A couple of years ago, if you had wanted to arrange a trip of a lifetime you may well have turned to Concorde. It offered style and cachet, fabulous speed and – in Barbados and New York – two very chic destinations…. Now it has gone what do you do if you want to celebrate a milestone birthday or an anniversary? You fly by private jet.
Until recently, this thought would not have occurred to me. …even if I had had money to burn, I wouldn’t have known where or how to book one. Many of Robin Fawcett’s customers used to take a similar view.
Two years ago, after more than twenty years working in the travel industry for tour operators and city break specialists, Fawcett spotted a niche market for “treat travel” post-Concorde. He set up a company, Jeffersons …and put together a brochure that packaged flights by private jet, limousine transfers and a night or two in some of Europe’s best hotels. The business took off from day one and has grown rapidly: bookings are already three times they were in his first year.
To see what they got for their money I took a seat on an ‘empty leg’ to Venice, on a plane flying out to bring customers home. (When it was my turn to fly back it would be in humbler style – as a passenger of EasyJet).
For me the most enjoyable, and also the strangest, thing about the trip was the journey to the airport. To be driving down the motorway 25 minutes before take-off, without worrying about missing the plane, was an unadulterated pleasure. When you travel by private jet…your plane will wait until you arrive, and take off when you get there.
The jet was standing a few yards from outside the terminal, the captain came over to meet us, and I simply walked straight on board. Passport clearance had been done in advance by the tour operator, and there was no customs procedure (though in theory immigration officials or customs officers may come over to do a spot check.)
I was travelling on a Citation Jet, which seats up to seven passengers. The top of the fuselage was only about seven feet off the ground….
The interior, too, was compact. Although the seats were large and of plush leather, there was not a lot of head room. If you want more space around you in the cabin you will need to go for a jet seating more people – and, unless you fill all the seats, that costs more per person. However, on a short flight (less than two hours to Venice) space is not really an issue – especially when you are enjoying the Bollinger, beluga and blinis, plus other cold snacks that are laid on as part of the package.
After landing at Venice airport, we taxied over to the former passenger terminal, which is now used for private flights. We waited sixty seconds for an immigration officer to check our passports, and walked straight through to the water taxi. We were in the Grand Canal in 20 minutes, and at the Hotel Cipriani within 45.
In all, my journey had taken just over four and half hours door to door, including the ninety-minute drive from my house to Stansted. On a normal scheduled flight… it would have taken more than seven hours. And, of course I would have had to fit in with the schedule of an airline rather than arrange my own.
But how much do you have to pay for this kind of convenience? A two-night break at the Hotel Cipriani, with Jeffersons – the company I was travelling with – costs from £2,916 per person b&b. That includes shared accommodation in a twin room, private transfers with Venice to and from the hotel, and flights from Biggin Hill, Farnborough, Luton Oxford or Stansted (departures from other airports can be arranged but might cost more). The price is based on a group of six people travelling together – if the party is smaller the holiday cost per person rises steeply.
Is it worth it? There is no doubt that this kind of trip makes you feel extremely privileged, and it is a seamless way to travel, But you’ll have to swallow hard when it comes to paying the bills.
By Nick Trend, The Daily Telegraph