Is There Really a Way for Non-Rich People to Fly Private?
Surf Air says yes, and it hopes to change the way frequent fliers travel
Saturday, September 1, 2012
Some believe those people who are considered frequent fliers are lucky.
From the perspective of a person who may not get to travel a lot, a frequent flier seems to have an exciting life filled with adventure and many fun experiences.
However the perpetual traveler often sees things differently, and they're sometimes envious of the person who doesn't fly a lot. After dealing with long airport lines and lengthy security checks, sometimes frequent fliers wish they didn't have to travel so often.
But what if there was another way to fly? What if you could pay a set monthly fee that would allow you to avoid all the airport hassles, and you could walk directly to your own private plane? And better yet, what if you didn't have to be a rich person to afford it?
Well, the company Surf Air has asked itself the same questions and for the past few years its founders, brothers Wade and David Eyerly, have been hard at work getting the answers.
$1,000 a month
Surf Air allows frequent travelers the opportunity to pay a monthly fee that's around $1,000 to have unlimited flights within the state of California, and the company says there are no hidden charges, baggage fees or any other costs.
Once the company obtains approvals from both the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration, it will offer flights to Palo Alto, Santa Barbara, Monterey and Los Angeles. Other flights in different parts of the country and around the globe will be announced in the future, the company says.
Here's how it works: Travelers go to the airport in one of the mentioned cities, go through security, and simply walk to a private plane where a personal staff awaits.
Want to fly to Monterey for lunch? Feel free.
The best part? You then enjoy your flight either by yourself or with a small group of other passengers on a private Pilatus PC-12 NG plane. It's a single-engine turboprop manufactured in Switzerland. Set up as a corporate transport, it generally seats four, although it can seat up to nine using smaller seats. It is certified to operate with a single pilot.
OK, so it's not Frank Sinatra's Lear. But consider the cost -- $1,000 a month. Compare that to private flights listed on the private-plane search site bluestarjets.com, where private flights start at $1,550 per hour. Surf Air says it will allow unlimited flights and members will be able to make up to six different reservations at once.
No advance reservations
Also, with a traditional private-plane company you often have to make your reservations far in advance, but Surf Air allows you to book your flight just a few minutes before you travel.
The company says it wants to differentiate itself from the big commercial airlines by developing a smaller frequent flier community, where the staff knows each passenger's name and provides a very personalized type of service.
So instead of trying to get the attention of a flight attendant for a drink, there's a whole team of workers waiting on board to help you, according to the company.
Many California residents have to decide whether to drive or fly to places within the state due to its sheer size. For that reason, Surf Air says it will cater to those people who would normally drive at least two and a half hours to reach their destination. The company will also focus on those travelers that often fly an average time of 30 to 90 minutes within the state.
Surf Air's reasoning is that yes, driving is usually cheaper but it doesn't allow you to work while you travel and you pay the other costs of not maximizing the day's hours.
The founders of the company believe those who travel often would gladly fork over the $1,000 monthly cost to not only avoid the stress of traditional commercial flying, but also to get a small taste of how the rich and privileged live. It seems the company is selling temporary access to a specific lifestyle, just as much as it’s selling the flights.
Once Surf Air officially launches at the close of this year, it will announce exact routes. Routes so far include a non-stop flight from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles in about 30 minutes, Los Angeles to Monterey in about 120 minutes, and Santa Barbara to Palo Alto in about 130 minutes.
The company uses social networking to enhance its small-community-of-travelers feel, and allows each passenger to bring one guest with the use of complimentary guest passes. Surf Air also uses a third-party company to do security clearances before membership is granted.
Will it really get off the ground? Most new airlines fail but Surf Air is just different enough that it may have a shot.
Those interested in this new way of travel can go to the company's website and sign a wait list, although the company is not taking any money for memberships until later this year when it officially launches and offers its first fights.