Are shared private jets worth it? I try out a Citation CJ2 for size!

Last week I got to fly on a private jet for the first time.  Which was interesting.

I was invited by a company called JetSmarter, which is one of a number of companies now offering subscription-based scheduled private jet services from London.  The company currently flies to Nice, Ibiza, Malaga, Milan, Moscow, Paris, Geneva, Zurich and Munich.  As well as these scheduled services, members can also book free or cheap seats on ’empty leg’ repositioning flights on various routes at short notice.

There are currently two membership levels, one at $5000 per year and the other at $15000.  Each offers a different number of flight credits and different access to empty leg and additional companion seats.  You can find out more via their app.  This article is not about JetSmarter itself – and I am not going to discuss whether I think their service is worthwhile or not – but is about my thoughts on the ‘shared plane, scheduled plane’ private jet concept.

Do ‘shared plane, scheduled plane’ private jets miss the whole point?!

There is no real proof yet that any company will make money running aircraft on this model.  The jury is very much out on JetSmarter, and the two people I flew with to Geneva were both fully aware that the company appears to have a precarious business model.  When I met US blogger Brian Kelly last year he was raving about how he used JetSmarter in New York, but was similarly dismissive of its long term prospects.

Let’s look at the London to Geneva service I flew.  JetSmarter flies it TWICE per WEEK.  That’s it.  You need to fly at 8am on a Monday or 4pm on a Thursday.  There are no other options.

That doesn’t sound very flexible to me.  If I am paying a very large premium for a private jet, I want flexibility.  Two flights a week hardly offers that.

Secondly – and this is the major issue with private jets in London – the airports are inconvenient for many people.  I flew from Luton, where I used the Signature Flight Support private jet terminal (review here).  Other operators use Blackbushe, Farnborough or occasionally London City.  If you live in West London, none of these are anywhere near as convenient as Heathrow – although one of the guys I flew with had come from his office in Mayfair (1hr 15mins by Uber, he told me).

g-spur cockpit

You are also not flying ‘privately’ – but this was the best bit for me.

I will come to the flight itself in a minute.  Only three of the seven seats were taken, so we sat in a group of four which faced each other.  The other two guys had met before on the same flight.

I never, ever talk to people on planes.  Except for my wife, which is how I met her (well, we met at check-in and then sat together).  This was totally different.  The three of us talked for the entire trip.

You need to be on the ball though.  One of my fellow passengers was a senior financier off to address an IMF conference on crypto-currency.  The other was a major investor in the oil and gas sector.  Luckily, I see a lot of fintech stuff via Head for Points (Curve, Revolut, PSD2 start-ups etc) and my wife keeps me up to date with the state of the oil and gas sector so I wasn’t out of my depth.  The best part of the whole experience was chatting to my fellow two passengers for 90 minutes.

So, how was the plane?

This is the aircraft we got – G-SPUR.  It was originally part of Alan Sugar’s Amsair business.  It is a Cessna Citation 2 operated by Lux Aviation, who are presumably paid by JetSmarter to run this service twice a week irrespective of the number of passengers booked.

G-SPUR

The plane even has its own webpage here.  It was built in 1992 and refurbished in 2005.  The Fly Victor website has a seating plan.

Here is a library photo of the interior:

G-SPUR interior

I was sat in the seat where this photo was taken from, facing backwards.

What was the service?

DIY!

When we boarded, there were three plastic trays of sandwiches stacked up on a seat in the back row.  We helped ourselves to these during the flight.  This is what you get:

JetSmarter food

There was a tray of crisps too!

JetSmarter food

In the area at the back was a standard picnic cool box!  Inside were a number of half-bottles of Laurent Perrier champagne.  I’m not sure how many there were but two of us drank and we shared two between us.

G-SPUR food

There was also a drawer of soft drinks in the cabinet:

JetSmarter refreshments

Crockery and cutlery was in pull-out drawers under the seats.

Where’s the loo, I hear you ask?  Ah, here’s the problem.

Small private planes do not have proper toilets.  That cream seat next to the cool box above is covering the loo.

But where’s the door?  Er, there isn’t one.  There is a curtain you can pull across, but to all intents and purposes you are in public.  I had been warned about this, which is why I only had one half-bottle of champagne in the lounge before boarding.  Pity anyone who finds themselves travelling with someone who picked up a dose of food poisoning whilst away.

