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Flexjet: How top business executives travel in luxury without needing their own private jet

A Flexjet Gulfstream G650 at Farnborough Airport (Flexjet)
A Flexjet Gulfstream G650 at Farnborough Airport (Flexjet)

What do you do if you are a crazy busy tech tycoon or celebrity A-lister who wants to travel quickly and in luxury, but without all the hassle and cost of actually owning a private jet?

This is the solution that subscription-based private aviation company Flexjet offers: the ability to use a private jet, without having to buy one, or maintain a crew.

Their pitch is simple. We'll get you to where you need to be, and we'll do it in style. They asked me to give it a whirl – and it seemed rude to say no.

The appeal is immediately obvious from the moment I join the crew on a whizz across the Atlantic from London to New York.

A chauffeur picks me up from home on a weekday morning to spirit me away to a private airport outside London. We walk straight onto the runway at Farnborough Airport, breezing through as if we were taking a trip down the road.

There are no queues; no long waits to have your bags scanned. Instead, guests put on slippers and relax on board a customised Gulfstream G650. The plane looks like something out of an episode of Succession, and has a maximum range of 11,500km and speeds of Mach 0.9.

It is this speed and comfort that attracts customers, explains Marine Eugène, Flexjet’s European Managing Director, to me on board.

The inside of the Flexjet Gulfstream G650 is modelled on Bentley interiors (Flexjet)
The inside of the Flexjet Gulfstream G650 is modelled on Bentley interiors (Flexjet)

Clients of the business have two things in common: They have both the need to get to places quickly - and the means to pay for it.

“When you join a programme like ours, they want something that makes things simple,” she says. “So when they’re thinking about buying another company, buying another house, it’s all very complex.

“Whereas if they come to us, what we guarantee them is that if they need to go to an airport, any time, anywhere, whether they are in London, New York or Paris, we will come and pick them up. It’s actually a way of making their lives simpler.”

Alongside the speed, those lucky enough to travel by private jet have flexibility to do it how they please. A fully staffed crew anticipate their guests’ every need as they work or relax: a hot towel when you need to freshen up, a coffee or meal, a choice of wines, champagne and cheeses.

This, I discovered, extends as far as indulging your inner child. I am invited to sit in the cockpit as we take off from Farnborough for the approximately seven-hour flight. We soar into the clouds while the chatter of air traffic code words plays in my ears.

Not all normal flight rules are out of the window, of course: I am politely asked not to talk, in case I accidentally cause an emergency with idle chatter, and to definitely not press anything.

Once in the air, the tables are swiftly set. The food - smoked salmon eggs benedict for breakfast and steak salad for lunch - is delicious and betrays no trace of being cooked thousands of feet in the air. It’s offered with a bracing Bloody Mary to ward off jet lag. I suspect it would also stop any oncoming colds in their tracks, too.

The surroundings are the height of luxury too. The decor is modelled on an exclusive Bentley Mulliner Bacalar sports car, which fetches up to £1.5m. Every detail down to the stitching of the seat cushions has been customised.

The same crew can travel on each flight a client takes, meaning they know regulars personally, down to their meal and drinks orders. The experience is so enjoyable, it makes a long-haul flight seem, if anything, too short.

Landing across the Hudson in New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport, there is time for a coffee, before we are directed towards a waiting helicopter for the full Logan Roy experience. The airline has recently launched its ‘point-to-point’ service in Europe.

Fresh off the plane, a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter will take you to a helipad in the centre of the city - beating traffic on the ground. It is now offered in London, to a landing site in Battersea, as well as the US Northeast, and South Florida. For the time-pressed corporate executive, this cuts down time sitting in traffic while rushing to meetings.

We take a more leisurely route, however. As a surprise, we traced a wide loop around Manhattan, passing the Statue of Liberty and the One World Trade Center. It is stunning: a bird’s eye view of Central Park before cars on the ground whisk us from Hudson Yards to the Aman New York on 5th Avenue - frequently named the most expensive hotel in the city.

The inside of the Flexjet Gulfstream G650 is modelled on Bentley interiors (Flexjet)
The inside of the Flexjet Gulfstream G650 is modelled on Bentley interiors (Flexjet)

It’s a taste of luxury that few get to experience and is supremely stress free - so long as you don’t have a fear of heights. “It’s very addictive as a way of travelling, it’s very powerful,” says Marine. But it comes with a hefty price tag.

The service markets itself to ultra-high-net-worth individuals and corporate entities who fly over 50 hours per year. This, in practice, means having your wealth measured in the millions.

However, for those with money to spare, the convenience is worth it. Private air travel surged after Covid, when those travelling commercially faced long waits at airports. Others opted for it over commercial offerings because of health reasons.

The spike in demand in Europe is “starting to settle” but is still above pre-pandemic levels. Flexjet is among the companies which says it does not yet know how many of those turning to private air travel will stay in the long-term - but says it is “optimistic” about the market.

In the context of a climate emergency, you can be forgiven for wondering whether private travel is necessary. Shouldn’t we all be trying to take fewer flights, I ask.

The company says that it already offsets the emissions of every flight at 300% to account for both carbon and non-carbon emission, and that private aviation makes up 2% of all aviation emissions, which themselves are 2% of all global emissions.

But it is moving towards Sustainable Aviation Fuel - a type of less polluting biofuel which the industry hopes can be used instead of conventional fuel.

“The climate impact of air travel is another driver for change and at Flexjet we’ll continue to evolve our sustainability offering over the next few years,” says Marine. “Flexjet has committed that 12% of its fleet’s annual fuel consumption will come from SAF by 2030 - the first and only private aviation company to set a tangible goal that exceeds broader aviation industry goals.”

Flexjet had planned to merge with Chelsea FC owner and chairman Todd Boehly’s Horizon Acquisition Corp II, and become a publicly listed company. Last year, the highly anticipated estimated $3 billion deal was called off, with chairman Kenn Ricci saying he believed the move was “in the best interests of our aircraft owners, employees, and other stakeholders.”

However, this is not expected to slow growth. By the end of 2023, Flexjet added more than 80 aircraft compared to the beginning of 2021 to meet demand. An additional 1,400 employees were being hired throughout the year, including 388 additional flight crews.

Clients taking up the service will no doubt experience the most painless, and probably luxurious, travel of their lives. But for those of us who unfortunately don’t have dosh to spare, it’s back to economy. Oh well it was fun while it lasted.