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I’m a travel writer and frequent traveler, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, I didn’t board a plane for more than 500 days.
Now that I am fully vaccinated, and with case numbers steeply declining, I planned a quick trip to Las Vegas from my hometown of Los Angeles.
With travel safety as my top priority, I chose JSX over traditional carriers. JSX is a hop-on jet service that isn’t technically a private jet but offers many of the perks of one. Simply put, it’s private flying for the public.
While it sounds like it must be expensive, get ready to be surprised. I paid just $99 for my JSX flight that had me feeling like a celebrity, and maybe even looking like one, too.
JSX is a private regional airline that feels like a posh private-flying experience, except the public can purchase tickets.
But unlike major commercial airlines, JSX caps flights at just 30 people and operates out of private terminals and hangars (technically known as “fixed-base operators,” or FBOs), which are adjacent to many major airports.
“JSX flights are classified as public-air charters, which means they can depart from general-aviation terminals, and that comes with a number of key perks in the COVID-19 era,” said Scott’s Cheap Flights Senior Member Operations Specialist Daniel Burnham, who will be including JSX fares in the site’s new Elite deals platform launching later this month.
“Unlike a true private-jet charter, JSX schedules flights in advance on a set route map. To fly, you’ll buy a seat ticket online like any other airline,” he said. “However, JSX flights have their own private hangars and waiting areas away from the main airport terminal, so you can show up right before your scheduled departure and breeze onto the plane without needing to go through a TSA checkpoint.”
With JSX, you’ll bypass the traditional airport altogether by traveling through a private-jet terminal. You also won’t encounter crowds and Transportation Security Administration lines, but you can still feel secure: JSX uses TSA Secure Flight, the same TSA-provided background-check processes that major airlines use.
JSX also has extensive COVID-19 safety measures in place, requiring masks and implementing new sterilization and contactless protocols. More detailed information is available here.
The regional airline flies between major cities and destinations in the West and Texas, including Burbank, California (Los Angeles); Concord, California (East Bay/Napa); Las Vegas; Oakland, California; Orange County, California; Phoenix; Dallas; and Houston with seasonal flights to places like Mammoth Yosemite Airport. It also serves Destin, Florida. You can view more details on routes here.
While still regional, JSX saw a 55% increase in new leisure-market customers from February 2020 to February 2021, according to a statistic provided by the brand’s internal-analytics team. And that’s a pretty huge stat for the COVID-19 era.
In fact, the pandemic perhaps increased demand for this hybrid style of flying, as people sought out safer travel experiences.
“JSX has been well positioned to serve this shift in priorities, and their domestic-heavy route map in Texas and California hasn’t been heavily impacted by testing requirements or closed borders,” Burnham said.
When booking a ticket, passengers select between one of two fare types. The cheaper fares, dubbed “Hop On,” include two checked bags but are nonrefundable and have change fees.
The more expensive fares, “All In,” are fully refundable and include three checked bags. Everyone can bring a carry-on bag, regardless of which fare you choose.
There is only one class on JSX flights.
Although the airline sounds highly specialized, you can book JSX tickets as you normally would any commercial ticket through the airline’s website or through its booking and mobile boarding app. You won’t find it on online travel-agency websites or aggregators like Kayak or Expedia though.
In most cases, JSX is very affordable. Entry-level $99 fares are common on routes with advance booking and off-peak dates, making for an overall excellent value.
For example, a recent search identified plenty of $99 options between Phoenix and Burbank or $149 between Oakland and Orange County. These are comparable to many commercial airlines such as the no-frills Southwest. For instance, you might fly JSX for less than $100 between Burbank and Las Vegas, compared with Southwest’s $129 Wanna Get Away fare on the same route.
Of course, like all flights, popular days and periods see higher fares. But JSX also serves snacks, cocktails, and nonalcoholic drinks free in flight, with coffee and tea free in the terminal. Pets also fly free, and so do checked bags.
