On an overcast morning at the Van Nuys airport in usually sunny Southern California, I step onto the tarmac—my eyes finally beginning to come to attention after nursing a cup of coffee in fixed-base operator (FBO) Clay Lacy’s lounge—and walk mere yards before boarding an awaiting Gulfstream GV. As I sink into my large leather chair and decadently stretch out my unimpeded legs, I am greeted by a flight attendant serving Champagne and pastries. Within minutes, final preparations are complete and we are in the air, jetting off for a quick day trip in the Napa Valley wine country.
Jonny Nicol, CEO of Stratajet—a private aviation flight service that launched in Europe in 2012 and expanded operations to the United States late last year—and my host for the day, believes travel should always be this comfortable and convenient. “Private jets are the ultimate method of transport, designed for one main purpose—to cut the time it takes to get from A to B. The perfect solution for a quick, hassle-free trip; there are no delays, no airport queues, and no stress,” he explains. And while he believes there is a whole new generation of travelers who want to fly private, the flight service industry’s traditional booking methods have not adapted to meet the needs of these modern consumers. “The trouble stems from the traditional means of booking a private jet via a fragmented network of brokers—a time-consuming process that brings with it a raft of inefficiencies.”
Stratajet’s technologically driven approach to trip planning addresses this problem by offering true real-time online booking. Unlike other providers, whose “real-time” booking procedures at some point involve a live person picking up the phone to call FBOs and arrange flights, Stratajet’s app and website allow travelers to compare and book private jet flights almost instantaneously—similar to the process of booking a commercial flight on a website like Expedia. (Stratajet even offers online door-to-door booking, in which transportation to and from the airfield is also prearranged.) Setting up this system proved an exceptional technological challenge because most FBOs are independently operated and there are thousands scattered across the country. But after five years of R&D and numerous trips across the pond to meet with operators, Nicol had his network in place and Stratajet was ready for its U.S. debut.
In addition to the convenience of real-time booking, Stratajet’s model also addresses another problem that has plagued the private jet charter industry: empty legs. Often, private jets will have to fly without paying passengers back to their home base or to another destination to prepare for their next trip. Charter operators normally sell seats on these flights at highly discounted rates, but the chances of actually finding empty-leg flights to a particular destination within a particular timeframe is nigh on impossible. Stratajet addresses this by working with operators to reroute empty leg flights to the client’s destination before they continue on to their ultimate destination. This allows the jet providers to fly shorter distances without passengers and gives travelers the benefit of reduced fares and more direct flights.
After a tour of the Williams Selyem winery and a leisurely lunch during which Nicol (a pilot himself) recounts the tale of a harrowing flight across the Artic in a derelict airplane to help transport a terminally ill girl from England to the United States, we return to the airport and jet back to Van Nuys, where a town car is waiting to drop me back at my doorstep—all before my colleagues at Robb Report have clocked out for the day. Now that’s what I call a day trip.
In recent months, Stratajet has continued to grow its provider network in Europe and the United States, and it has plans to expand into Mexico and the Caribbean in the immediate future, as well as Asia and the Middle East later in the year. And a larger network gives Stratajet’s system even more opportunities to find efficiencies in trip planning, making the experience as convenient as possible for the user. As Nicols puts it, “Our customer base varies considerably—from fliers in their 20s to their 80s and a range of business and leisure passengers—but what they all have in common is a desire to be as efficient as possible with their time. We’re giving the control back to the passenger.” (stratajet.com)