Flying privately is the ultimate luxury, especially when compared with the typical in-flight experience on today’s cash-strapped airlines.Given the cramped middle seats and lukewarm mystery chicken most of us contend with, the idea of tucking into pork belly and microgreens on Pickard China (the same brand that the Obamas use), and then sinking into a plush leather chair with a cashmere throw seems almost unfair—even if the experience costs upward of $1,600 an hour.
Yes, thanks to modern design advances, private flying is now more comfortable than ever before. Today’s jet-setters can enjoy the almost unimaginable pleasures of communal in-flight dining areas (set with fine silver and crystal), full-size pullout beds and bathrooms with modern shower stalls.
High-tech amenities in private jet cabins range from the entertaining (iPod docking stations and plasma TVs) to the practical—in-flight Wi-Fi, fax machines and international phones. Pilots and flight attendants, too, are handpicked and expertly trained, and put the smile back in service.
But when sensitive business is involved, many travellers say jetting privately only makes sense. Though exclusive trips come at a serious premium, the time saved (by not having to check in luggage, wait in security lines or work around an airline’s flight schedule) is considerable.
Where commercial planes have access to 450 airports in the United States, private jets can deliver passengers to more than 5,000.
The appeal—sometimes necessity—of private flying applies to a range of business travellers. “It’s a no-brainer, especially to inconvenient destinations,” says Lisa DeSimone, who works for an East Coast–based insurance company.
“What would take me six hours and a connection on a commercial flight is a direct 90 minutes on a private plane.” Notes comedian Dan Nainan, “I’ve been in situations where I wouldn’t have been able to do two shows in one day because of commercial flight schedules—so I ended up making more money by flying private.”
The many creative options these days for private-jet usage make flying privately a reality for many who thought it out of their reach. While fractional aircraft ownerships (pioneered by NetJets in 1986) still have a firm footing in the marketplace, today’s private jet companies are offering travellers new flexible solutions like hourly jet cards (prepaid cards sold in 15- or 25-hour increments) and pay-as-you-fly models.
Many private jet companies own or have access to a number of aircraft, so stellar service—ranging from fine onboard amenities to personalised bookings—ties the best of these owners, charter companies and brokers together.
For a rundown of our favourite private jets—and the companies that offer them—read on.
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The ride: While the Italian P180 isn't new--the aircraft was first introduced to the market in 1990--this twin-engine turboprop, ideal for domestic flights, continues to be in high demand.
Its performance and efficiency allows it to land on short airstrips where larger private jets are banned, while still including a relatively spacious 14-foot main cabin with nine fully reclining leather seats. It's faster than many midsize jets and 40 per cent more fuel efficient than its direct competitors.
Book it with… Avantair, Inc. (avantair.com) has a fleet of 56 Piaggio Avanti aircraft and a management team made up of trained pilots. Along with selling fractional ownership, the company leases planes in 50-hour increments and sells 15-, 25- and 50-hour jet cards.
The ride: The first business jet designed with both wings and fuselage made primarily of carbon composites (allowing for enlarged cabin volume), the Learjet 85's 24-foot main cabin is packed with haute touches like LED lighting, bathrooms with glass sinks and illuminated mirrors, a kitchen with a microwave oven--and servers to prepare your food in it. Seats fully recline into beds, ideal for longer hauls.
Book it with… Flexjet (flexjet.com), the first private jet company to offer fractional shares on the Learjet 85, has 85 planes in its collection of aircraft, all made by century-old parent company Bombardier. In addition to fractional shares, Flexjet has a 25-hour jet card program, operated by U.S. air carrier Jet Solutions.
The ride: Of the 5,000-plus jets available for charter in the U.S., there are only a handful of VIP airliners. These large Boeings, MDs and Airbuses are completely customised: private rooms with king-size beds, marble bathrooms with double vanities and showers, mahogany tables set with crystal and china, and a staff of attentive servers.
Fliers feel like they're staying in a friend's upscale penthouse--one where everything has passed rigorous flammability tests.
