You don’t have to be a billionaire to fly in a private jet: Mark Hodson tests
the new ‘low-cost’ option.
What is your idea of luxury travel? For most people, it means an upgrade to
business class or a private transfer to their hotel. But if you’re seriously,
seven-figure rich, it means only one thing: a private jet.
But how much does this cost? Ten thousand? Fifty thousand? Actually, rather
less. A new tour operator, Jeffersons, is offering a selection of two-night
breaks around Europe, travelling by private jet and staying in luxury hotel
suites, from £2,495 per person. Clearly, that’s not cheap, but — perhaps for
the first time — it is within the grasp of many.
So, what do you get for your money? Robin Fawcett, the managing director of
Jeffersons, says it’s not just about the flight itself. “One of the great luxuries
of private jet travel is having a choice of 70 small airports around the country,”
he says. “You can take off and return at the times that suit you, and you don’t
have to endure the delays and inconveniences of busy airports. There is no check-in, and you don’t need to worry if you’re a bit late. You turn up and your aircraft is waiting for you.”
But is it worth the money? Well, there’s only one way to find out. So it was
that on a crisp January morning, I was whisked by limousine from my home in
south London and down the M3 to Farnborough airport. At the perimeter fence,
my driver flashed an ID badge to a security guard and we were waved through
to the tiny terminal building where I was greeted by Fawcett. Outside on the
asphalt, our aircraft gleamed in the bright winter sunshine.
There were no further security checks, no queues and no other flights waiting
to take off. Jeffersons asks passengers for their passport details before they
travel, so they can be pre-cleared through immigration. We were flying in a sleek, seven-seater Citation Ultra, which is just 49ft long, but has a cruising speed of 430mph and a maximum cruising altitude of 45,000ft. The interior was finished in soft grey leather with a polished-wood trim. There was a chilled-drinks cabinet
(de rigueur) and a very small lavatory at the back, more suited to svelte young
things than industrial fat cats.
Takeoff was effortless: we curled over the frosted fields of Hampshire and rose
quickly and smoothly above the clouds shrouding the Channel. It was surprisingly
quiet: not at all like being bumped around in the back of a small prop plane,
more like being in the first-class cabin of a jetliner. It was also quick. We
barely had time to polish off the Bolly before we were beginning our descent
into the little airport of Le Bourget, on the northern outskirts of Paris.
Arrival was even more seamless than departure. We came to a stop beside a small hangar, where a Mercedes limousine was waiting. The aircraft steps were lowered, the car pulled up, our bags were loaded and we walked half-a-dozen steps before sinking into another plush leather interior.
Of course, there is no point in travelling in such luxury if you aren’t staying somewhere equally posh, so Jeffersons has filled its brochure with a selection of Europe’s finest hotels. Some are rather predictable — the Cipriani, in Venice, say, or the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, on the French Riviera — but there are some more intriguing alternatives, such as the 13th-century Château de Bagnols, near Lyons, and the Mas de Torrent, a farmhouse in the hills of Catalonia. The brochure also features some fashionable bolt holes, including Blakes, in Amsterdam, and Pershing Hall, in Paris, where I stayed.
Mark Hodson, The Sunday Times