The lifeline of any high-end luxury business is how well guest services are both offered and conducted. Service for any affluent population is about quiet, unobtrusive, anticipatory service - the norm in any high-end private home or estate.
But on a private jet, exceptional customer service takes on a distinctive face as it has temporal boundaries: limited time, space restraints, and possible weather issues. This makes customer wellbeing in the private jet industry more complex yet more needful than in other hospitality sectors.
As private jet executives consider the post-pandemic journey as a whole, their thoughts are to make the customer feel the greatest degree of comfort, that include feeling safe, cared for, attended to, so that both want and need of the traveler are realized and valued. This is accomplished in a variety of ways.
The very nature of private aviation means that it starts out with inherent service advantages when compared to commercial flights. Passengers can typically arrive just 15-20 minutes before a flight departure time, and in some locations can drive right up to the aircraft, or at least park right by the terminal. Most flights leave from private terminals (known as Fixed Base Operators, or FBOs), which are much quieter and more private than busy commercial terminals. When you walk through the door of the terminal you are usually greeted by a receptionist, who can help with any questions or directions. On the plane, any custom catering you ordered will be ready and waiting for you. These are just some of the things that make a world of difference.
The SherpaReport recently interviewed CEOs and CMOs of several private jet companies, and discussed their luxury extended guest service provisions.
Christof Pignet – Jet Linx.
Christof Pignet is the VP of Client Experience at Jet Linx, a position he has held since March of 2021. His background is not in flying, but in high end hotel management, and because he has been a General Manager in UHNW (Ultra-High Net Worth) hotel management and understands the needs and wants of the UHNW demographic, he also understands how emotional intelligence can engender loyalty among high end flying passengers.
At Jet Linx, every member (approx. 550) of the company participates in ongoing “Service of Excellence” training. Jet Linx says “This empowerment at all levels fosters more engaging communication with clients to provide intuitive service and surprise and delight opportunities.”
SherpaReport: What primary client experiences have you had in the luxury hospitality field that you have transferred to Jet Linx?
Mr. Pignet: It is not as difficult as you think, because the needs and wants of the UHNW hotel client has many of the same expectations as the UHNW private aviation client. So, my experience in luxury hotel hospitality was a smooth transition to Jet Linx hospitality. We elevate the overall experience – whether it be flying or staying in a hotel, in whatever way possible, knowing our client’s time is their most valuable commodity. And, in knowing this, we have created the Elevated Lifestyle Experience.
SherpaReport: Please talk a little about Jet Linx’s Elevated Lifestyle Client Benefits program, and how that fits into the luxury dimension of the Jet Linx brand.
Mr. Pignet: Jet Linx Elevated Lifestyle (EL) program is a luxury assortment of offers from our network of partners in travel, transportation, cuisine, golf, health and wellness, and fashion to elevate the lifestyle of our traveling guests. We do this by curating unique journeys and experiences tailored to the Jet Linx guest interest. We also have the Elevated Lifestyle Preferred Hotels Program, with wellness programs and resorts in our portfolio. Generally, whatever trip experience the jet card member or aircraft owner wishes to have, Jet Linx can make happen.
But even before the Jet Linx trip commences, our private terminal location facilities all feature secure entry, and are accessible only to Jet Linx clients and their guests. Our clients arrive 15 minutes before the flight, go through the private terminal, and board the awaiting private jet.
SherpaReport: Has there been a specific time when going out of your way for a UHNW client has reaped unexpected results?
Mr. Pignet: Yes. Because I have been a luxury hotelier for many years, I was always aware of being there for the hotel gusts, attending to their need and interests. But a few years ago, I was saying goodbye to a family who was staying at luxury hotel I managed, and I gave their young sons a shiny red plastic coin with an A clover (which we used internally to reward team members who could turn it into cash). They took it, thanked me, and I said if you come back, I will take you both for ice cream. A year later the family indeed returned, and the mother told me, the family wanted to go to Turks and Caicos, but their sons remembered the coin, and wanted to come back here instead. It was so surprising, yet understandable. It was a kind of emotional intelligence lesson I knew, but needed to remember: I connected with this child on a non-verbal, yet memorable level. A similar factor should be done with any private aviation guest service – allowing the guests to remember you see and know them, and care for them. These aptitudes combine empathy and hospitality, a memorable combination.
Garrett Seiple – Magellan Jets
Garrett Seiple is the CMO of Magellan Jets, a private aviation company that has decades of experience offering jet cards, memberships and private charters.
SherpaReport: In terms of the whole length of the journey - arrive at the FBO, departure and landing/arrival, what does Magellan do that creates worth and remembrance in its services provision?
