Out of desperation, I ended up on a private jet. Driving from L.A. to San Francisco the day before Thanksgiving is never enticing. This year, the forecast called for heavy rain and snow in the mountains, which meant the 5 Freeway could close anytime at the Grapevine. Also, a fire above Santa Barbara meant potential mudslides.
My husband, Joe, and I started looking for solutions. My first idea — skip the whole thing and spend the long weekend catching up on “The Crown” on Netflix — was vetoed. He decided to check Kayak for last-minute tickets. Flights on American Airlines, for example, started at about $450 a person and would require us to navigate holiday traffic at LAX.
Then, he spotted something: reasonably priced last-minute round-trip flights on something called JSX, formerly JetSuiteX, a public charter jet service that flies out of Hollywood Burbank Airport.
At $378 total per person to fly round-trip from Burbank to Oakland, it cost less than our L.A.-Chicago tickets for Christmas flights that were booked months in advance. It cost much less than I expected, especially for last-minute flights. And the dog could fly free in the cabin with us, saving $125 each way, compared with most major airlines. Checked bags were free — $25 a person additional savings — as were the cocktails on board. The site also claimed we could arrive just 30 minutes before takeoff with luggage.
I looked deep within myself to assess what it was worth to me to not spend the next day sitting in the car inching up the 5 Freeway in Thanksgiving traffic and terrible weather. Every woman has her price. Mine is $378.
Our flight was scheduled to depart at 6:45 a.m. The hangar for JSX is just off to the side of the Burbank airport, separate from the main drop-off area. We arrived at 6:03 a.m. and walked right up to the desk. The woman checked us in on the computer, then swabbed our carry-on bags to check for traces of explosives. Someone else tagged and grabbed our suitcases, and we walked through the glass doors into the waiting area.
No line to check in, no line to drop off our bags and an easier Transportation Security Administration screening process (JSX follows all federal safety protocols). No full-body scanner. No X-ray machine. No removing liquids. Everyone’s shoes remained on.
We were among the first to arrive for our flight. We could either wait in one of the lounges off to the side with doors, or wait out in the hangar where we could take selfies with the plane. The lounges had free snacks: an assortment of trail mixes, teas and a Starbucks coffee machine. No Wi-Fi, though.
More people trickled in, and quite a few seemed to have done the same canine math as we: A golden retriever, a French bulldog and a Chihuahua had all joined our dachshund mix in the lounge area by the time we boarded.
Boarding took about two minutes and consisted of our walking maybe 100 feet to the small flight of stairs up to the 30-seat plane. There are no overhead bins, so if you’re carrying a piece of luggage, plan to check it.
The plane started taxiing at 6:50 a.m. and launched a slightly bumpy ascent at 6:58. Because it’s a smaller aircraft, you’re closer to the engines, which were loud once we were in the air.
I immediately noticed the ample legroom. I’m 5 feet, 4 inches tall and my husband is 5-foot-10; both of us could stretch out without our knees coming anywhere near the seat in front of us. The person in front of me reclined the seat without interfering with my personal space.
It was a short flight, but the promised free alcohol was provided. I was pleasantly surprised to discover JSX served top shelf. It was barely 7 a.m., but just for the heck of it, I had a Ketel One with orange juice.
Exiting the plane in Oakland took maybe 45 seconds. If you are the last ones off, the staff is patient about letting you take photos on the stairs as though you’re a visiting dignitary.
As in Burbank, we were in a smaller area detached from the main Oakland airport. Our suitcases arrived on a luggage cart about 10 minutes after we did. Our ride could pull right up in front. My holiday travel nightmare had turned into a short, pleasant plane trip that was over by 9 a.m.
The ride home went just as smoothly. The experience felt dignified and luxurious and cost much less than I expected, especially for last-minute flights.
Would I fly JSX again? Yes. In fact, we‘ve already booked flights for January.
JSX defines itself as a public charter operator that flies out of private terminals and offers “hop-on jet service.” It operates 30-seat Embraer 135s and 145s, smaller planes that are exempt from TSA screening rules that apply to large airports. Snacks and drinks are free, as are two checked bags and seat selection. It flies daily routes from Burbank to Oakland and Concord, Calif., as well as Las Vegas and Phoenix. Flights also link Orange County with Las Vegas and Oakland.
On Thursday, JSX begins seasonal service between Burbank and Orange County, and Mammoth Lakes, Calif. Flights operate Thursdays through Mondays.
Prices flex, as they do on commercial flights, depending on when you buy your ticket. I checked online Monday and found available tickets from Burbank to Oakland at a price of $139 on Christmas Day (Dec. 25) and a return flight Dec. 29, for $169 to $209. (Prices for a return flight Dec. 30 were $139.)
JSX isn’t the only one in the smaller-airport game. Taos Air, also a public charter operator, will begin seasonal service Jan. 9 between Hawthorne Municipal Airport (a.k.a. Jack Northrop Field) and Taos Regional Airport in Taos, N.M. The service already flies between Taos and Austin, Texas. Of course, this is designed for people who want to hit the slopes at Taos Ski Valley and its newish lodgings, the Blake, but anyone can hop on board.
About six round-trip flights per week will operate on Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays or Monday holidays. Service ends in spring.
An online check found availability for outbound airfares from Hawthorne to Taos of $220 on Jan. 16 and a return flight of $220. The service also operates flights between McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, Calif., and Taos.
Info: Taos Air