I realised earlier this year, as I watched some friends refused boarding at Stansted because they were one minute past the 40-minute limit on checking in, that I had finally fallen out of love with flying. Anyone who flies regularly these days knows why: the two-hour check-ins, the endless security routines. Little treats such as visiting the captain in the cockpit, or even eating meals with decent cutlery, are now outlawed. The demise of Concorde, the last truly exhilarating regular passenger plane, seemed to seal the end of the affair.
So why am I now like a moping, jilted lover who has just discovered that flowers still smell and the sun also rises? Because I know there is a way to recapture the adrenaline rush of heavier-than-air travel: hire a private jet.
Before you start snorting in derision, let me assure you I haven't won the lottery or cashed in the equity on my property. A one-day jaunt over the Channel with Jeffersons, a company intent on positioning this luxury in the mainstream, will give you change — not a lot, but some — from £900 per person, which, by Concorde standards, is cheap. However, when you can get a plane ticket across the Channel for the price of a family bucket at KFC, why would you shell out close to a grand? The answer is simple: Jeffersons puts civility and style back into flying.
We had a 10:15am flight out of Luton After a 9am pick-up by car, we arrived at the small private-jet lounge — operated by Harrods Aviation — just on 10. Having given our passport details earlier in the week for security checks, we had to endure no formalities other than showing the passports.
"Ready?" asked Tim, the first officer. "Okay, let's go." The plane was a sleek six-seater Raytheon Premier 1, four months old, still smelling of polished wood and supple leather. We sank back into the seats, buckled in, had a thumbs-up from Andy the captain, and we were off.
The plane twitched slightly from a burst of power before, in what seemed to be about 10 yards, it lifted off. The one downside I expected was that the compact aircraft would be tossed around. In fact, it was as smooth as silk and, although on a hop over to Deauville it barely reaches 20,000ft, these nimble jets can fly at 41,000ft, well above weather and commercial jets. On board, there were tasty canapés, plus champagne and caviar — spread on the blinis with metal knives (you can smoke with the captain's permission, although Jeffersons discourages it).
We landed at Deauville… being a small local airport, the pilot parked the Raytheon right outside the terminal, a short walk to the waiting car, which whisked us into Deauville for lunch.
Once more, the return was a relaxed affair — just an approximate departure time and a short jet back above clouds streaked with the sunset, to land at Luton. As we taxied to a halt, a car drew up to the plane's steps to take us home through mundane rush-hour traffic. Seamless.
So is it worth the money? Put it this way: I instantly racked my wallet for ways to do it again, and, less selfishly, my brains for people who might appreciate it as a gift (anniversaries and birthdays being one of Jeffersons' biggest markets), just so that they, too, can experience an all-frills flight.
One thing worries me. They say you can never go back to a lower class of travel. In which case, I can look forward to a life of happy jetting and total penury. But love is blind.
By Rob Ryan, Sunday Times Magazine