Despite vast improvements in technology and a growing global demand for flights, air travel over the last few decades only seems to have become more miserable. All too often flying today means enduring never-ending security lines, intrusive body checks or x-ray machines, cramped seats, long layovers, missed connections, delays, and cancellations. And we haven't even touched upon the dingy, outdated seat fabrics, asinine luggage policies, or measly snacks.
And yet for a small and growing percentage of people, flying is actually improving. Cushy seats, quasi-gourmet snacks, and a brief respite from the crushing masses are available on any of 39,000 private aircraft worldwide, and in the U.S., several private jet companies are now offering flights at prices that equal first- and business-class tickets on commercial airlines.
While Linear Air has been around since 2004 and JetSuite launched SuiteDeals in April 2011, there are three new companies less than six months old: JumpSeat took flight in February, Surf Air in June, and FlyArrow is planning to start flights next month.
Whether for business or pleasure, now's the time to check out your new and improved options—before everyone else catches on.
Name of company: JetSuite
Flies to: Nationwide (i.e. Sacramento to Salem or Aspen to Atlanta)
Costs: Prices range from $499 to $1,499 for one leg on a four-seat Phenom 100 or a six-seat JetSuite Editions Citation CJ3s. Per person that could be as low as $124.75 per person for a one-way flight.
How it works: Each day, JetSuite's SuiteDeals posts empty legs of private jets that anyone can book on its website, Facebook, and Twitter pages. Register, login, select your desired SuiteDeal and departure time, and if there's a match, you will be routed to the booking page. Enter your credit card info and book online. A JetSuite Guest Services representative will reach out via email with confirmation and details.
Perks: Free wi-fi, pets fly for free, guaranteed price-quote online (includes taxes, fees, etc.).
Back Story: Founder Alex Wilcox co-founded JetBlue and worked at Southwest Airlines.
Name of company: Surf Air
Flies to: San Francisco, LA, and Santa Barbara, with more cities throughout California and the U.S. coming soon.
Costs: Unlimited flights (or "all-you-can-fly") for $1,650 a month, with a one-time initiation fee of $500.
How it works: Book your flights online or on your smartphone up to 6 weeks or as soon as three minutes in advance. But unlike a charter, you won't get to choose the schedule.
Perks: Unlimited free guest passes if you book two weeks in advance. Bring up to 35 pounds of luggage for free. Snacks on board reflect the demographic (health-conscious, unique, and gourmet) and include néktér juices, Burst Foods, popchips, and Paso Almonds.
Back Story: Founded by brothers Wade and Dave Eyerly. Wade worked as an intelligence officer with the Department of Defense, served in Iraq, and received the Secretary of Defense's medal. Jared Leto is an early investor.
Name of company: JumpSeat
Flies to: Nationwide—from Dallas to Detroit, Chicago to Palm Beach—and some international trips. Flight opportunities change constantly.
Costs: A recent flight from Bedford to Nantucket for four people cost $2,500; and from Westchester County Airport (outside New York) to John Wayne Airport (LA) for $1,995 per person on a G450 Gulfstream.
How it works: A peer-to-peer sharing service lets fliers snap up empty seats on a jet already scheduled to fly at a bargain. The owner calls it "the private jet version of Airbnb."
Perks: Refer friends and get $500 in JumpSeat credits.
Back Story: According to the owner, a Hollywood star's dog recently needed to fly from BUR to TED, but couldn't go commercially due to its size. The dog and the star's assistant flew private on a Hawker 1000 and three JumpSeaters joined the flight for $5,000, or $1,667 each—less than a commercial first-class ticket.
Name of company: Linear Air
Flies to: Hubs around Boston, New York City, Washington DC, Atlanta, Dallas Forth Worth, and Gainesville.
Costs: Prices vary. A flight for three people from New York to Boston same day, roundtrip would cost around $1,700 per person.
How it works: Use the online "Price Your Flight" tool and select departure and destination address (the nearest airport choices to and from your current location and final destination will be ranked in order) number of passengers, and type of stay (same day, one way, or round trip). An itinerary guide will indicate how trip costs vary based on different airports, length of stays, and aircraft.
Perks: Once you have a quote for a trip, book it immediately or return later to book within seven days. If you choose Eclipse 500, aka the sports car of the private-jet world, be sure to visit the men's room before takeoff—no bathrooms on board!
Back Story: After enduring exasperating delays and no direct travel options for a business trip in the summer of 2004, Louisville, KY-native William Herp decided to democratize private air travel by making it more affordable and accessible. After selling his online marketing start-up, e-Dialog, to Ebay, he founded Linear Air.
Name of company: Arrow
Flies to: Seattle and Bay Area airports
Costs: $499 each way Seattle-San Jose and $299 each way San Jose–Burbank.
How it works: Pay an individual membership fee of $200/month (individuals) or $500/month (corporate) and then per ride. Once it launches, there will be a published schedule that members can select from, and you will be able to book a charter flight or ticket via text message.
Perks: Free in-flight wi-fi. Free Anheuser-Busch products.
Back Story: Arrow's fleet consists of Piaggio P 180 Avanti II aircraft, a company owned by Ferrari. The largest operator of the Avanti is the Italian Air Force. Founded by aviation enthusiast Russell Belden and backed by Seattle entrepreneur Andy Liu, the company only plans to launch service after attracting 200 members in a Kickstarter-esque approach. Stay tuned…