Surf Air has launched in Europe, and it has a big opportunity, particularly for Londoners, but it will need to get its act together to make sure it fulfills its potential. Its first flight was last Friday on June 23, according to several reports.
From its website, it looks to be operating one or two roundtrip flights per day. Mondays you can leave London Luton Airport (LTN) at 8:30 am for the two-and-a-half hour flight to Ibiza (IBZ). The return flight departs at 12:45 pm and gets back to Luton at 2:15 pm. There is a one-hour time difference.
On Tuesday there looks to be one roundtrip between Luton and Cannes Mandelieu Airport (CEQ) with the outbound flight at 8 am and the return at 11:45 am. The schedule doesn’t show any operations on Wednesdays, but Thursdays feature two roundtrips. There is a 3 pm departure from Luton to Cannes with the return at 6:30 pm. There is an 8 pm departure to Ibiza with the return at midnight arriving back in London at 1:30 am.
Friday shows a roundtrip to Ibiza leaving London at 4 pm, so you can at least get a partial day at the office. Saturday is another roundtrip to Ibiza with an 8:30 am departure from Luton. Sunday the flight to Ibiza leaves at 4 pm and returns to London at 8:15 pm to maximize your time in the Spanish sun.
The link to the page with the above schedule says, “Where we fly: Five destinations…with many more on the way.” We were never great at math but count only three. It also says the published schedule is “not final,” but now that flights have started there is no reason not to publish accurate information.
The Surf Air fleet is some combination of Embraer Phenom 300 and Pilatus PC-12, the latter being the staple of its U.S. operation whereas the Phenom will be the first time the company is offering jet service.
“Every single one of Surf Air’s executive aircraft is in top condition when it joins our fleet. They’re maintained by the manufacturer and operated by Flair Jet, the very first operator to fly the Phenom 300 in Europe. Surf Air appoints only the most experienced pilots to captain flights and we never fly with less than two qualified pilots,” says the website.
Flair Jet is a U.K. based aircraft management company that was acquired last year by Flexjet, Ltd. The entity is being used by Directional Aviation Capital to expand its Flexjet brand in Europe. As best we can see Flexjet Ltd./Flair Jet manages at least seven jets. We aren’t seeing that it has a history operating the Pilatus PC-12, but we’ve reached out to Surf Air to see what we can find out.
We do know that Simon Talling-Smith, formerly a senior executive with British Airways is the CEO of Surf Air in Europe. As part of his former role, he headed the joint venture BA has with American Airlines. We’ve met him both as a frequent BA customer and a journalist. Our thinking is that he understands that a key to Surf Air’s success will be doing the opposite of what his former employer seems to be doing a lot, which is pissing off customers. While we understand BA’s penchant for hacking costs, unlike Low Cost Carriers (LCCs) which set low expectations and then provide customers the pleasant surprise of getting where they wanted to go, BA continues to try and claim the mantle of a customer focused company, which in the pointy end of the plane may still be true.
We can’t make a judgment about Surf Air Europe yet since we can’t even find a press release (at least on its website) to mark the start of its operations. We could only find coverage of the launch in the odd mix of Architectural Digest’s website and The Telegraph.
Nosing around the European part of its website, we got more confused when we found the following: “We plan to launch summer 2017 with initial service between Ibiza, Cannes and Zurich and many additional destinations to follow, including Luxembourg, Munich, Milan, Dusseldorf, Dublin, Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, and Frankfurt.” No mention of Luton, and again, on its schedule we didn’t see Zurich, although if the web reports we found are accurate, there is just one plane, and Cannes actually doesn’t start until next month.
If Surf Air has its act together, it is a very interesting concept. You avoid commercial terminals and show up just 15 minutes before your scheduled departure. It also comes at a time JetSmarter Europe customers have complained about changes to its shuttle program and inconsistent availability of empty legs.
We called Surf Air’s telephone line (it was about 3 am U.K. time – we’re in New York.) We pressed “1” for sales and weren’t surprised it went right to voicemail. We called back and pressed “2” for existing members and after 90 seconds of recorded music were forwarded to another voicemail. There was no indication of what hours one can reach a live body, just a recording to leave a message. Bookings are app-based, so one wouldn’t necessarily expect someone to pick up, however, it also defines what one might expect versus buying a jet card where all 27 providers tracked by Private Jet Card Comparisons provide 24/7 support. Of course, chartering an entire jet and reserving a single seat are like chalk and cheese.
Surf Air claims it saves members an average of two hours per flight, and we believe it. Sometimes it might even be more, sometimes less. The “Netflix” membership model of paying a flat monthly fee and flying as much as you want also makes sense, however, we need to get a closer look at the individual programs, for example, how many flights you can book at one time. If you are a frequent flier that becomes an issue, maybe less so for places like Ibiza and Cannes, which probably make sense for a summer launch in Europe. It certainly gives them a couple months to work the kinks out.
Negatives of something like Surf Air include in places like Cannes, if there is a cancellation or delay, there are no easy alternatives besides chartering an entire private jet or going over to Nice and catching a flight there. The Phenom 300 or Pilatus PC-12 are both great aircraft, but neither is spacious when full. Two-and-a-half hours is not a short flight. Make sure you are happy with the lav facilities of either plane before you sign up, and make sure to go in the FBO before you board. On a full flight, we think something under 90 minutes is a more ideal experience.
One should also examine what the luggage restrictions are. All planes have maximum takeoff weights, and whereas Surf Air in the U.S. is catering mainly to day tripping business executives with likely no more than a briefcase or roller bag, holidaymakers pack a lot more. An easy solution is just to ship your luggage, but it is worth looking at before you show about at Luton with a couple steamer trunks for your summer in the Med. We couldn’t find that type of basic information on the website. Some private aviation companies don’t want to give away too much information, hoping you give them your contact deals so a salesperson can close the deal. We prefer those companies that focus on transparency and education.
The future of Surf Air, both in the U.S. and Europe, despite the pleasures of commercial airlines, is not a given. Beacon tried to bring the approach to the Northeast U.S. and failed. RISE has now merged with Surf Air, which could be either a marriage that makes the larger entity a powerful force or not.