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Plane Talk

Charter jets can provide cost-effective business travel; a startup service is a case in point

Deborah Huso

Charter jets can provide cost-effective business travel; a startup service is a case in point.

How can a business established during the recession generate and maintain momentum? Well, success is always about satisfying a need, and it’s no different during the recession. In fact, recessions give rise to the need for frugality, and that’s the specialty of JetSuite, a private jet service, says CEO and founder Alex Wilcox.

Although the California-based company caters to well-to-do clients flying to Mexico, Canada and throughout the United States, even midlevel managers book its flights. “It’s not about champagne and caviar,” says Wilcox, who also was a founder of JetBlue. “It’s essential transportation.” A traditional airline flies to 80 or so airports daily, but JetSuite—which has 112 employees, 51 of them pilots—can fly to more than 1,500. “We’re like a car service. We’ll take you right to where you want to be.”

Here’s how JetSuite noses out its competition: Multi-city trips are pricey and time-consuming. When you need to visit—say, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Houston—that would probably mean four commercial airline tickets (one to each city plus a return flight) and three nights in hotels along with restaurant tabs and taxi fares. A hidden cost is the loss of productivity: When you’re in airports or on planes, you probably can’t churn out as much work as you do from your office, and travel time often isn’t billable. But what if you could do all three cities in a day? Well, that’s the efficiency a chartered jet provides.

“What they’re buying is convenience, service and low hassle,” Wilcox says. Of course, the great bonus is JetSuite offers these benefits at a reasonable price.

But wait: JetSuite has to pay pilots and for fuel, just as other charter services do, right? So how can the company maintain the necessary margins? The company slyly deploys 13 Phenom jets, which use half the fuel of competitors’ planes. (And if its regular rates aren’t low enough, JetSuite offers daily deals available on Facebook and Twitter: a total cost of $499 for four people to hire a jet for the afternoon.)

Despite the deals, JetSuite mainly serves the well-heeled traveler. Who’s a regular? “Lots of big names: secretaries of state, stadium rock stars, notable billionaires…. Our bread-and-butter customers are developers, businesspeople and people with second homes,” Wilcox says.

 

Go the Extra Mile

JetSuite CEO Alex Wilcox shares these tips for satisfying his high-flying customers:

Get the details right: Learn the names of clients’ dogs, favorite sports teams and grandkids’ Little League positions. Sound silly? Not so, says Wilcox, who relates this debacle: Guests en route to a Lakers/Celtics game got green-frost cupcakes (instead of the requested purple), so they stopped booking JetSuite.

Be personable: Pilots are the “secret sauce,” Wilcox says. The pilots greet guests, load baggage, provide champagne and roses for marriage proposals, and, of course, hold passengers’ lives in their hands. In addition to technical excellence, pilots must possess confidence, warmth and sophistication.

Put yourself out there: Wilcox wants every guest’s experience to be top-notch. He monitors service through a brief post-flight survey that provides his personal contact information to ensure direct accessibility.

Be discreet: Naturally VIP clients are assured of a low profile, and once the plane takes off, pilots’ eyes are on the sky. “We don’t pay too much attention to what goes on in the back of the airplane… as long as it’s not illegal,” Wilcox says. “It’s your space—you rented it.”

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