Mr. Seiple: With private aviation, arriving at an FBO is a similar experience almost everywhere – it is a level playing field so we always work at providing the best assets, from our most trusted partners. If you need a limo service to and from, we do that, if you would like a meal on the plane, just let us know: we use Air Culinaire, an inflight catering service.
SherpaReport: Which of the services does the traveling guests generally appreciate most, in terms of feedback?
Mr. Seiple: Probably, and this seems like such a small thing, we often write hand-written thank you notes, for having them fly with us, or, if for any chance our plane is delayed, we text or call immediately. We pride ourselves on how well the flying guests are cared for. This is due to our Guest Experience Team - they discover guest preferences long before the guest ever gets on the plane. This includes food allergies, sensory needs, auditory preferences.
A perfect example of this dedication to our clients and their families, is our popular College Tours 15-Hour Jet Card.
Booking college tours through Magellan Jets allows families to, first, tell Magellan which colleges the family would like to visit, and then, our flight support team will curate a seamless trip with an itinerary based on schools’ tour dates. We arrange all pickup and drop-off car services, but Magellan also works with the college admissions consulting firm, Top Tier Admissions, who provides further preferred college information, and can also provide a private “college concierge” onboard to accompany the student on their tours.
SherpaReport: Explain, if possible, the importance of Magellan service provision and how it relates to brand identity?
Mr. Seiple: Our service provision is the backbone of our brand. The Guest Experience team is trained to anticipate the needs of the guest, and essentially, during their time with us from entering the FBO to exiting the plane. We hope our guests feel, during the Magellan flying time, they have lived well - no stress - both calming and energizing.
Kimberly Herrell, Co-Owner and CEO, Schubach Aviation
Ms. Herrell is CEO and Co-Owner of Schubach Aviation, one of the few women leaders in the private aviation field. She started at Schubach in sales, before becoming CEO. Her ideas have garnered more business, as well as the purchase of new planes within the past few years. She also has introduced celebrity chefs who provide gourmet meals on Schubach flights, along with customized travel experiences with their Private Access programs. In a recent interview, Ms. Herrell said, “To me private jets are like a portal to adventure. They make the world so much smaller.”
SherpaReport: How does the meaning of Schubach customer service go beyond what the public is used to? What does Schubach do that has created and continues to create worth and meaningfulness in its service provision?
Ms. Herrell: We have recently partnered with Waverly, an awards-winning Cardiff-by-the-Sea restaurant, to offer an elevated menu of in-flight dine-and-drink options, by awards-winning Chef Brian Redzikowski. This restaurant has been featured in Travel + Leisure and Architectural Digest, and has created a curated menu for us, for take-off, flying and landing.
Th menu, in general, has cold plates, and some must be ordered – approximately a day prior to flying due to their preparation, yet our flying guests are happily surprised by the new tastes and great service.
SherpaReport: What is the Schubach Private Access program, introduced in 2020?
Ms. Herrell: This program is a collection of travel opportunities and adventures - we started it in 2020, where we did a full day travel experience - out in the AM, and home in the evening. It was so popular we expanded it into multi-night stays in great partner hotels - some of those we offered were shopping at Crystals in Las Vegas, driving a Lambo at the Thermal Club, wine tastings in Napa. Our Private Access program is offered upon request or on specific dates.
SherpaReport: Are you planning to add services that are not in the overall picture now? If so, what are they?
Ms. Herrell: Yes, we now have our Miles That Matter initiative. It is Schubach Aviation's charitable giving program that encompasses the jet charter operator's annual donation-per-mile campaign, which donates one cent per mile flown on the company's charter flights each year, to a local non-profit organization. In addition, Schubach flying clients have the option to match. Past recipients have included Monarch School, Immunotherapy Foundation, and Helen Woodward Animal Center.
Schubach has a long-standing commitment to philanthropy, supporting San Diego-based charitable causes, including Promises2Kids, Shelter to Soldier, and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, by way of contributions, events, and more. This has also included facilitating post-Hurricane Maria (2017) evacuation efforts in Puerto Rico and hosting high school aged foster youth at Schubach Aviation - to introduce them to career opportunities available to them in the private aviation industry. All this shows that philanthropy is an active part of our DNA.
SherpaReport: Recent research has said that the benchmarks of luxury products are scarcity, craftsmanship, legacy and worth. Please talk a little about the concept of legacy and worth as regards your experience in how it may work with the SCHUBACH mission and vision.
Ms. Herrell: Our vision deals with all these, but the concepts of legacy and worth are especially meaningful. Henry Schubach, the founder of Schubach Aviation was such a person, believing that private aviation was the way of the future, especially as he knew how crowded and often stressful commercial aviation was becoming. He wanted to create an easier, more pleasant, more memorable, more worthwhile way to travel and he did just that. He also wanted to give back to the community, and discovered a way to fly more comfortably, while giving back to the community he served.
