Ride-Sharing With the Rich
How fractional jet owners get out of flying coach.
- By David Freed
- Air & Space magazine, August 2011
(Page 2 of 5)
" ‘I think I might want to leave at eight but it could be 10,’ " says Noe, describing the kind of calls NetJets sometimes receives from its customers. " ‘I may have four people but it could be eight. I may have a dog but I may not. I could forget to tell you one of those things and just show up. And oh, by the way, I don’t want to go from Palm Beach to New York. I want to go Palm Beach to Moscow.’ "
Each NetJets airplane, regardless of make or model, sports the same basic exterior color scheme: white with an elegant trio of slate, raspberry, and charcoal gray stripes. Interiors are nearly identical. Same supple leather seating. Same glossy wood appointments.
"It’s all designed to convey the impression to the owners that the aircraft they are flying on is, in fact, theirs," says Wombacher. Of course fractional owners can’t personalize an aircraft’s interior the way an individual jet owner could. And owning an entire aircraft allows you to go pretty much wherever you want, but with a fractional ownership, the company might well deny your request as too risky (if you ask to fly to a country in the midst of an uprising, for example). And if a fractional owner gets into a tiff with the flight crew or a cabin attendant, he can’t fire them.
NetJets’ operations center, a modernistic office and hangar complex, overlooks Runway 10-Left at Ohio’s Port Columbus International Airport. Inside the operations center is the hub of NetJets’ efforts, its flight center, which sounds more pulse-pounding than it is. It’s a cavernous, 16,500-square-foot room with a towering ceiling rimmed by massive television monitors showing CNN and the Weather Channel, and abuzz with workers on telephone headsets, tapping away at computer keyboards. It is here that NetJets’ clients call in toll-free 24 hours a day on their own uniquely assigned 800 numbers to speak with their own personally designated teams of service representatives who arrange their flights. NetJets also offers flights in Europe, via an operations center in Lisbon, Portugal. The U.S. and Europe divisions of NetJets provide service to more than 7,000 clients.
NetJets guarantees fractional owners that an aircraft will be available four to 10 hours after they call in to request a flight. Customer service representatives bend over backward to satisfy any special need an owner has. "We don’t say no—ever," says Doug Henneberry.
NetJets has more than 20 owner services teams, each available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Clients deal with the same team on every flight, and each team keeps highly detailed dossiers on each owner. How do they like to be addressed: Mr.? Ms.? Mrs.? Your Excellency? Vegan diet, kosher, low-salt, no-salt? Do they welcome interaction with the flight crew or prefer a "silent service"? NetJets tracks their birthdays and anniversaries to ensure that crews have a bottle of champagne handy. Pilots and flight attendants also learn to keep a close eye on the news of the day, to know when to offer congratulations if their passenger has won the World Series or condolences if they’ve gotten skunked at the Academy Awards.
And if you’re a fractional jet owner, there’s no need to fret about the type or number of carry-ons. If you can squeeze it inside the cabin, it can be secured, and it does not affect weight and balance, on it goes.
Senior vice president Mary E. Flynn, who heads owner services for NetJets’ U.S. operations, remembers an owner asking to bring an exercise bike on board "to get their cardio done" during a six-hour flight. "I try to keep our owners happy," says Flynn, but in that case, she had to say no. (There was no way to keep the bike from moving about the cabin during flight.)
Flying a dog across the country, however, is much easier than shipping him commercially if you own part of a jet. Matthew Eckert, who flies Hawker 400XPs for NetJets, recalls jetting an eight-week-old Great Dane puppy from Saratoga Springs, New York, to Cody, Wyoming. The pooch was his only passenger. "[The company] even went as far as catering a cheese-and-steak tray for the puppy," says Eckert.