Simple, fast, efficient, comfortable, and reasonably-priced air travel. What’s not to like?
JetSuiteX kicked off scheduled service between Seattle and Oakland, Calif., on July 1, with three flights per day between the two cities.
This means that the metro Seattle area now has three airports offering scheduled passenger service: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA); Paine Field (PAE) in Everett; and Boeing Field (officially King County International Airport, BFI).
The airline euphemistically referred to the route as the “nerd bird” in a press release, no doubt calling out their hoped-for clientele: business travelers between the two tech hubs.
We’ll soon have a separate story offering background on the airline and more on their plans for routes, so I’m going to focus primarily on the flying experience here. And what an experience it was.
Arguably, one of the best parts of flying with JetSuiteX isn’t the flight itself so much as the removal of pre- and post-flight hassles. Lines? Not really. There are only a maximum of 30 people on your flight, and you’re either flying out of a relatively quiet secondary airport or an executive-style FBO (fixed base operator) at a major airport.
TSA? Nope. They’re below required passenger minimums for that, operating under Part 135 charter operator certificate, on aircraft with 30 or fewer seats, exempts them from many TSA requirements. I asked the airline about their safety protocols; below is their reply, verbatim:
At JetSuiteX, the safety and security of our customers and crewmembers is always our number one concern. Any customer over the age of 18 will be required to show valid government issued photo ID or two alternate forms of identification with at least one issued by government authority. JetSuiteX has also implemented several additional controls that far exceed the TSA requirements and norms of the industry, to include ETD screening and the same TSA background check system used by the major airlines. JetSuiteX is proud to be the leader within semi-private travel in using these measures. Regulators at the TSA, FAA, and DOT have approved all JetSuiteX security measures, and we have deep cooperative relationships with local law enforcement. We also have various other, unseen mitigations constantly at-work behind the scenes.
So, simply because passengers don’t have to deal with the formal TSA processes does not mean there isn’t any security; it’s just that the security is done in a different way because of the small number of passengers on a given flight.
In that vein, the airline suggests checking in a mere 20 minutes before your scheduled departure time, which harkens back to the glory days of air travel. I was even able to park all day for free right in front of the terminal (word is that Boeing Field will start charging for parking at some point, so that perk likely won’t last long).
In Seattle, Boeing Field is just five miles south of downtown, adding to the convenience factor for business travelers working in the city.
Alex Wilcox, JetSuiteX co-founder and CEO (he was also one of the founders of JetBlue), said that these things alone can shave three or four hours from a standard round trip flight.
“As an industry, we’ve managed to screw up short haul travel,” Wilcox said, explaining that people don’t mind getting to the airport a two or three hours early for a 10+ hour flight, but not for a 90-minute flight. So, he said, those travelers either look for other options, such as driving, or just skip the trip altogether.
JetSuiteX uses a fleet of Embraer ERJ135s. Candidly, the only time I’d flown on one before was on a feeder airline in the upper Midwest. It had about 37 seats and felt like being in a sardine can, so I was curious as to how comfortable the trip would actually be.
Turns out, my concerns were unfounded. Business-class seats, and only 30 of them, made for plenty of personal space in the relatively small cabin. I could even stand up straight in the lavatory (the planes have one lavatory, all the way aft), something that’s not even possible on some larger jetliners.
For the flight from BFI-OAK, we left within 10 minutes of scheduled departure, with the tardiness mostly due to the inaugural celebration.
That delay was inconsequential, and was only worth mentioning because everything else went off like a Swiss watch.
At the BFI terminal, a newly-redecorated lounge welcomed us with big windows overlooking the ramp, and free coffee and snacks were available. I didn’t spend any time in there, though, because what AvGeek would pass up an opportunity for some ramp time to sit in a lounge, even a comfy one?
The flight took about 90 minutes to cover the 675 miles between Seattle and Oakland. Did I mention that the fare was only $99 each way? Sure, you can find cheaper sale fares with the major carriers, but then we’re back to the original conundrum of having to get to the airport at least 90 minutes early for your flight, etc., which effectively doubles the transit time for a round-trip flight.
And those cheap mainline fares get you the cheap mainline seats; JetSuiteX’s service is comparable to any domestic premium-economy product I’ve experienced, and is every bit as good as some domestic first class offerings, especially when comparing apples-to-apples on short-haul routes. BFI-OAK is currently JetSuiteX’s longest route. You can even earn JetBlue air miles on these flights.
There are no overhead bins in the small cabin, but the business-class sized seats have tons of room underneath for computer bags and the like. Everything else gets checked – you get a baggage allowance of two bags with a combined total of up to 50 lb. For this quick out-and-back trip I brought only the camera backpack I normally use for international travel, and had no problems fitting it under the seat – there’s more room than most domestic economy seats.
Is there onboard WiFi? Sort of, and it’s scheduled to improve. The onboard network is currently named something along the lines of GoGoTextOnly, and that network name pretty much explains the deal.
The WiFi is fast enough for texting, mostly. Even texting was slow, and forget about texting anyone a photo while in flight — the in-flight photo I texted to a friend as a test didn’t get sent until after we landed and my phone connected to a cellular network.
That said, things are slated to improve later this year. According to a JetSuiteX spokesperson, the company is working with SmartSky Networks to implement next-gen, ground-speed onboard WiFi. Originally planned to be launched in late summer, it’s been delayed until Q4 2019.
Once in California at Signature’s Oakland terminal, the vibe was more upscale bus station than airport; it was loud, there weren’t enough seats, and lots of people seemed determined to make messes faster than the very busy staff could get things cleaned up.
Free coffee, soft drinks, and light snacks were available, but, unlike BFI’s surprisingly good cafeteria in the main building, there are no easily-accessible food options at either the FBO or on that side of the Oakland airport. Granted, this isn’t meant to be a hang-out place, it’s meant for quick transfers, but soda and pretzels only go so far.
Uber Eats nicely solved the problem — I had Indian food delivered within 30 minutes during my two-hour layover.
On the outbound leg I was in the middle of the plane in seat 5C, a window. For the return, I was in 10B, an aisle seat in the very last row. The aft-mounted engines made for an unsurprisingly louder ride in the back, but despite that I was still able to carry on a pleasant conversation with the person seated next to me for much of the trip.
There is one flight attendant on the plane and an appropriately small galley, so the in-flight service consisted of beverages and packaged snacks, perfectly appropriate for such a short flight.
I’m definitely a fan of this type of flying. There’s lots to like: prices that are competitive with the major airlines, no long TSA lines, quick and easy check in, comfortable lounges, and solid in-flight service.
The only drag is they only currently have one route out of Seattle.
Disclosure: JetSuiteX invited AirlineReporter on board at its expense for the round-trip flight; our opinions remain our own.