Sergey Petrossev launched JetSmarter in 2012, the company is sometimes called the Uber for private jets.
JetSmarter has expanded its private jet membership service to Chicago, offering unlimited flights to travelers with $9,000 and a taste for Champagne instead of in-flight pretzels.
The company, launched by Sergey Petrossev in 2012 and sometimes called "the Uber for private jets," has drawn more than $25 million in funding from sources including the Saudi royal family and Jay Z.
Last week, JetSmarter introduced four flights between New York and Chicago each week, traveling from Midway International Airport to Westchester County Airport.
The company has a team of almost 100 in its headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. JetSmarter has other offices in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Moscow; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Zurich and Hong Kong.
JetSmarter buys capacity from more than 800 partner carriers. Members pay a $9,000 annual fee that includes unlimited flights on the various JetShuttle routes, as well as last-minute, one-off flights, called "JetDeals."
Petrossev said his company capitalizes on filling planes that are often empty when heading to a location to take a passenger to a third location.
“An empty airplane has a lot of value going to point A to point B,” Petrossev said. “We’re talking billions of dollars worth of flights that are just going without passengers. We figured that there’s probably a ton of passengers that would use it even though it may be last minute.”
Travelers can also use the app to charter their own flight at wholesale pricing, but the service costs extra.
The cost might be steep, Petrossev says, but the amount many travelers pay in annual travel far surpasses the fee.
“We’re trying to unseat that (commercial) business into a much more user-friendly experience,” he said. “We’re really enriching the lifestyle of a segment of people that are exposed to a really garbage experience with the airlines.”
He says the company has opened the market for the “mass affluent” — which he defines as those with $100,000 to $1 million in liquid assets.
“Private jets have always been for the point-1 percent,” he said. “Now, this is maybe for the top 2 percent of the population, or maybe 3 percent of the population. Down the road, (we want to) expand that further and further and further and try to make private jets as accessible as possible.”
Brian Foley, a Sparta, N.J.-based aviation analyst, said the past few years have seen new companies and various business models attempt to capture a share of the private aviation market. He likened JetSmarter’s payment model to that of Surf Air, which charges a $1,000 initiation fee and $1,950 a month for unlimited regional flights. Surf Air owns its own planes, the company said.
Other regional private charter companies with membership models have cropped up in New England and Texas, Foley said.
“Each of these companies know people don’t want to have the airline experience anymore,” he said. “They’re willing to share their airplane with other people. (Flying private) gives you the benefit of not having to go through TSA and metal detectors and getting to the airport an hour early.” JetSmarter said passengers are required to go through a TSA check.
Though companies that are making private charters more efficient and driving prices down may attract those who typically fly first class, they likely won’t ever get the cost low enough to get budget travelers aboard, Foley said.
“The airlines just have it down to a science of getting it done the most cheaply by packing a bunch of people on the airline,” he said. “Private aircrafts are still very costly to buy and maintain, to train the crew, to hire the crew — just the fuel alone is a really big expense. With fewer people on board, you’re just not going to get the cost down to where it’s equal to airlines.”