How was the flight itself?

Take off and landing were, in terms of how it felt, much the same as a standard short-haul plane.  It was amusing to see Ryanair jets queuing up behind us.

What I really loved was the landing.  The cockpit is open to the cabin, as you can see in the top photograph.  This meant that, as we approached Geneva, I could see exactly what the pilots could see as the runway came closer and closer.  That was cool.

We parked at one of the two private jet terminals at Geneva.  After showing our passports, one of the other passengers and myself asked to be driven over to the main terminal.  We were shuttled via the tarmac where we were dropped at a Shengen gate and could just walk out of the airport.

My verdict?

This was a great experience and I’m grateful to JetSmarter for letting me try it out.

Am I convinced about their concept?  No.  Irrespective of the cost, I cannot see a scenario where I would be willing to work around their very small number of weekly flights – and head out to Luton – to catch a shared private plane when I could hop in an Uber or the tube and go to Heathrow.

Anyone using such a service is also likely to be a British Airways Gold member (one of my fellow passengers had a BA Gold bag tag).  The ability to whizz through the new First Wing at Terminal 5 straight into the Galleries First lounge, before nabbing a Row 1 Club Europe seat, is not a whole lot worse.

You don’t gain much on time (smaller planes fly slower) and at least BA offers other options if your plans change at short notice.

What I DID like was the ability to meet interesting new people in a sociable environment – but obviously this is not guaranteed every time you fly.  The ability to watch the plane landing and taking off via the cockpit window was also fantastic although I can imagine that the novelty wears off.

If you want to try a private plane for yourself, one of the cheapest options is via the Cojetage app.  This sells off ’empty legs’ on repositioning jets.  You have a very limited selection of routes, and rarely more than 48 hours notice, but you can get yourself a flight for as little as €400.

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Comments

  1. A guy who I was speaking to at work the other day was telling about the time he took the company jet to NYC. It was the same DIY approach to service. But as he was the most junior person onboard, though still senior – at least in my eyes – he became the steward. “Never again”, he said.

  2. Another paid promotion…

    • the real harry1 says:

      …and Raffles was disgracefully biased in favour of the company – outrageous!

    • You can always demand your subscription fee back……oh wait no you can’t it is free. Perhaps just don’t force yourself to read articles you find you may not enjoy

      • Ha ha. Nothing could be further from the truth.

        What I didn’t bother explaining is that JetSmarter does not know I run this site. I was offered a trial flight anyway. Anyone with 1 million credit card or airline points, in one scheme, can have a free trial.

        • @TRH1. Interested?

        • the real harry1 says:

          sure 🙂

        • Really, do you have a link. Could probably fill a few flights with HfPers.

        • That’s interesting, and might make for some interesting avios valuations for those with 750k+ in their accounts…

        • One way to Geneva in CE is only worth 9,000 Avios plus £25 taxes 🙂

          And CE has a proper loo …

          No idea if they would still honour the deal. It was back in June I agreed it – I had 90 days to take the trial flight and I did it on Day 88 ….

        • And had it been paid promotion, then honestly, it was pretty poor paid promotion since it was fairly clear that there’s very little reason for any business traveler to want to use the service aside from wizz-bang factor (which, if you travel a lot for business, doesn’t count for much).

        • If they’d paid me upfront for it, I would have mentioned it. I doubt many of you would have criticised me for taking a wad of cash to fly in a private jet 🙂

        • Ooh, interesting! 🙂

    • I was actually thinking the exact opposite. If I was with PR at Jetsmarter and got a blogger a free flight, I’d be pretty annoyed that they barely talked about the company at all and didn’t even explain the details of how it worked!

      As it was just a free trial and not a PR flight though, that’s perfectly reasonable – especially as I doubt many people on here would actually pay for such a service anyway.

  3. I’m reminded of a story of a guy who had food poisoning on a plane like this while travelling with clients… Having someone suddenly need to empty their guts with basically nothing to shield their fellow passengers from the sound/smell does not appeal to me. I’ll pass I think!

  4. I for one am very unconvinced with the JetSmarter model. And the fact that there were 2 paid passengers on your service which only runs twice per week? The Direct Operating Cost of something like a Citation 2 would be at least $2000 per flight hour and then you need to add landing, handling fees (Geneva isn’t cheap), pilots salaries etc. Put it this way, Luxaviation aren’t going to charge JetSmarter at a loss!

