GeekWire’s John Cook in Oakland speaking with Arrow founder Russell Belden as pilot Grant Spigener looks on

My first mistake in testing out Arrow — the new private jet club which unveiled plans today to run daily flights between Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area — was a simple one.

I got to the King County International Airport too early. Way too early.

The Avanti II on the tarmac in Seattle.

The flight was to depart at 8 a.m., so I left my house 50 minutes prior, knowing that in this case I wouldn’t have to deal with lines for security, parking or baggage claim. I thought that was a nice cushion. After all, for an 8 a.m. commercial flight out of Sea-Tac, I’d frantically depart the house at 6 a.m.

I pulled into the airport parking lot this morning a little before 7:30 a.m., and guess what?

After walking the 40 or so steps into the terminal, I was the first of the passengers to arrive.

A rookie mistake.

You see, I’m not accustomed to flying on private jets.

In fact, I am probably the most frugal of the GeekWire crew, eating leftover Vietnamese sandwiches for days on end after our last meetup (yes, the bread is rock hard, but they are still tasty) and driving my 21-year-old Honda to assignments around town.

So, from that vantage point, I am probably the most unlikely of characters to give the private jet concept a whirl. But when Arrow founder Russell Belden invited me along for the initial voyage, I thought, why not?

It was with some reluctance that I jumped on board the sleek Piaggio Avanti II, an Italian-built aircraft which is known as one of the fastest and most efficient turboprops on the market.

It wasn’t the plane itself (a friend and aviation geek had assured me that it was a fabulous airplane). And the fact that the Avanti II is used by the Ferrari racing team for their European travels made me feel even better. (Heck, if it’s good enough for Ferrari, right?)

However, years of calming my wife’s fear of flying has actually made me more wary of taking to the skies, a bit ironic since my brother is a Navy-trained pilot who flies for UPS.

With that fear in my backpocket, I jumped on board today’s flight, a 2-hour scheduled jaunt from Seattle’s Boeing Field to Oakland. Before we get to the flight itself, a little bit more on Arrow for those who missed my earlier story.

The membership-based jet club is looking to cater to busy professionals, many in the tech industry who routinely hop on first-class flights between San Francisco and Seattle. (You know, the folks most of us pass as we head back to our cramped seats in coach). With the Piaggio Avanti II flying at up to 463 miles per hour, Belden says that Arrow can shave a good two hours off the travel time between Seattle and Oakland/San Jose — when factoring in things such as parking and security lines at the big airports.

BizXchange founder Bob Bagga and Redapt CEO Rick Cantu enjoying the ride on Arrow.

Corporate memberships cost $500, with each company able to sign up five members. After a company designates members, each individual round-trip ticket between Seattle and Oakland/San Jose will cost $1,000. (More on the economics and business model in our previous story: “Meet Arrow: New private jet club looks to launch service between Seattle and Bay Area”).

Today’s flight was largely uneventful — which is kind of what you want when flying on a small aircraft.

The cabin was small, but not crowded for the six passengers who made the trip. Breakfast (two donuts, a croissant and a granola bar) were provided prior to take-off. And, since one reader asked, yes there is a small bathroom on board.

Then there was the noise — or should I say lack thereof. I’ve flown on turboprops before where you walk off the aircraft with a splitting headache because of the constant buzz of the propellers.

Rental cars on the tarmac ready to whisk passengers to their Bay Area destination.

In this case, the Avanti II’s propellers sit behind the wings, making for a quiet ride. The other passengers — BizXchange CEO Bob Bagga, Redapt CEO Rick Cantu, BuddyTV CEO Andy Liu and Colin Cook (a reporter for AirlineReporter who is no relation to me) — also commented on the “smoothness” of the flight and lack of noise.

The trip was also fast — clocking in with a 2:03 minute flight time. And that’s with a 70-knot headwind for a good chunk of the flight.

“We were going Mach .68 in a propeller-driven airplane burning 800 pounds per fuel an hour. That’s unbelievable,” said co-pilot Thomas Tilson, director of flight operations for Kenmore Air. On a clear day with no weather issues, Tilson said the plane could make the voyage in as little as 90 minutes.

I was a bit disappointed that this particular aircraft didn’t have the Wi-Fi system installed as I was really looking forward to posting on GeekWire at 30,000 feet. (Belden said they plan to install high-powered Wi-Fi on the planes once service arrives, perhaps as early as this summer).

