In The Magazine

Fear of Flying Commercial

Friday, August 18, 2017
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I arrived at 2:51 p.m. for a 3 p.m. flight out of Westchester County Airport. I know you just skipped over that first sentence. Let me reemphasize: I arrived. At an airport. In New York. NINE minutes before takeoff. I was doomed to the airline “customer service” equivalent of waterboarding.


Frantically, I ran through the doors of the terminal, straight into an agent who said: “Suzanne! You made it. We’re so glad to see you!”


Wait, WHAT? Rewind. That day, I was flying JetSmarter, an algorithm-based private jet service booked via smartphone app. OMG, the places one can go. Like Uber for airplanes without the bad ex-CEO.


Somewhere out of sight, I was told, dogs sniffed my bags. I floated onto a comfy sofa on a 12-seat Gulfstream 400 SP to Dallas. There were nine people on board. I declined a flute of champagne. I seemed to be sitting in my hostess-friend Suzanne Jones Maas’ living room. The loo was like a cosmetics aisle in Bergdorf’s. You could be in there all day looking at designer travel-size products.


 


AIR SICK


I have been sickened (literally and figuratively) by commercial airlines.


Once, I almost died from malaria (mosquito-born, Kenyan) and spent a bad 19 hours writhing on the floor of a British Airways flight. On a more recent commercial U.S. flight, I contracted the deadly H1N1 flu virus from a passenger who had recently been to China. I ended up in the ER. Another time, within 48 hours of flying I had full-on virulent bronchitis that cost me two weeks work and a lot of co-pays.


There had to be a way to travel without getting killed by pandemic-infused commercial jet cabin air. Was this going to be it?


A nice Miami businessman sat across the aisle from me with his feet elevated on the padded footrest of his comfy white lounge chair. I asked why he flew private. He was thinking about a different sort of cost. “JetSmarter saves me time and money,” he said. “It’s the reason I can book 183 a year.” (i.e., 183 days in Miami residence while maintaining a non-New York City taxed corporate Manhattan apartment).


The businessman’s wife had a fear of flying. Thus Prince, a three-pound Pomeranian licensed comfort dog, was traveling on her lap. Prince never so much as whimpered. Curled up at the other end of my sofa was Mary Cuello, a construction site manager who carried-on her pink hardhat and has to pack heavy steel-toed boots and a safety vest for every biz trip.


JetSmarter’s yearly membership fee “almost pays for itself on your first flight,” the businessman volunteered. If you spend more than $15,000 (their SMART membership price) yearly for air travel, or even $5,000 (their SIMPLE price), JetSmarter makes sense. SIMPLE is unlimited flights. SMART is unlimited flights and a free companion seat on any flight with an open spot.


NetJets, a luxe private jet carrier based on the fractional ownership model, costs $515,000 per year, according to my businessman buddy. He calculated his cost as one-eighth the yearly expense of having his own plane, for approximately 100 hours of flying. Combining JetSmarter and NetJets increased his route options. Executive Vice President Diana Oreck says NetJets has upfront investment programs for under $175,000 and hourly rates of $5,000 (all inclusive).


 


FLYING PRIVATE (PUBLICLY) IS NOT A GOOD LOOK


Besides Kim Kardashian and Johnny (“A commercial flight with paparazzis [sic] in tow would be a f—king nightmare of monumental proportions”) Depp, almost nobody wants it known he or she flies private. A pal in management at a financial magazine says even though flying private improves productivity and the bottom line, employees fly commercial

to maintain the perception of economizing. Will the business model last? “It’s too good to be true,” says a supplier of accessories to TJ Maxx, noting that the service has lasted five years—and he’s seizing the day.


 


THINGS THAT DON’T HAPPEN ON PRIVATE PLANES:


➢ Standing in line

➢ Paying for baggage

➢ Undressing at security

➢ Getting frisked

➢ Transferring everything you own into 4-ounce clear plastic containers

➢ Being dragged off the plane

➢ Surrendering your laptop, phone or other device

➢ Adding $20 to your expense account for that McDonald’s Happy Meal you had to eat

➢ Being mummified in 28 inches of leg room

➢ Being stranded in West Palm


 


FLIGHT SAFETY


Don’t ask me about safety. I’m not afraid of flying in airplanes. Blowing up in a plane on my way to or from a good time was statistically less likely than winding up with decades

of dementia. I can tell you that the G-4 cruised above the weather at 41,000 feet or higher and had two pilots and a flight attendant. Apparently, that’s a “thing.”


Admission: I used to be afraid to fly. Here’s why: My ex-husband compulsively shared grim commercial plane crash stories. I was usually catatonic by boarding time.


Then we took our first “colicky four-month-old baby trip.” A jumbo jet: NYC to LAX. Middle seat; five across. A bride and groom (still wearing white gown and black tux) took the seats to my left. After takeoff, my babe-in-arms kicked a full cup of tomato juice off my tray table. Splat! Into the bride’s lap. Everything was red. I said out loud, “Dear God, please let the plane crash now.” And I meant it. If we’d all blown up right then, it would have been fine. I didn’t care anymore. I’d lived my dream life and was together with the two people I loved most. Something inside me clicked. I was never afraid of flying again. Except, of course, flying commercial.


It’s been 72 hours since I last flew JetSmarter. I’m not sick yet.





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