    Secondly, most private jet clients want privacy. I’ve seen people pay $30K one-way for a large private jet to take them from London to Paris, despite there being half hourly departures from almost every London airport on any airline. Whilst on your occasion it was a nice perk, I don’t think your average private jet client would appreciate having to share the space with someone else.

    Finally, you’ve hit the nail on the head with regards to smaller private jets. DIY catering, slower cruise speed, and a dodgy toilet? Why pay for that on a well-served route such as LON-GVA when you could travel Business Class? The only positive of a jet such as this is if you need to fly from say Exeter to Antwerp on a Monday AM and don’t want 2 connections!

    For the sake of clarity: it’s only these really small jets that “fly slower” and on a route under 90 mins you won’t notice much. Anything Challenger sized and above will easily keep pace and sometimes take-over an airliner.

  5. Can’t believe you got in a plane with that disgusting tail number!
    I flew in a similar plane once. From Basra to Baghdad. Also, reminds me of a 6 hour flight sat right next to a urinal. How glamorous!

  6. How is the flight ince cruising? Any turbulence?

  7. I’ll try not to complain about CW ever again!

  8. Not as a glamorous, but at the weekend I did a day trip to Barra with Loganair flight on the little twin otter aircraft, landing and taking off on the beach. The weather was calm with little cloud so got great views of the coastline, islands and beaches, also zero turbulence. Had a quick run round the island by taxi with a great driver who gave us the low down and gossip on the island. Back to the terminal which also doubles as a very popular café for lunch with a great view of the beach and the plane as it lands. If anyone ever does it I recommend seats in row 7 which are 1 + 1 so you get a window each, other rows are 2 + 1. Great value for £75.

    • 🙂 Good to hear. I’m doing it in a couple of weeks and really looking forward to it. Just hope the weather is like what you had. Reserved Seat 2A based on recommendations online about being able to see the cockpit. Will I be happy with this seat? Mrs G isn’t bothered where she sits. Did you use Barra Island Tours for the taxi?

      • Yes, the cockpit is open, so you will get a great view out the front. You do tend to see a lot more of the motion when looking out the front, i preferred looking out the side window.

        Barra Island Tours was booked up, so Rob booked me with another Rob from Barra taxis, who was great, could have been a character from Still Game. We even had time to stop at the local community shop (bought some eggs and fish (well sealed)) and then the toffee shop for some tablet. Ask to see the pizza take away ‘shop’.

      • If the weather holds then timing could be perfect, should be a lot of colour in the trees by then.

    • For your next adventure you might want to think about a flying lesson or scenic flight from Scone aerodrome. Around £200 an hour in a 4 seat single engined plane.

      • My first job was with a company who had an office at Scone airport. My office view was of the runway and the potato fields. Was always a quiet place until the air cadets were there, in which case chinook helicopters would be landing outside. One time the building was buzzed by a RAF tornado, the noise caused me to leap out my seat!

      • Treated my dad to a 90 minute flying lesson from there for his birthday. Got as far NW as Knoydart/Skye.

        Awesome sunny spring day, snow on Cairngorm’s and the Cuillins, the instructor let the flight time run over by 15mins just to allow us to see Skye.

        • Sounds awesome, this is our plan for next spring, along with the Barra flight. We will wait and try a close in booking during a decent high pressure system.

      • there is also the option of gliders at Portmoak near Kinross.

        • I find gliders a bit scary. I don’t really like small aircraft all all but that has not stopped me getting in them so far.

    • Klaus-Peter Dudas says:

      Were you able to book this as a BA code share by any chance? Really want to do this but from London, so would like to book a through ticket… Can never find the flights though.

      • I’m sure both CV and Genghis booked some time ago when Loganair relaunched their own booking site. I think the went via the ad banner on HF P. Based on my experience trying to book BA codeshares on A robbery Air I doubt you will want to, BA were twice the price of EI for the same dates and flights. You could always call and ask, there should be no booking fee if you cannot do it online. Always possible to get a good deal on hotel somewhere at the airport or in the city.

        • Yes – I paid cash a while back direct with Loganair. Around £80 per person for the return from Glasgow which seemed good value.

