I Flew in a Private Jet for the First Time and Here's Everything I Learned
This is what it's like to travel like a billionaire.
To be perfectly clear, I am a total commoner. I am not rich, and when I travel, I invariably buy the cheapest tickets humanly available (regardless of whether or not they involve insane layovers at international airports). And, yes, that means frequently taking low-cost airlines where I settle into seats that seem to have been made from the same material as Barbie's Dreamhouse.
But recently, I found myself with an invitation to board a private jet on a foggy day in early April from New York to Mexico. There were seven of us heading down to visit a tequila distillery, near Guadalajara, and the honest-to-god truth is I had exactly zero idea of what life would be like while streaming across the sky in a luxurious Gulfstream V. (Spoiler alert: It was amazing.)
So read on, pop your finest bubbly, and stow your tray table, because what follows is a true account of what it's like to fly like a billionaire. But don't worry—if you're looking to upgrade your own travel experience at a coach class fare, all you need to do is read the 20 Genius Ways to Make Flying Less Miserable.
Small Airports Have Amazing Snacks
I was set to fly out of Teterboro in New Jersey, an airport I knew was an airport simply because who can forget the Miracle on the Hudson? (Air traffic control: "Off to your right side is Teterboro… Which runway would you like at Teterboro?" Sully: "We're gonna be in the Hudson.")
However, Teterboro isn't much of an airport at all—at least not in the way I imagined. Your cab drops you off in front of a small, two-story building, and you walk through the sliding doors to find a lobby not dissimilar to a business hotel, with a concierge desk, some plush leather couches, and a piano in the corner.
The walls are made from glass, so you can see all of the little planes standing like toys on the landing field. Around the corner from the main lounge, there's a room with massage chairs where you can chill out while watching Fox News, as well as a self-service counter that has coffee, tea, and baked goods. Plus: you get your pick of free magazines. When we were there, they were hosting Employee Appreciation Day, so we snagged some cupcakes as well. And if you're looking for more amazing travel advice, read up on The One Drink Flight Attendants Never Want You to Order.
You Don't Have to Go Through Security or Customs
The best part about going through Teterboro is that it makes traveling by plane feel as painless as taking an Uber. You don't have to go through any type of security, no one questions you about anything, and I never even flashed my passport until arriving in Mexico.
Once your plane is ready, an attendant puts all of your suitcases onto the type of birdcage luggage cart you find at five-star hotels and takes it away to be placed in the cargo hold. I was blown away. This is how Paris Hilton must feel! Oh, and speaking of luxury: Here Are the 15 Luxury Designers Billionaires Have on Speed Dial.
Your Flight Can Still Be Delayed
I don't know why I assumed private jets are imbued with some sort of protective spell that prevents them from being delayed or canceled, but weather is weather no matter how rich you are.
Our flight was supposed to take off at 9:00 a.m., but the fog outside was so thick you couldn't even see any of the planes. We had also assumed that our plane would be waiting for us on the tarmac, but that costs extra money, so, by the time we arrived, it was still 45 minutes away in Rochester.
Our fearless group leader was texting back and forth with our pilot, which felt pretty cool at first. Four hours into waiting, however, the pilot felt increasingly like a guy who was making excuses not to meet up. "He said he needs a mile of visibility to land the plane but my weather app says we already have that," our group leader exclaimed, for what felt like the 80th time. The high of taking a private jet had already started to wear off, as we were simply picking at the sandwiches we'd ordered from a nearby Italian deli. A pair of children started banging the keys of the piano and we all groaned and sank deeper into our first-world problems.
But At Least the Airport Has Amenities
While scavenging for scones by the coffee machine, I noticed that the airport had a few extra amenities on the second floor. One was the "pilot's nap room" (which I obviously didn't enter because this is not Grey's Anatomy). The other was a fitness center.
I expected the so-called gym to just be one broken treadmill and some weights, but it turned out to be fairly comprehensive, with plenty of equipment and a space for yoga in the corner, along with TVs playing (more) Fox News. The bathroom also had a few showers and even a Finnish sauna. I didn't have any workout clothing with me, but even in my heels and Ralph Lauren dress, I managed to get a few leg lifts in at the Power Tower Dip Station. And for more luxury travel coverage, Check Out the Crazy Amenities at the World's Best Airport—Photos.
Boarding Is a Breeze
We all screamed when a handsome pilot walked through the sliding glass doors and informed us that, at long last, our bougemobile was finally here. The pilot seemed pretty taken aback by our frenzied cries and harried looks, but, at that moment, he was our favorite person ever.
At long last, our delay was over, and the luxury living could begin. We got into a small van that drove us about 50 feet to our plane (we could have walked, but rules are rules), then climbed the staircase, took some obligatory envy-inducing photos for Instagram, and we were in! Easy peasy.