Book it with… Private Jet Services Group (pjsgroup.com), one of just a few charter companies to offer VIP airliners in its inventory (more than 5,000 aircraft). Staff members--paired one to one with clients--are also trained flight attendants, so the same person who makes a traveller's reservation by phone serves the cocktails en route.
The ride: While the Challenger 300 has been on the market for almost a decade, its long-distance capabilities, spacious cabins (28.6 feet) and clean design still make it a popular favourite.
The brand-new fleet of 14 owned and chartered by XOJET have been amped up to include cabins with eucalyptus-wood paneling, a menu of stellar food and drink options, complimentary Wi-Fi and iPads for passengers' use.
XOJET's model is also one of the first to install Bombardier's new Quiet Cabin design, making its interiors especially tranquil.
Book it with… XOJET (xojet.com), a charter company with flying options ranging from single trips to long-term membership programs. It also owns its fleet of 40-plus aircraft--all of which have customised interiors. Pilot and maintenance technicians are also XOJET employees, and their service staff--happy to arrange an in-flight anniversary dinner or set up a round table with PowerPoint and notepads--are available around the clock.
The ride: Powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce turbofan engines, the Citation X is currently the world's fastest operational civilian jet. Its average travelling speed on a coast-to-coast American flight is 575 mph--92 per cent of the speed of sound--and the aircraft can climb to 51,000 feet.
The craft's 23.7-foot main cabin includes Wi-Fi, standard power outlets and a refreshment centre with a microwave; the 14 currently run by Flight Options also include winglets, making them more fuel efficient and able to climb to higher altitudes faster.
Book it with… Flight Options (flightoptions.com), which has a fleet of 100 aircraft, sells fractional jet ownerships, membership programs and 25-hour jet cards. The company prides itself on a Cleveland-based operation controls centre that was modelled after NASA's.
The ride: The G450 falls within the lineage of the GIV series--the best-selling business jet worldwide. Along with the plane's off-the-charts specifications (it can fly at 528 mph and for about 5,000 miles), the plush 45-foot main cabin has different configurations and can include an open bar, his-and-hers washrooms and a gourmet galley outfitted with a dual coffeemaker and ample cabinet space to store crystal and china.
Up to 16 passengers, comfortably spread out in supple leather seats--some of which have massage and heating functions--have access to worldwide satellite phones and an iPod--connected entertainment system.
Book it with… EvoJets (evojets.com), a brokerage firm with a little black book of thousands of private planes, counts the G450 as a client favourite. Its pay-as-you-fly model is ideal for travellers who need to only occasionally fly privately (or anyone else who doesn't want the commitment of fractional ownership or a jet card).
The ride: As quiet as it is in the 48-foot cabin, you'd never guess that this long-range plane is powered by brawny engines developed by Rolls-Royce.
The aircraft was created for long-range flights--it can hop from Seattle to Tokyo--and its restful cabin complies.
The 6000s outfitted by NetJets all have ostrich-embossed leather upholstery, African sapele wood surfaces and pop-out divans where staff members can make up cozy beds.
Book it with… NetJets (netjets.com) has ordered 30 Global 6000 and 5000 jets for its private fleet of approximately 650 aircraft (the largest in the world). The company sells fractional jet ownerships, jet leases and 25-hour jet cards.
The ride: A favourite of international travellers, this powerful aircraft has a 44-foot cabin that can be configured into four different living areas (and three temperature zones) for up to 18 passengers.
Its long-range capabilities allow it to easily link London with Tokyo or New York with Dubai, and its en suite amenities--a fax machine, printer and broadband Internet--allow business to be conducted at high elevations.
Entertaining en route? Arrange to have your servers prepare your choice of cocktail or four-course dinner while cruising at 561 mph.
Book it with… V1 Private Jets (jetcharter.com), a brokerage firm that negotiates your terms and rates with an international array of private-jet companies and owners, counts the G550 as one of its most popularly booked planes.
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