AirChicago delays start of by-the-seat private jet flights until September

AirChicago is hoping to offer Chicago residents a way to avoid the hassles of the commercial terminals at O’Hare and Midway Airports.

By Doug Gollan, June 29, 2018

The private jet airline is hoping to offer Windy City residents a way to avoid the hassles of the commercial terminals at O’Hare and Midway Airports


AirChicago, which wants to make business travel easier and less timing consuming for the local market with daily return private jet flights to key business cities, had targeted launching flights by the end of June but has pushed back that the start date. “(We) haven’t inaugurated flights yet. (We’re) still working on accumulating a critical mass of cardmember depositors before we launch,” Stephen Wasko, president and COO of Air Chicago Holdings told us via email. 


Asked for an update, he said, “Recruiting members has gone very well…our lead generation is strong, but conversion to cardmembers isn’t as robust as forecast. We are quite sure this is because we haven’t started regular flights.” He continued, “So, we’re working on a plan to redirect some of our early investment resources to initiating a regular flight schedule. This, of course, requires an uptick in investment activity, but we believe we’re on track to acquire the resources needed to begin regular – weekly to several days a week – frequency in early September. We think that initiation of flight operations will induce a large number of our potential customers to convert to actual cardmembers.”


As previously reported, AirChicago is planning to offer a jet card that provides single and guest seats on private jets flying to 30 cities using Bombardier CRJ200 regional jets with 14 executive seats instead of the typical 50 seats. The company is offering several jet card options ranging from $1,750 to $14,000 with seats then costing between $499 and $999 per hour.


JetSmarter, which originally used a model with free flights for members earlier this month launched a new pricing scheme where both members and non-members pay for their seats on scheduled private jet flights using market-based pricing. JetSuiteX and Tradewind Aviation in the West and Northeast have been using a straight by the seat model not requiring any membership. Surf Air which uses an all-you-can-fly Netflix approach with a monthly membership fee recently admitted IRS tax liens of nearly $2.4 million and is being sued by its former operator in California Encompass Aviation for unpaid bills allegedly totally $3.1 million. A new concept, Aura, said it will launch dual class scheduled private jet flights beginning in 2019 using Florida-based Presidential Aviation as its operator.


In Europe, Surf Air started its own operation last year but has since pulled offering access to flights via an arrangement with Jet Class, a charter broker that was already selling seats on scheduled private flights using light and very light jets.


The unifying concept of these operators is that they use private jet facilities, in most cases, FBOs or private hangars and allow passengers to turn up as little as 15 minutes before flight time. By using the private facilities customers can be off the airport within 10 minutes of getting off their flight. For trips under two hours, it means you can cut travel time by more than half. Earlier this year JetSuite received a large investment from Qatar Airways and JetBlue to help expands its JetSuiteX semiprivate flights, however, the struggles of Surf Air and JetSmarter’s shift in pricing strategy show the market is still possibly looking for a winning formula that matches how much consumers are willing to pay versus what’s needed to make a profit.


On the website Flyertalk, JetSmarter members who signed up with the promise of free flights are saying only limited number of those seats are available and virtually all say they don’t plan to renew their memberships. One member who calls himself Boojetsmarter posted, “Been a member for a while, flew something like $770k worth of flights with them ( by their app records) and it’s disappointing what they’ve done with the company.” Another poster Arthckr wrote, “Out of all the changes this company has made in recent months, this by far has been the most outrageous.

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