In retrospect, it was probably a good thing that I couldn’t get online. After all, part of the Arrow experience is getting to know the other travelers. (Something you can’t do when cranking on deadline).

In the tight confines of a small plane, you can’t help but to get to know those next to you, especially when cruising in a private jet.

Seattle entrepreneur Andy Liu and Russell Belden of Arrow on the tarmac in Oakland

I talked Sounders with Redapt’s Cantu, and traded stories of raising three-year-old’s with Bagga. At just over two hours, the flight was just long enough to get to know people, but not to the point where you felt like you wanted to crack open your iPad or Kindle.

Liu, an investor in Arrow, said the community of folks flying on the Avanti II is as important as the service itself. Typically, the Seattle angel investor said that he’s steered away from any investments in the transportation sector.

But Arrow is different.

“I think there are folks that are flying back and forth from Seattle to San Francisco, and we can create a really nice community of tech folks, entrepreneurs and investors,” he said. “There are a lot of good conversations like we had today, and a lot of potential deals that could happen. Obviously, the other reason is that I like Russell, and I think it could actually work.”

After arriving in Oakland, we touched down smoothly under the direction of pilot Grant Spigener. A red carpet was rolled up to the door, and we jumped off.

As part of the Arrow experience, rental cars had been lined up on the tarmac. Folks loaded up, and took off.

Total travel time, from my doorstep in Seattle to Oakland was just over three hours. And remember, I could have easily trimmed another 20 minutes off the early part of my voyage.

Next time, I’ll roll like Andy Liu. He showed up five minutes before the flight took off.

Comments

  • Bill

    Interesting service. I will be curious to see how it does. $1,000 per ticket for a turboprop with no wifi currently is not cheap. Buying a round trip, last minute ticket on kayak tomorrow would cost $500 and for a few weeks from now would cost $200 if your schedule was more structured. Most of the people in first to SF/SJ seem to be upgrades not purchased tickets when I fly.

    The time savings on the flight seem minimal, particularly if you have TSA Pre-Check to get through security faster at the Seattle airport. But getting a rental car right when you get off the plane is a major savings, particularly if you can return it in the same way. Rental cars are the big time killer.

  • Guest

    Very cool! Between the cost savings, the improved proximity of Boeing Field over Sea-Tac, and the lack of slack-jawed families trundling themselves to theme parks, I think Arrow represents a major improvement over the drudgery of conventional commercial flights. I’ll definitely be taking a look at it.

  • Bill

    John, are they flying on a schedule? One of the advantages of going to and from SF is that there are a lot of options. Impossible to tell anything from their website on schedules and how regular it will be. Thanks!

    • Guest

      With a single aircraft, they can do three round trips a day assuming two hours flight time each way, 30 minute turns, and enough time left in the day to maintain the bird. That would mean one departure in each direction every 5 hours. So the schedule would have to be something like leave Seattle at 7am, noon, and 5pm, leave Oakland at 9:30am, 2:30pm, and 7:30pm. Four daily round trips would be a stretch goal, both in terms of necessary down time for the aircraft and a reasonable schedule for customers.

  • FreqFly

    John – How can this work with other similar attempts like SeaPort crashed and burned?

  • http://www.facebook.com/husting Patrick Husting

    I’m so jealous of you John. You are now a BIG TIMER! :o) Can I be on your flying friends list please?

    I met Russell at your GeekWire event the other week. Good guy and was selling me hard. Love that!

    P

  • http://twitter.com/cindybetty Cindy Engstrom

    Great recap. Arrow will be a big hit. Congrats and go Arrow! Count me in.

  • Frequent VX Flyer

    Any plans to add SFO? With so much tech in the city these days, I currently travel to SFO once or twice a month, and SJC maybe twice a year. It would also be great to have an Uber option in addition to rental cars. Parking in the city is no fun.

    The hard part for Arrow is going to be that with TSA Pre, on-board wifi, and Uber at both ends, I’m really only out-of-pocket for a total of about an hour. And VX MCS/First already has much of the same networkable crowd they are going after.

  • Pam Miller

    Go Arrow! Let’s have a reasonable commuter air service between Seattle and Cali.

  • Guest

    That’s pretty cool, but it’s not a jet.

  • StevenColby

    What happens in this business is never separated from fraud. Everyone may not be able to do business honestly. There are times when you need accuracy if does not want this happen. The Early Air Way

  • John

    I am currently a client of ElJet http://www.ellejet.com and love the service. I am curious how Arrow is doing now?

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