JSX also has many exclusive partner offers for discounts and savings on hotels near their destinations and is also a partner with JetBlue. And if you do want to experience a true private flight, JSX is available to charter.
Because my dates were flexible and I was looking for only one night in Vegas, I booked tickets for my husband and myself on the Sunday of a holiday weekend. Because it wasn’t a desirable travel day, the price was cheap and I booked only about five weeks ahead of the trip. I paid $99 per ticket for a total of $198 for both of us.
Because our return flight fell on Memorial Day — an extremely popular travel day — a JSX ticket would have been much higher, well over $400. So I booked us on a traditional carrier for the return. But it still would have been far cheaper than flying an actual private plane.
We needed to arrive at the airport hangar only about 20 minutes before our flight because of the simple check-in process.
We took a Lyft and didn’t need parking, but valet parking was available for $28 per day. For comparison, LAX central terminal self-parking costs $30 per day.
From there, we walked right in and showed our IDs for check-in at a small counter with no one else waiting in line. The capped number of passengers and lack of TSA checkpoints mean there are never long waits.
With JSX, passengers may bring one personal item on board that fits under the seat in front of them; there are no overhead bins. With our fare category (the popular “Hop On” fare), we were permitted to check two bags weighing 50 pounds each for free. We rolled our bags over to the staff person, got our boarding passes, and pre-boarding was done.
The JSX hangar has just a check-in counter, a station for free coffee or tea, and a bathroom. It’s a simple but delightful experience for aviation enthusiasts, as you’ll be right next to the planes. The hanger is also wide-open with full ventilation, which is a safety bonus during a pandemic.
There are no eateries, shops, or other concessions like those you’d find in airports, so be sure to bring what you will need for the flight.
We boarded the plane about 15 minutes before the scheduled takeoff. The small group of passengers walked a few dozen yards across the tarmac to an awaiting plane, entering by way of an outdoor flight of stairs.
On this route, JSX flies either a 135 or 145 Embraer jet with 30 seats, and the plane was about two-thirds full. The configuration is two-seats-by-one, which means no middle seats and no overhead bins.
My 6-foot-1-inch husband remarked on the substantial legroom, with the seat pitch a minimum of 36 inches.
There wasn’t much time in the air, but the flight was pleasant and comfortable. The cabin decor was gray-scale tones — elegant and not heavily branded. Power outlets were available at seats.
Our flight attendant came around offering drinks, both alcoholic and not. Then she made the rounds with elevated packaged snacks such as cheese straws and dried snap peas.
I used the bathroom once during the flight, and it was similar to those on any commercial flight.
We deplaned via an outdoor staircase and picked up our bags outside the aircraft without any delay before entering the private-aircraft terminal. There is no luggage carousel as you’d find after a commercial flight.
After passing through, we headed outside to a quiet parking lot to await a Lyft to our hotel.
Pros: On ordinary or off-peak dates, the airfare is quite competitive (even lower than some budget carriers’ for certain legs) and the flight experience is far superior across the board. It’s a solid choice if it serves your area.
Cons: Flying JSX is all about your dates and location. On peak dates, flights can be prohibitively expensive (like flights on any other airline). Also unlike larger, international carriers, you won’t find every destination on JSX’s map — certainly not every global metro, nor every national one, nor even every regional one. The map is limited, which makes it a nonstarter for many travelers.
Flying JSX was a seamless, comfortable, and exciting experience — one that looked extremely posh to my social-media followers.
From arrival to deplaning, JSX feels exclusive and private. The experience looks and feels like flying a private jet: no crowds or security lines, a max of 30 passengers, free checked baggage, snacks, and drinks.
While the service routes are limited, if my destination is on the JSX map and the price is right, I’ll fly JSX 100% of the time compared with commercial flights. The perks are numerous, and it’s a great flying experience at a great value. I enthusiastically recommend it.
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