Andrew Collins – President and CEO, Sentient Jet
As the President and CEO of Sentient Jet, Mr. Collins is responsible for a multi-million dollar aviation business that has flourished over the last few years. Under his leadership, the company has benefited from both a digital and business model transformation, in addition to an organizational restructuring. He has helped reposition the brand, integrate a full suite of retail and wholesale technology applications, and double Jet Card sales.
SherpaReport: The meaning of the word Sentient may define a subtextual understanding of what the UHNW needs and wants are of the Sentient guest - that the company understands such affective things before the guest even does. Can you explain some of the high-end service elements that Sentient does to make the guest understand that his or her needs will be well cared for?
Mr. Collins: Definitely, we pride ourselves on anticipating our customers’ evolving needs and rolling out programming and booking tools based on their flying habits. For example, we invested in a multi-million dollar sustainability program at no cost to our customers as we know this is an important area of consideration for our clientele.
With all industries becoming more digitally accessible, we also saw an opportunity to differentiate, and continue to innovate in the digital space with our newest innovation, automated text-to-book. With this digital advancement, card owners have quoting and booking capabilities via text, and interfaces directly with a complex proprietary system, alleviating the need for human contact entirely. With user-authenticated, automated, Artificial Intelligence-like interaction, internal and external users can quote and book a flight in less than 60 seconds.
We also offer an unparalleled safety program, as well as exclusive partner benefits for our Jet Card Owners including access to first-class destinations and residence clubs, one-of-a-kind experiences, premium retailers, and more.
SherpaReport: There are three essential parts to the guest journey: the arrival, the air journey, the departure from the plane. What Sentient Jet services in those areas would you consider competitive differentiators from other private jet companies in the field?
Mr. Collins: We would say the journey starts even earlier - during the booking process, which we have aimed to streamline as much as possible for our clients. Sentient Jet first launched its mobile app in 2016, allowing card holders to book private jet travel on-demand. A private aviation industry first, our new auto text-to-book allows card owners to book travel to and from anywhere in the world from the messaging application on their smartphone. Once guests arrive for their flight, our team is committed to making the experience the best it can possibly be, both on and off the ground. Supported by an extensive 24/7 customer service operation, Sentient Jet is dedicated to delivering truly personalized service.
It is important to note that each aspect of the client’s journey is also individually Certified by Sentient Jet. Beyond the aircraft, crew, at 24 hours prior to your flight, a dedicated team is working to review all aspects of the client journey to ensure a seamless end-to-end experience. Sixty minutes prior to departure time, Sentient also conducts a Pre-Flight Check via phone with the flight crew or dispatch, reviewing all details of the flight and monitoring safety conditions, aircraft disinfection, and more.
SherpaReport: What Sentient services have you received the most positive feedback on? In other words, which elements of the Sentient journeys have you received the most positive compliments?
Mr. Collins: In 2021, Sentient Jet launched a unique and industry-leading sustainability program that offsets 300% of the flight emissions on each and every customer flight at no additional cost to the traveler. Sentient Jet is now set to surpass its notable sustainability efforts in 2022, having offset 291,630 metric tons of CO2 (up 17% from this time last year) at the half year mark. This multi-million-dollar investment continues to set new industry standards while offering a more thoughtful way to fly, which we know our customers appreciate as sustainability continues to be top of mind for the industry at large and beyond.
Lastly, we know how important safety is for our customers, and we strive to provide our Card Owners a high-touch private aviation experience that promotes safety, security and ease of mind. Working with only the very best operators, we have invested millions of dollars in our service and safety infrastructure. We have established a safety program that is one of the most stringent in the private aviation industry.
SherpaReport: In another 5 years, how do you see Sentient changing in the way it deals with the flying public? Might you add more services? Do you see, for example, more of the public flying privately? If so, how might you handle larger groups?
Mr. Collins: For nearly 25 years, Sentient has been a pioneer in private aviation - and we aim to stay at the forefront of the category by continuing to innovate for our customers. We believe people deserve a better way to book and fly private, and have developed a premium, yet practical, flying experience in order to be more accessible to the public.
The auto text-to-book innovation is a turning point in the company’s digital journey and across the industry as it provides card owners an even more straightforward way to transact. With record demand across the private aviation sector, Sentient Jet continues to prioritize the booking journey for its Cardholders. In looking at the next 5 years, we are big believers in the future of “Text-based Commerce” and are working to pave the way to introduce more AI-like interactions into the travel industry. This new way of booking is a real innovation in an already incredibly dynamic and complex market. Sentient Jet is streamlining the process in such a way that it puts the control in the users’ hands.
If you are interested in the broad array of reasons that people fly privately, in addition to the service levels, read this earlier article on “Reasons to use Private Jet Travel.”