My Own Private Air
April 21, 2013
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  • By Peter Mandel

    On a private jet, there’s lots of legroom and cookies and drinks, no security, seatbelt-buckling, or rules. Well, almost no rules.

    I’ll bet that flying means to you roughly what it does to me: battling seat pockets that eat knee space. Emptying your inner life into plastic trays.

    Far above the clouds, another, better world exists: It’s a paradise of infinite legroom and no one around to pat you down preflight. In fact, as a passenger in a private jet, you call the shots, even when it comes to buckling seatbelts.

    Celebrities and Romney-class politicians know this well. And so do I – since a business-owning pal let me fly aboard a JetSuite Embraer Phenom 100 from Providence, R.I., to New York. The fare for this 40-minute jaunt, says my friend between yawns, is $3,100 plus tax. I yawn, too, since I’m not the one paying.

    A low, late-afternoon sun peers suspiciously at me as I check in at the Providence airport. Just past an air cargo outfit and the “Horizon Flight School” is a desk used by Irvine, Calif.-based JetSuite, a private jet charter company that partners with Singapore Airlines.

    Just to see what would happen, I’d phoned up customer service beforehand and demanded to leave an hour earlier than scheduled. “Not a problem, Mr. Mandel,” came the reply. “Not in private aviation.”

    An airport sign hawks jet fuel at today’s price of $6.18 per gallon. “HAVE A GREAT DAY!” it adds, but according to Joe Holley Jr., my JetSuite copilot who has just walked in, that’s “not exactly cheap” as jet fuel goes. However, Holley and pilot Mark Maziarz don’t need a fill-up.

    The pilots carry my bags outside and ask if I want to snap some photos of the Stingray-sleek Phenom before climbing aboard. Though compact – there’s room for four adults – my personal aircraft sports a pair of fat jet engines on the fuselage up near its tail and a rakishly sloping nose.

    “Aren’t we forgetting something?” I ask, while ducking inside.

    “What?” says Holley.

    “You know,” I say. “The whole security thing. Showing you my liquids and gels?”

    Holley just grins. “That’s for aircraft over 12,500 pounds. We’re about 2,000 pounds lighter than that.”

    “If you say so,” I reply.

    Once inside the Phenom’s luxury cocoon of leather seats, wood-grain side tables, and halogen lights, I am asked for my weight: 178 pounds. I am not sure if he’s kidding, but Holley tells me he routinely adds 10 to every passenger claim.

    We taxi past two FedEx planes. My weight must have passed muster since we are suddenly in acceleration. No delays here. As if the Phenom were a balsa glider, we are up and banking over Narragansett Bay.

    The Phenom has acres of legroom. I stick my feet up on a facing seat since no one else is aboard. I don’t see any barf bags, and the ceiling is free of plastic overhead bins. No flight attendant has forced me to put my briefcase away or turn off electronics.

    Once we’re up, I play with the plane’s XM Satellite Radio and my Bose noise-canceling headphones. Nice, but who needs them? There’s barely any in-flight roar.

    The mini-bar is right behind the open cockpit. I rummage through drawer after drawer. Grey Goose Vodka? Check. Bombay Sapphire Gin? Got that. I pour myself a single-malt Scotch, add some ice, then add another mini-bottle of Scotch.

    The rear of the Phenom hides a toilet (it’s topped with an upholstered seat) and there’s a cabinet jammed with snack boxes. Feeling magnanimous, I offer some Famous Amos cookies to the pilots. I am the boss up here. My wish is their command.

    Could I fly with a pet if I wanted? I could. Could I bring guests? That’s fine, too. Are there any rules at all? I begin to wonder . . .

    “Joe,” I say between bites of cookie. “Are we on a really tight schedule? Any chance of – a spin around the Manhattan skyline?”

    “Too close to landing,” Holley snaps. “Unlikely air traffic control is gonna go for that.”

    “I’m from New York,” I insist. “Just one flyover near my apartment building.”

    Holley sighs. He shakes his head and radios this in. In seconds, there’s a crackly sound from up front.

    “It’s a no,” Holley says. “Sorry.”

    In truth, I’m not that disappointed. I raise my Scotch and give a silent toast to the Phenom’s silver-and-white right wing.

    As we begin our descent, a ray of sun streaks out between banks of clouds. The part of Long Island we are flying over is orange. Now it’s gray again. Now it’s pinkish red. We are cleared for landing. The Phenom shudders, tips, and straightens, and settles into its downward swoop.

    I’ve held on to my drink. I still have my feet up.

    And in the distance, I can see my skyline after all.