Nov. 13, 2012 at 7:36 PM ET
If you've ever bought a first-class plane ticket and found that the experience wasn't, well, first class, Will Ashcroft would like to offer an alternative.
It’s called Jumpjet a soon-to-launch membership-based airline that Ashcroft says will provide travel on private jets at prices that are comparable to what you’d pay to sit up front on your average commercial carrier.
“The current airline experience has nowhere to go but down,” said Ashcroft, the company’s founder and CEO. “The result is a very frustrated premium-class flier who is desperately seeking something the airlines aren't giving them.”
For those fliers, Jumpjet offers a tiered membership plan that provides a set number of trips for a set monthly fee. Standard fees start at $2,350 per month for 10 domestic round trips per year on flights of up to 3.5 hours, and rise to $5,500 per month for 10 round trips per year on flights anywhere in the U.S. All memberships require a one-time application fee of $550.
There’s also an introductory program that offers two round trip flights within three months, starting at $1,995 per month.
“It’s our starter program,” Ashcroft told NBC News. “It’s for someone who wants to give it a test ride, so to speak.”
In return, members get access to a pool of empty seats on privately-owned planes, which they can book through a dedicated reservation system. According to Ashcroft, the company has access to approximately 1,800 aircraft and will initially offer service between 42 origination airports and more than 1,000 destinations.
Along the way, fliers will not only experience the comforts of private-jet travel; they’ll also be spared the hassles of the typical airport experience. Instead of competing for space at major hubs, private planes typically utilize general aviation airports that handle fewer flights, are often closer to metropolitan areas and don’t require travelers to get through the TSA gauntlet.
“There are a lot of people who want an improved experience that the airlines aren't giving them,” said Ashcroft.
As publisher of JoeSentMe.com, an online newsletter for business travelers, Joe Brancatelli agrees with the premise but isn't so sure about the conclusion.
“Everybody who flies coach commercially wants to be in first class and everybody who’s in first class wants to fly private,” he told NBC News. “The problem is that it still takes an insane amount of money to run a private jet for an hour. Nobody has figured out a way to do this successfully.”
And it’s not for lack of trying. In fact, Ashcroft tried previously with an earlier version of Jumpjet back in 2007, only to shut down in less than a month. Others are working on similar concepts, as well, including Surf Air, a California-based operation that’s hoping to launch service between Los Angeles and the Bay Area in the coming months.
The other potential pitfall is the difficulty of comparing a prepaid monthly fee with the moving target that constitutes fare pricing at commercial carriers.
“If the comparison is versus first class, it’s difficult because prices vary so much,” said consultant Robert Mann of R.W. Mann & Co. “Unless you have an absolutely (predetermined) schedule, it’s hard to determine the relative cost per actual trip taken.”
Ultimately, whether a Jumpjet seat costs a little more than a first class ticket or a lot more, both Ashcroft and industry skeptics agree that the true value of the concept likely lies in the opportunity to ride in style, while avoiding the depressing and time-consuming ordeal of commercial flying.
“When you look at the complete experience, you might pay more than you would for first class,” said Ashcroft, who says the company is about a month away from flying. “But when you consider the hours you save, the value quickly becomes commensurate with first class.”
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him on Twitter.