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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.