What it's like to fly with private-jet operator JSX
During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips. Instead, we have been publishing a selection of our most popular reviews from the past year. However, we have resumed the publication of new, previously unpublished flight, hotel and lounge reviews, from trips taken before the lockdown. We hope this will help you choose once we’re all ready to start booking trips again.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, travelers have been seeking alternate, less crowded means of air travel. One of those is JSX, formerly JetSuiteX, which is revolutionizing regional flying on the West Coast. This airline isn't like most commercial carriers in that it operates from private-jet terminals, allowing you to show up shortly before your flight.
With a focus on serving destinations within 500 miles of each other, JSX will save you a lot of time over other commercial carriers or driving. Plus, it'll do it in style with spacious planes offering just 30 seats with business-class legroom. And all without breaking the bank, with fares starting at $89. The airline says that during the pandemic, "all fees for cancelling or changing your flights are waived until further notice." It also posted a route map on its site.
We put JSX to the test between Las Vegas and Los Angeles on a recent trip to the West Coast, before lockdowns in many U.S. states. Though the journey wasn't as seamless as JSX promises, I'd definitely do it again. Here's why.
In some ways, JSX isn’t a commercial airline, but it behaves like one when it comes to booking a ticket. You’ll find the full flight schedule on Google Flights, which will then redirect you to book on JSX.com.
You’ll also notice that JSX flights show up on JetBlue’s website. That’s because JetBlue has a partnership agreement with them thanks to its minority investment in JSX. You can book JSX flights on JetBlue.com and also earn TrueBlue points for your JSX flights. But the frequent flyer partnership is hardly rewarding. You earn between 150 and 250 TrueBlue points per flight, worth roughly $1.95 and $3.25, respectively, according to TPG’s valuations.
When booking a ticket, you’ll be asked to select between one of two fare types. The cheaper fares, dubbed "Hop On," include two checked bags, but are nonrefundable and have change fees (which are currently waived in light of the coronavirus pandemic). 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.
Though JSX flies to some major airports like Las Vegas and Phoenix, the ground experience couldn’t be more different from what you’re used to.
That’s because the airline operates from FBOs, or "fixed base operators." These facilities aren’t located in main passenger terminals. Instead, they are usually in areas reserved for general aviation, like private jets. This means you won’t need to worry about traditional TSA security, long check-in lines or airport traffic.
But it also means that there are many fewer passenger services and parking is limited. In fact, I received a text before my flight asking me to use a ride-share service to get there since the lot was full. There also aren’t any concessions.
But the fact that this regional airline operates out of these private-jet terminals means that you can arrive just 20 minutes before your flight — saving lots of time, especially for such short flights. And when you land, you’ll be from plane to curbside in just minutes instead of trekking through a large terminal.
This sounds great in theory, but my experience in Las Vegas fell short of expectations.
My original plan was to review JSX on a round-trip from LAS to Burbank and back on the same day. That morning, I received a text saying that my flight was delayed by 90 minutes. So I arrived at the Atlantic Aviation FBO at 11:30 a.m. to check in for my delayed flight.
While in the long line to check in (even though JSX promises a line-free check-in), I received another text saying that my flight was delayed by another 30 minutes.
When it was finally my turn to check in, the agent said she didn’t know when my flight would depart and asked that I wait while she figured it out.
With the ongoing departure delay, I would have missed my return flight and been very late to my dinner plans in Vegas. Sometimes when delays start rolling like this, it’s best to throw in the towel and try again later. And that’s what I did. I explained to the check-in agent that the new timing wouldn’t work, and she refunded my ticket and issued a $100 voucher for the inconvenience.
Using the voucher, I rebooked myself for another flight from Vegas to Burbank a few days later. I hoped the second try would be on time.
That was wishful thinking. I arrived at the private-jet terminal 30 minutes before departure, only to find another massive line to check in. Once at the counter, the agent informed me that the Burbank flight would be delayed by about 30 minutes. This time there was no text message and I was told to listen for updates.
In the meantime, she tagged my carry-on-size rollaboard, which would be checked into the hold for the flight. She then did an explosives swab of my bag and backpack as a security precaution.
