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Unlimited flights for US$1,000 per month -- private jets come to the masses
How Surf Air hopes to eliminate check-ins, security lines and annoying Internet searches for fliers
Wade Eyerly learned one thing from flying 27 days a month when he was former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's intelligence officer -- flying sucks.
So, together with his pilot brother, he decided to put things right with his own airline.
Out went the long, blood-pressure-rising queues, in came convenience and service. Best of all, for a monthly fee of US$1,000, members of his company -- Surf Air -- can fly as many times as they want.
You read that right -- unlimited flights, for US$1,000 a month.
Admittedly we're not talking Los Angeles to Tokyo. Not even Los Angeles to New York.
Surf Air in fact will serve just four small airports in California -- Palo Alto, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles --all within about two hours' flight of each other when it launches in September or October this year.
The shortest route -- Palo Alto-Monterey -- takes just 15 minutes.
But that's the only way to get this airline off the ground, says Eyerly.
"The model works only in a 'commuting shed' where people have to move back and forth from the city frequently,” says Eyerly, now Surf Air’s CEO. “It's got to have a lot of frequent travelers with an income high enough to justify a thousand-dollar-a-month expense."
But California is just the first step. He is already eying up expansion in Baja, Mexico; Vancouver and Montreal in Canada; and says he is discussing the possibility of taking the model to China with a “well-known Chinese investor.”
Hassle-free flying, and a car wash
So how does it work and what can members expect for their bucks?
The idea is to simplify flying by removing the hassle often experienced with commercial airlines, while being cheaper than flying first class or on a private jet.
Besides using flat-rate fees, it only takes 30 seconds to book a ticket.
"We have a mobile app for booking a ticket," says Eyerly. "You only have to answer three questions -- 'Where do you want to go? Which day do you want to go? Which flight do you want to get on?'"
There will be no sneaky extra fees and no cumbersome security screening or fussy check-in process. You can also bring a guest with you for free -- if there's room.
"Passengers just drive to the airport apron and board the plane directly," says Eyerly. "We will even wash your car when you are away."
So far Surf Air has received 1,800 applications according to Eyerly, but he is restricting membership to 500. Young single males are the most common flier type, Eyerly says.
“Probably they are interested in showing off to some girls."
Eyerly plans to start out with three Pilatus PC-12s -- eight-seater aircraft with a spacious design and luxury leather seats designed by BMW. However, no in-flight entertainment or service will be provided.
It works on a first-come, first-served basis, so if you're late, too bad. You have to book the next flight.
No planes yet, but celebs are on board
Eyerly could not disclose Surf Air's flight schedule as he is still waiting for approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. He is still waiting to purchase his first plane, too.
Although the Economist casts some doubts on its appeal and profitability, Eyerly is convinced he has the means, and the support, to make a success of it.
Celebrity Jared Leto is one of the investors and other well-known members are expected to be on board -- but "you will have to fly to find out who they are," says Eyerly.
"We started with about a hundred bucks -- we just have to file a bailing fee to be a company," says Eyerly. "But we raised US$4 million dollars as our fund already."
And he thinks for anyone as frustrated as he used to be when flying, this makes a lot of sense.
“I was flying one-way and last-minute so I got screened a lot,” says Eyerly. “It is a frustrating experience -- I can walk up to the vice president and talk to him but I cannot get onto the plane without extra screening.”
Now it's unlikely he can walk up to Dick Cheney without getting a pat down anymore, but at least he can fly easy.