential.
I’ll be keeping an eye on them, and with any luck be aboard one of their luxurious birds from a Missouri or Kansas metropolitan area shortly.