      • to get the cheap fare i had to book in April, so was before codeshare agreement. It (the price) may have been complicated by the swap in operations from FlymayBe to Loganair.

        If anyone does want to book it, check a few different dates, the flight times change based on the tide. If i had flown next weekend i would have got an extra hour on the island.

        Its now one of my most favourite flight experiences, just for the sheer novelty and fun of it. Also flying in a plane which isn’t pressurised feels so much better, i hadn’t realised the effect of being in a pressurised cabin till now.

        Taxi driver told me the story of the part time security staff member at the airport, he confiscated someones eggs as they might be a weapon and throw them at the pilot. He was never allowed to live it down, and left the island, and was never replaced! So i got my great free range eggs on board no problem.

  9. kevin salt says:

    anyone else having a problem wiht the video ads constantly trying to take you back up the page on the site now? – might just be me but the last couple of days I’ve had that here .. when I try to stop the vids they start back up again

    • I have told Google to block them but they need 24 hours – the 24 hours will be hit late this afternoon. I cannot tell Google not to show video ads – if I could, I would.

      EDIT: We got fed up too, so we’ve pulled all the Google ads for the rest of the day.

  10. It strikes me that if you were to take a different route say to NCE or Cannes with flights out and back on Friday evening and Sunday night or early Monday morning back it would be heavily subscribed with well heeled second home owners. Nothing beats the genuine private jet – I was lucky to work for a company that had several and used the jet for work (read fun ….) and it had a stewardess and proper service and a toilet with a door – but this model is the worst of all worlds. We once had the jet for four days and took in Rome and Nice and it was great fun ex-Farnborough.

    Inflexible and old iron isn’t really going to work or produce enough revenue.

  11. Down the Back says:

    OT- Rob I have booked using my new Ambassador card at the IC in Berlin, did as suggested, paid Sat night, used free night Sun and separate booking Mon night with points (all booked at same time) ,
    Sat & Sun showing as Club Junior Suite, but Mon night showing as Deluxe Room King, is this how it normally shows on the account and they let you stay in the same room or are we getting moved on Sunday in your experience ?? I am already Spire with IHG if that makes any difference.

    Thanks DTB

    • Unless they are sold out of Junior Suites they will let you keep it. It won’t happen in advance, and if they are sold you’ll need to move as it is purely a goodwill gesture, but the odds are you’ll be fine.

      • Down the Back says:

        Thanks Rob, will ask when we check in, if I am going to be moved will probably cancel Mon night and move to Hilton if they have rooms on points as I know I will get Exec club & b/fast thanks to status match as also suggested by you 🙂 Thanks again DTB

        • The Hilton in Berlin is excellent, great lounge (its more like an airport lounge), but for diamond free breakfast go to the main breakfast area there is far more choice (including German sparkling wine for brekkie!).

        • +1

  12. Lady London says:

    One company I worked for regularly had corporate private jets across the Atlantic. The industry hit a downturn and luxury consumption became conspicuous so needed to be downplayed….or shared.
    You would not believe how many urgent meetings were scheduled at the times the corporate jet was flying so people could not accept invitations to fly alongside the Chairman and other bigwigs on a slower longer flight and found themselves forced to fly on scheduled airlines instead 🙂

  13. Oh! Matron! says:

    “I never, ever talk to people on planes. ”

    You should try it once in a while. I’ve met some fantastic people sat next to me. Chatted to a Channel4 presenter on the way to LAX last week. The boss of Fox Europe. Bond girls. An ex girlfriend. BBC producers. Sir Peter O’Toole.

    You’ll know if they are not up for talking. But there’s so much to learn from people outside of your sphere on influence

    • by any chance, are you american ?

    • +1. Totally agree Oh! Matron! Breaking up a long flight whilst talking to someone from a totally different culture and background is a wonderful way to spend time travelling.

      However, I’d rather sit on the wing than listen to someone ever again dribbling on for hours about how they got the points for the flight. You know who you are ……… 😛

      • On my way back from Shanghai (went to see the F1) earlier this year I was talking to the head of Mercedes hospitality. Shame it wasn’t on the way out 🙂

        • We were en route to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix a couple of years ago and were sitting next to one of the post-race concert acts 🙂

  14. If that guy is really an investor in the oil and gas space id bet this time next year he’ll be flying RYA/EZJ than this