Why you should care
Because someone has to not sit in coach.
On a recent trip, sandwiched between screaming kids (not their fault) being reprimanded by screaming parents (definitely their fault), I started to develop a theory of the degradation of the travel experience. Everybody does it, nobody likes it. Even first class doesn’t get spared the indignities of travel in 2016: crowds, crotch-grabbing searches, and service by people who hate you for being served by them.
Got to be a better way? Damned straight. When the misery gets miserable enough, you’ll start to look for that better way, and if you’re starting to look matches well with what you’re willing to pay, you’ll inevitably come face to face with purveyors of luxury travel “experiences.”
Forget the guilt. Is there a price to be placed on peace of mind?
As it turns out, yes: about $117,000.
“Many of the routes we fly aren’t even offered by commercial airlines,” says Rami Girgis, private jet product manager for one such player and purveyor Abercrombie & Kent, a company that, in 1989, hit on around-the-world air excursions via its inaugural Royal Air tour by private jet, followed by chartered supersonic circumnavigation aboard a Concorde. “For example, our trip from the Solomon Islands to the Philippines is a comfortable six-hour direct flight with a gourmet meal, a variety of entertainment options and lie-flat seats.”
Flying commercial, that trip would require five connecting flights and 55 hours of travel time.
This sounds more like inconspicuous consumption.
Private jet journeys also eliminate long security lines, layovers, delays and lost luggage. Guests arrive at each airport mere minutes before departure and fly directly to the next destination. To minimize jet lag, trips go from west to east.
Ground excursions are planned in advance, often with exclusive invitation-only access to attractions led by seasoned world travelers, including A&K founder Geoffrey Kent, who kicked things off in 1962 with African safaris featuring sterling silver ice buckets. The idea came from one of Kent’s conversations with guests on another journey. “They were talking about places they’d always dreamed of visiting,” Kent explains. “This inspired me to weave together a series of intriguing destinations, partly due to their remote locations but also for the remarkable experiences I knew we could arrange in places like Mongolia and Uzbekistan.”
That $117,000 price tag starts sounding like a bargain when you try duplicating something like A&K’s around-the-world Islands, Savannas and the Amazon expedition on your own. With tours in the Amazon, Easter Island, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Bali and Komodo, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Kenya and Monaco, you’d be looking at approximately $2.5 million with comparable commercial flights and accommodations.
Also, it would take twice as long and would largely be absent the private chef who partners with local counterparts in each destination to select fresh ingredients for gracious dining experiences both in the air and on the ground. With a crew-to-guest ratio of 1-to-8, needs are often met before passengers even realize they have them. And at each destination, baggage beats travelers to their five-star lodgings.
Who would do this? Anyone with the scratch. A&K has itineraries that average 24 days, are all-inclusive and happen in a fully pimped-out Boeing 757 configured to provide 50 passengers with first-class accommodations. That is, with fully reclinable Italian leather seats, the aforementioned gourmet meals, open bars stocked with top-shelf wines and spirits, noise-canceling Bose headphones and iPads preloaded with your favorite films.
By some wild stretch of the imagination, A&K pisses you off? There are other partying one-percenters drawn to the guiltless-yet-guilty delights of this kind of travel. The Four Seasons hotel chain offers a sleek, black branded jet plus lodging in its luxurious properties around the world. National Geographic Expeditions offers globe-circling private jet excursions too, albeit without the lavish accommodations. On the more affordable side of the equation are Travcoa’s Around the World by Private Jet tours.
“This sounds more like inconspicuous consumption,” says world traveler and business executive Matt Harper. “And probably hard to justify given global miseries, but for people who might consider this, that kind of money is couch change.”
A business model modeled on that kind of couch change? It just might work.