I Tried the Semi-Private Air Carrier That Lets You Arrive 20 Minutes Before Your Flight. Here's What It Was Like — And How to Do It Affordably. "There's a reason people pay 10 to 100 times more to fly privately than to fly commercially. You just want to save time, right? It's not about Champagne and caviar."
- JSX promises to make travel a hassle-free and crowd-free experience.
- One of its biggest perks is that passengers can arrive 20 minutes before their flight.
- JSX also lets travelers bring large dogs in the cabin of the aircraft.
The experience of air travel reached new lows this summer, triggering terrifying headlines about aborted landings and runway crashes. And those incidents are just the nightmare scenarios on top of the common annoyances, like "excruciatingly inefficient" boarding processes and exorbitant bag fees.
Elite status on an airline can help to an extent — with perks like free checked bags and upgraded seats — but it doesn't change the fact that you still have to go through the same crowded airports and stand in the same miles-long security lines as every other passenger.
The other option, of course, is to fly private. But for the vast majority of travelers, that's simply not an option. A private charter costs thousands of dollars per hour, not to mention fuel costs.
It's all enough to turn someone into a permanent road-tripper, or make them wonder how no one — in an era where practically every other industry has been "disrupted" — has figured out a better way to fly.
But that's where JSX enters the conversation.
The public charter jet service was co-founded in 2016 by Alex Wilcox, an aviation industry veteran who was a founder of JetBlue. The concept was simple: JSX would offer semi-private flights with 30 seats on popular routes between relatively close destinations. Think Los Angeles to San Francisco or Las Vegas.
As a public charter operator, the company could operate out of private terminals, which meant customers weren't subject to the usual airport security screening process. One of the biggest perks JSX advertises is that customers can show up 20 minutes before their flight.
"We were social-distancing before it was cool."
"There's a reason people pay 10 to 100 times more to fly privately than to fly commercially," Wilcox, who is CEO, says. "You just want to save time, right? It's not about Champagne and caviar. It's about going conveniently and quickly from point A to point B."
When the pandemic brought travel to a halt, JSX continued its charter operations. "We were social-distancing before it was cool," Wilcox says. "Part of the idea of JSX is that we're crowd-free. There are only 30 people on the airplane."
As the company expanded beyond California, it moved its headquarters to the Dallas area and its main operations base to Love Field Airport, a move that allowed it to operate across a greater swath of the country.
It's since expanded operations to other major cities, including Houston, Phoenix, Nashville and several cities in Colorado and Florida.
Once the company landed in the Denver area, I had the opportunity to try it out on a trip I had planned to Dallas. Here's what the JSX experience is like and what travelers should know before booking.
Booking and Cost
JSX flights are booked directly through its website, which also has a list of the routes it flies. Most routes are flown one to two times a day, but some — like Burbank, California to Las Vegas — are flown more often. Some routes to popular summer or winter destinations only operate only during certain seasons.
In general, JSX flights are comparable to business class seats on major carriers — if slightly more expensive. For the flight from the Denver area to Dallas, tickets are typically $250 to $400 each way — there's no "discount" for booking a round-trip ticket. Booking far in advance and flying at off-peak times seem to be the best ways to keep costs lower. Each fare includes a personal item and up to three checked bags weighing up to 50 lbs, depending on what type of ticket you buy.
JSX recommends arriving for your flight 20-40 minutes ahead of its scheduled departure time. At both airports I visited, JSX operated out of a private terminal with a separate entrance from the main airport. Most terminals JSX operates out of have a designated drop-off area or valet parking for a fee, but it varies from airport to airport. Both terminals I flew out of had a comfortable seating area but were otherwise relatively nondescript, and neither offered food (which is to be expected if you won't be there long).
You check in at a JSX desk and drop your bags with the staff member. About 10 minutes before you're set to depart, you simply walk through a metal detector and then board the plane — no taking your shoes off or any other typical inconveniences. At both airports, we boarded the flight directly from the tarmac, which requires you to walk up a flight of stairs to the airplane cabin.
JSX flies Embraer regional jets, which you're likely familiar with if you travel to small airports. Commercially, they typically seat 50 to 60 people, but JSX has retrofitted them with just 30 seats in a 1-1 or 1-2 configuration. Both of my flights were 1-1, so every passenger had a window seat, and passengers on the right side of the plane had a small side table with cup holders.
JSX advertises business-class legroom, but it's worth noting that the seats are no wider than typical airline seats at 17 inches. There were several pets aboard my flight, which makes sense — JSX allows dogs weighing up to 79 pounds to travel in the cabin rather than in cargo. You'll pay $100 each way for dogs and cats that can fit under the seat in front of you in a carrier, but you'll have to purchase larger dogs their own "seat" on the airplane — a price that might be well worth it to flyers who can't imagine putting their dogs beneath the plane.
Boarding goes quickly, and on both of my flights, we left on time and were in the air quickly. JSX has free Starlink wifi, so it's easy to continue working while you're flying. On both flights, we could order complimentary nonalcoholic and alcoholic beverages and were served mini cheese plates and other snacks.
Once you land, you have to wait for the checked bags to be unloaded before you can deboard, which takes about 10 minutes. Then you walk off the plane, grab your bag and continue on with your day.
The Final Verdict
For frequent fliers and business travelers, the main perk that JSX offers is the ability to skip major airports. This, of course, buys you time on both sides of the flight, especially if you're checking bags, but it comes at a not-insignificant cost. Travelers who frequently pay for business class seats on major airlines will likely find that the convenience JSX offers is worth it, as will those who want to fly with their large furry friends. But those who are loyal to a particular airline — and love the perks that come with being a status-holder — will probably want to stick with what they know.