CONCORDE IS history. Airports treat us like cattle. Sit in the middle of the demeaning mayhem that is Gatwick on a Saturday afternoon and you can’t help wondering where air travel went wrong.
It needn’t be like this. If you want excitement, romance and a sense of occasion, you can find them just 14 miles away (as the private jet flies) at Biggin Hill. Most of their prices are predictably stratospheric, but there is one jet-powered jaunt — a gastronomic day trip to Reims, the capital of Champagne — that starts at a comparatively low-flying £879pp. An arm, then, rather than an arm and a leg. Count me in.
Take all your preconceptions about commercial flying and jettison them: half the thrill of a private jet trip lies in what it doesn’t include, rather than what it does. Check-in, for instance. There isn’t one… No queues, no tickets, no paperwork, usually not even a passport check — today, you’re just too damn rich to need one….Trudi has barely poured the champagne before our pilots, Peter and Derek, are taxi-ing to the runway, and within two minutes we’re taking off. And even this is different. Instead of the lumbering charge of a larger jet, the Hawker accelerates fast and smoothly: …you’re airborne in less than 10 seconds. The jet’s not especially fast at cruising speed (450mph). Nor is it particularly modern (the basic Hawker design goes back to 1961), but — and here’s the thing — it’s yours. Want to play the Ride of the Valkyries at take-off? Fine. Sit up with the pilots during landing? No problem. Loop the loop over the Arc de Triomphe? There are limits. But not many.
We set a course for Reims, and we’re no further than the Isle of Sheppey when Trudi breaks out the snacks — beluga caviar, foie gras, smoked salmon blinis. It’s a short hop — 50 minutes — and we’re soon on the way down again, to our waiting limo…. First, it’s a personal guided tour of the Pommery champagne cellars…. Then it’s on to Château Les Crayères, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in a seriously grand mansion on the edge of town. The surroundings are staggeringly opulent, and the food, from amuse-bouches to petits fours, unparalleled. We take our time — just under four hours, or about 40 minutes a course.
Replete, and dangerously close to dozing over a brandy in the salon’s easiest chair, I ask what time we’re taking off for home. “What time would sir like to take off?” comes the reply. Now that’s the way it should be.
So is it worth it? On one level, of course not: any day trip that costs £2 per minute is clearly ridiculous. But having £7m worth of plane at your personal disposal is an undeniable thrill. If you want a glimpse of the lottery-winner lifestyle on bingo-winner money, it’s the only way to go.
A private jet - worth it?
Nic Cooper, 43, a marketing executive from London. booked a private jet to Paris as a surprise treat for his wife’s birthday.
“We both thought it was wonderful, out of this world. You’re suddenly part of a very elite club. It’s ‘less is more’ — you avoid all the usual hideousness of airports, and it’s incredible to have a plane leave when you want it to.
“It was absolutely worth the money…. In fact, I thought it was good value for what it gave us, though I certainly couldn’t afford to do it every day!”