The Interior Is Stunning
The inside of the plane looked a lot like the photos I'd seen of Elvis Presley's private jet, except a lot less '70s and a lot more glamorous. There were six white lounge chairs, two grey couches that could fold out to make a bed (more on that later), a tiny kitchenette with a microwave, and a one-person stall with the kind of marble sink, varnished wood paneling, and soft backlighting you find in fancy hotel bathrooms.
The Chairs Swivel Around
The chairs were exceptionally comfortable and you could lean the chair back far enough and extend the foot rest so as to be almost totally horizontal. What we didn't expect, however, was that, with just the press of the button, the chairs could swivel around like bumper cars.
Everyone on the plane could not get over this and, like children, we continued to gleefully swivel around throughout the 5-hour flight, to the consternation of our eternally patient flight attendant. And if you're looking for some more great travel #inspo, here are 15 Jaw-Dropping AirBnBs from Around the World That Won't Break the Bank.
You Get a Personal Flight Attendant
As comfortable and convenient as it was, the best part of taking a private jet was definitely our personal flight attendant, who was there to fulfill our every need.
She gave us wet hand towels, catered to all of our needs, and filled our glasses up with white wine while we were sleeping, like a magical wood elf. Our flight attendant has been in the business for a long time, and boy does she have some hot gossip. She talked about being a flight attendant back in the '90s (and waiting on Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears back when they were the biggest couple in the world). She said they seemed to be in a real relationship and not some PR thing, which put that persistent rumor to rest for me. For more hot gossip, check out 20 Secrets Your Flight Attendant Won't Tell You.
Yes, People Have Sex on the Plane
While there might not be as many people having sex on commercial flights as you might imagine, people taking private jets are going at it like rabbits. We asked our flight attendant how that works, given that, you know, you're within sight and earshot of both the flight attendant and the pilot and co-pilot, and she said that you can kind of tell when the couple would like to be left alone, at which point you might go and close the divider and sit with the crew for a while. Or, sometimes, she said people might even ask you to make yourself scarce for a bit. Seems a bit awkward but, hey, if that's what you're into…
You Can Totally Hang with the Pilots
When you walk into the plane, your seats are to your right, and the cockpit is to your left, so you can hang out there during the flight and chat to the pilot, which is really cool. Though, granted, seeing an empty seat in the cockpit is extremely unnerving, even though you know it's on autopilot.
The Safety Instructions Are Way More Intense
Safety instructions basically boiled down to this: "If me and the pilot and co-pilot die, the seven of you are on your own, so you better know how this plane works."
Whereas on a commercial flight, you get the basic rundown of where the emergency exits are and how to put on an oxygen mask, on a private plane, you have to learn how to actually open the emergency exit and inflate the slide, and believe me, it's not easy. We all tried to listen carefully as she explained the instructions, but once she got into how we had to move the chairs and open up a secret flap and climb over it without tearing it, we all just gave up and decided to go with God.
The Turbulence Is Scarier
When you're on a private jet, you can feel everything that happens to it much more so than a heavy commercial plane. Once you take off, you become very aware that the aircraft you're in is light; it feels a bit like you can get blown over by a strong gust of wind. I asked the pilot if private planes are more likely to crash than commercial ones, and, although he said no, statistically that's not really true. So he was probably just trying to prevent mass panic. If you're a nervous flier, this might be a compelling reason to just stick with first class on a commercial jet.
The Food Is Pretty Basic
I thought that we'd be treated to caviar and champagne immediately upon boarding, but the food selection was actually fairly basic: a few sandwiches, some fruit, cheese, and a surprisingly delicious arugula salad with strawberries and balsamic vinaigrette.
It might not have been fancy, but it was definitely fresh, and it certainly beats the over-salted food tray you get on commercial flights. In addition to avoiding the meals, here's the one drink flight attendants never want you to order.
Renting a Jet Is Extremely Expensive
This seems obvious, but I was still blown away by just how expensive it is. The pilot said that our jet cost around $10,000 per hour to rent, which means our flight to Guadalajara and back came out to a cool $100,000.
That's not including the money that it costs to cover the crew's two days of waiting around for our group in Guadalajara, plus the catering. If you're interested in flying by private plane however, there are companies that offer the chance to book seats for a fraction of the cost of a traditional carrier.
It's Very Important to Make a Music Video
We flew on a G-5, so, from the beginning, I lobbied for a music video set to "Fly like a G-6," and it was everything I had hoped for until we hit an air pocket and went flying into the air, the flight attendant screaming "Get back in your seats!" followed by me nervously joking how terrible it is that our tacky music video is the last thing they'll find in the wreckage. Luckily, we survived, and now we joke about it all the time.
It's Not Going to Make You Happy
Warren Buffet recently stirred some controversy by saying that money can't buy happiness, but the billionaire is right. Taking a private jet was a unique and fun experience, but in between all the merriment, I was still bummed about all of the things I get upset about when I'm alone in my couch at home.
And as awesome as it was, it still doesn't beat joking around with roommates with my dog on my lap on Sunday afternoons. So, if you get the opportunity to fly high like a G-6, take it. But if not, don't despair. There's more to life than luxury.
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