JetSuiteX banking on Reno flyers who want competitive fares, no airport lines
JetSuiteX CEO Alex Wilcox shows the insides of one of the company’s Embraer ERJ135 planes during a stop in Reno. Jason Hidalgo
The steady hum of a jet fills the air just outside of Atlantic Aviation in Reno, its chalk-white frame and deep red stripe creating a distinct contrast with the gray pavement below.
Inside, JetSuiteX CEO Alex Wilcox is like a kid in a candy store.
“I’m 6-foot-1, I can cross my legs very easily in the cabin here,” Wilcox said.
The former JetBlue executive sits down and does just that as he continues to run through the list of amenities featured in the jet. These include electric outlets on the walls for plugging devices and the removal of luggage bins above the seats to create more space.
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To most onlookers, the plane looks like your typical private or charter jet. JetSuiteX’s business model, however, has an interesting twist. Started in 2016 as an offshoot of its more luxurious big brother, JetSuite, the upstart air travel company features a hybrid concept that combines the benefits of private jet service and commercial flying.
By using charter jet-style boarding combined with competitive fares that are typically just $40 higher than commercial airlines, JetSuiteX is banking on traveler fatigue with airport lines and the security song and dance at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints for its concept to take off.
“All our fares are fully inclusive (with) seat assignment at no extra charge, baggage at no extra charge, cocktails at no extra charge and many of our locations also have free parking,” Wilcox said.
At a time when airlines are taking away more and more perks while travelers get subjected to more and more procedures, JetSuiteX says it aims to bring air travel back to a simpler age — one marked by shorter wait times and a focus on service. This is especially true for regional air travel, where travelers find themselves paying for things that used to be free, such as check-in luggage and even meals, said Rachel Porges, vice president of marketing and business development.
“All these perks have gone away from commercial aviation and we’re bringing them back,” Porges said. “Our mission is to restore faith in flying, especially for regional travel.”
There and back in a day
JetSuiteX is the latest nontraditional air travel company to take a look at the Biggest Little City.
Earlier this year, for example, San Francisco-based startup Blackbird launched roundtrip service between Reno and the Bay Area.
While Blackbird uses prop planes, however, JetSuiteX uses a twin-engine Embraer ERJ135 jet. Porges says the company decided to open its Reno-Oakland route due to interest from travelers. The arrival of companies such as as Tesla as well as Northern Nevada’s increased focus on startups, for example, has led to an increase in business travelers flying between Reno and the Bay Area. JetSuiteX is also no stranger to flying to Reno.
“We’ve been operating a corporate shuttle for a private client for months now,” Porges said. “We saw an opportunity to expand on that with different clients.”
Getting the route is a big coup for Reno. Although JetSuiteX plans to build out its fleet to 100 planes in the next five years, it only has seven jets at the moment. The fact that the company is devoting one of those planes to the Reno market shows JetSuiteX’s strong confidence in Northern Nevada’s growth.
“Reno is booming right now. Obviously, a lot of Californians and others are moving to Reno for a variety of reasons and (there’s) a huge manufacturing base … from companies that everyone’s familiar with so we’re serving that market as well,” Wilcox said. “Reno is probably one of the most attractive short haul markets from Northern and Southern California.”
JetSuiteX is starting with 12 flights per week spread out over six days. Pricing changes depending on the season but they typically start at $129 one way, which the company says is not far off from what it costs to fly commercial. JetSuiteX also holds fare sales from time to time.
- Monday to Friday: Departing Reno at 9 a.m. and arriving in Oakland at 10:05 a.m. Departing Oakland at 4:45 p.m. and arriving in Reno at 5:45 p.m.
- Sunday: Departing Reno at 4:15 p.m. and arriving in Reno at 5:20 p.m. Departing Oakland at 4:45 p.m.. and arriving in Reno at 5:45 p.m.
The timing of the flights on weekdays allow folks to take a day trip to either Oakland or Reno and return home on the same day.
“You can have a full day of meetings in the Bay and still make it back for dinner,” Porges said.
Although JetSuiteX also has flights to areas such as San Jose, Las Vegas and Concord, Oakland is the only direct destination with Reno at the moment. If demand for the Reno-Oakland route proves to be strong, the company says it will consider opening routes to other cities, which is also dependent on how it grows its fleet.
Changing the equation
Given the proximity of Reno to the Bay Area, flying typically doesn’t provide as big of an advantage, especially when airport wait times are factored in.
Porges, however, believes that JetSuiteX’s semi-private approach to flying and competitively priced fares provide an advantage that many travelers will find appealing.
Unlike commercial flights, for example, you don’t need to arrive 60 minutes or 90 minutes prior to your flight. JetSuiteX only requires customers to arrive 15 minutes before their flight’s scheduled departure, which significantly reduces door-to-door travel times from the typical 4 hours for commercial flights to about two and a half hours. And while long wait times typically are not as big an issue for smaller airports such as Reno-Tahoe International, it can be an issue at bigger airports in the Bay.
“We’re able to shave 60 to 120 minutes from your journey depending on where you live a how long it takes you to shower,” Porges said. “You don’t have to sit around and waste your time.”
Depending on the route and time of the week, JetSuiteX’s passengers can vary from business to leisure travelers. One shared trait, however, is that the typical customer values his or her time and is willing to pay a slight premium for it, Porges said.
Customers used to flying commercially from an airport, however, will need to keep some things in mind. Because JetSuiteX facilities are not located at a commercial airport, for example, it does not have the benefit of airport shuttles, a diverse range of rental car options or easy access to public transportation. Typically, a lot of its customers use ridesharing services such as Lyft or Uber, especially in the Bay Area., Porges said
Despite those challenges, JetSuiteX says its features and value proposition relative to commercial carriers will make it attractive to a portion of the flying public. Legroom, for example, is comparable to business class flights with 36 inches of space but at a lower price. Passengers also get free check-in luggage as well as free cocktails and snacks. Total seats in each jet is limited to 30 to reduce congestion and open up more extra personal space for passengers.
Put all those advantages together and the equation changes, Porges said.
“We’re seeing a lot of people who don’t want to spend time driving in a car or don't want to sit waiting at a commercial terminal,” Porges said. “We’re giving customers the opportunity to save time while also being able to travel comfortably.”