During the delay, I waited in the lounge area. There were a few tables and some countertop seating, with power outlets spread throughout the space. Complimentary Wi-Fi was available and speeds measured 20 Mbps download and upload.
There was a Starbucks coffee machine and water dispenser, but no food options, even though JSX promises "free snacks" in its departure lounges. Throughout the delay, ground agents made announcements over the PA system every 10 minutes. But there were no flight-status boards.
I knew things were moving along when I saw a ground handler load the checked bags onto a cart and wheel them to the boarding area.
Burbank-bound passengers were called for boarding about 15 minutes later.
Boarding passes were scanned at the entrance to the hangar. I then walked through the hangar to the tarmac where there were three waiting JSX Embraer jets.
We were directed to the larger Embraer 145, after waiting a few minutes for a smaller 135 version to push back.
As I made my way to the plane, one of the ground handlers apologized for the delay and chalked it up to growing pains. He explained that they’ve got too many passengers in a small facility for so few aircraft. All in all, we ended up taxiing from the parking stand about 30 minutes behind schedule.
Though JSX needs to tighten its operations, the fact that it operates from FBOs is one of the biggest perks of flying with them. Assuming your flight's on time, being able to go from curbside to planeside in 20 minutes is unheard of, especially in some of the nation’s largest airports.
And once we landed in Burbank, I was on my way — with my checked bag — within five minutes of arrival. In my mind, that convenience is priceless for such a short flight.
Cabin and seat
JSX’s fleet consists of Embraer 135 and 145 aircraft, and my flight was operated on one of the larger E145 variants.
The cabin is arranged in a 1-2 configuration spread across 10 rows. The 30 seats make for a very spacious configuration on the E145.
The cabin has a ton of room before row 1 and behind row 10. This means that Row 1 is a great choice for those looking for extra legroom.
The exit row also has copious legroom. All regular seats have a well-above-average 36 inches of pitch, and the exit row has 50.
Seats themselves weren’t in the best shape on this former United Express plane, but at 19 inches wide, they were quite comfortable for a short hop.
The tray table folds down from the seat in front and measures 16 inches wide and 10.5 inches long — plenty large enough for my 13-inch MacBook Pro.
For storage, there is a small overhead compartment over the coupled seats. If your bag doesn't fit there, you can try putting it under the seat in front of you.
The cabin was kept at a comfortable temperature throughout the flight, but if you want to adjust it to your liking there is an individual air nozzle (and light) overhead.
Though some regional jets have tiny bathrooms, the E145 has a spacious, single lavatory at the rear of the plane.
It has running water, and felt plenty tall for me at 5 feet, 11 inches.
I wasn’t expecting much in the way of amenities for such a short flight.
Though JSX is actively installing Wi-Fi on its aircraft, this particular frame hadn’t yet been outfitted with the technology. Some aircraft also have power outlets, but this one was missing those too.
And without an inflight magazine, I kept my eyes fixed out the window throughout the 46-minute flight. Embraers are known for their large windows, which kept this AvGeek occupied throughout the journey.
Food and beverage
For such a short flight, I was impressed with the food and beverages on offer. To start, there was an extensive drink list in the seatback pocket, with a selection of Coke-branded soft drinks as well as complimentary wine, beer and liquor.
The friendly French flight attendant passed through the cabin while we were still on the ground to collect drink orders. She explained that I could order whatever I wanted. I chose a gin and tonic and asked for some water as well.
Once airborne, she went into action to serve everyone before we began our descent. She didn’t use a cart for the service and instead brought drinks to each passenger one by one.
After the drinks, she brought around the snack basket. This wasn’t the best snack basket I’ve seen, but it had a pretty unique selection. There were everything-flavored matzo chips, banana chips and mixed nuts.
Though my particular JSX flights were riddled with delays, I really liked the experience. These days, being able to arrive at the airport just 20 minutes before a flight is unique, unless you’re flying private. And since JSX operates short flights, the time savings add up.
The experience only gets better once you’re on board. The spacious cabin has just 30 seats with 36 inches of pitch, and there’ll soon be Wi-Fi and power at each seat. Coupled with free snacks and drinks, you’ll be occupied throughout the flight.
And then you land at a private-jet terminal and can be on your way within minutes of touchdown. If your flight’s on time, there’s no better way to fly commercially.
All photos by the author.