This summer I had the chance to try out OneJet from Pittsburgh to Louisville. I loved the service but had a lot of questions about the business and reached out to the CEO. I noticed that they had just begun service to Omaha and we discussed the market and that I had family there. He suggested I fly them on my next trip home and offered me a ride. This is the result of that trip home on OneJet.
I try to make it back to Omaha once every year but this year I had to just fly out for the weekend instead of really taking time as my wife did. I was flying solo so it was an easy travel day even with an odd connection in Milwaukee. Due to work commitments I spent the night in Milwaukee instead of connecting on a more convenient flight one after the other. As it stands I may still be the first ever connecting passenger on OneJet.
Since I had the time in Milwaukee, I met up with a friend. Brad and I both wrote for Upgrd many moons ago and while he is now at Travel Codex and I am here on LiveAndLetsFly we have stayed in touch and bounce ideas off each other from time-to-time. He and I were both in Milwaukee and met for dinner at a local tapas restaurant. It was great to catch up with a peer who appreciates the very first world problems frequent travelers encounter (this was prior to my horrible day of travel). He is also a Purdue fan and after their win over my Iowa Hawkeyes last night, this is likely the last time we will speak for a year.
What is there to say? There is one counter, one employee and frankly he was under worked. Checked bags are collected if you so choose. Again, an enthusiastic employee who genuinely loved the product and described how much he liked it when he took flights from Milwaukee to Pittsburgh for training. As they do in every airport they roll out the blue carpet and printing a boarding pass at either a kiosk or behind the counter takes less than a minute. Personally, I prefer to checkin with a human. How awkward to use a kiosk when someone is standing there and you might be one of a couple dozen interactions they have all day with customers?
Gate staff know all of the passengers names, especially when they are waiting on stragglers like myself, and greet everyone as they enter the boarding area. Passengers are offered bottles of Evian, snacks and magazines then asked to line up. Gate staff indicate that once boarding is ready to begin, anything larger than a laptop or small briefcase will be collected and placed in the hold – be sure to grab your laptop or whatever else you might need. Once they begin, the short 7-8 person procession (my flight was full at seven passengers) starts down the jetbridge at the end of which stairs descend to the tarmac. In the case of Milwaukee, the OneJet gates are at ground level and the walk to the plane is straight out.
Some tickets have assigned seats and some do not, my seat on three of my four flights with OneJet have faced forward in the center of the cabin however the rear-facing seats just outside the cockpit could be really fun if you craned your neck – it would be like riding in the jump seat (which this aircraft of course does not have).
There is an eighth seat on even the seven passenger aircraft, it’s the most exclusive seat on the plane in fact. The toilet looks more or less like a normal seat with couple of small exceptions: it had a door and a sink, the seat flips up to expose a loo underneath it, and lastly it faces perpendicular to the aircraft. Since some passengers do not have seat assignments I presume you might be able to decide to take this seat if the rest of the cabin does not object, though I will leave my time in closed-door suites for larger aircraft.
OneJet staff are all very enthusiastic about their product and why wouldn’t they be? They have 2-3 people serving 7-8 passengers per flight. No one is late from a connecting flight, no one is mad their upgrade didn’t clear, the passengers are for the most part happy to be there and that has to make work a lot easier. First Officers, responsible for the safety briefing in addition to their pilot duties, take the time to make sure you know what’s going on, where the safety equipment is and have time to look you in the eye.
One particular employee, Captain John Graff was instrumental in starting the carrier with CEO Matthew Maguire some two and a half years ago. He flies left seat and loves what he does and that means something in the way he approaches his job. Happy to greet passengers coming or going, his passion for the product and the brand is infectious.
In a previous post about the carrier I discussed the usefulness and more or less the business case for flying OneJet; I’m not going to rehash that. The OneJet boarding gate at Milwaukee Mitchell International is downstairs just after TSA PreCheck which is included on most tickets. These are commuter gates and they didn’t have any shops or restaurants so if you need to grab a coffee, do so before going downstairs.
I didn’t have time to make any stops because I got to the airport very, very late. OneJet advertises that you don’t have to be at the gate more than 10 minutes prior to departure and with PreCheck it really cuts down on useless airport sitting time. I pushed it to the limit the day before in Pittsburgh, backing into my parking space at 2:21 ahead of a 2:50 flight. I made it to the gate the day before at 2:40, boarding hadn’t yet begun.
For my flight to Omaha, I liked the idea of getting that pre-flight airport sitting time back in my hands so I pushed it a little bit. I stayed at an airport Hyatt Place that there is no need to review and arrived at the terminal at 8AM which would be pushing it for most airlines as boarding would start at 8:10 for an 8:40 flight. I was through security by 8:10 and getting my boots shined before my flight. I should have showed up later.
Brian Cohen, writer of The Gate on Boarding Area asked a question regarding OneJet’s use of terminals as opposed to boarding from the private side. Because their aircraft is small enough, the FAA doesn’t require TSA for OneJet. I asked the CEO, Matthew Maguire about this and he said there were two reasons they don’t fly from FBOs and skirt the TSA. The first is that they want to know that their passengers and their crew are safe and the TSA does that for them, but they also get to be a part of fuel cost pool with the other carriers when flying from the terminal.
The commercial reason they fly from terminals is pretty clear – it makes their business economical. I can see why you would want to avoid the TSA as a passenger, they are a pain to deal with and not very good at their job. But I don’t mind flying from the terminal for two reasons. First, it’s the only way this stays economical and keeps the service around and second, with TSA PreCheck it’s not really that big of a hassle to avoid, I am through security in about five minutes these days, there are other benefits to the terminal such as services, food and rental cars.
When I got to the gate there was an agent who mentioned the limited space on board for personal items and that I should grab key pieces now. I slid my laptop out and she rolled my luggage to the aircraft. No tossing, no slamming – just seven or eight bags to handle and a person treating them like they were her own. Revolutionary!
Boarding began without a PA announcement. In fact, an announcement over an intercom would have been not only overkill, but impersonal. The gate agent told one of the nearby passengers that it was time to board and as everyone started to get their coats and head for the door, you didn’t need an announcement – it’s not like they were going to leave you behind. I tucked my laptop into my coat and bundled up for the 30 ft walk from the terminal to the airplane – it was Milwaukee in November, reserve your judgement.
Like any other light or medium-sized private jet, you can’t stand up fully inside the aircraft, there is a kind of hunch-walking that you learn to quickly master as you make your way to whatever seat you like. There is no FA so the First Officer goes through the safety briefing. All passengers paid attention because few were familiar with this aircraft and because the pilot is walking you through the procedure and looking you in the eye.
“There are three beeps. One when we are at the runway and all phones need to be in airplane mode with your personal items secured, the second when the wifi comes on at 10,000 ft and lastly when we are descending and the wifi shuts off.”
The taxi out to the runway feels fast probably because we were so low to the ground. Everyone’s heads were on a swivel, but passengers were trying to play it cool. Sure, some had probably flown with OneJet or on a private plane before, but this was my fourth flight and I was still giddy as ever. The captain came to a complete stop on the runway, brought the engine power up, released the brakes to perform a short field take off and we shot out of a canon on the runway. Almost every passenger that could lean to see the view through the cockpit did so.
The flight was mostly smooth though we were fighting a headwind of 90-120+ MPH for most of the journey, bumps in a light jet are certainly noticeable but somehow don’t seem as dramatic as they do in a larger aircraft.
We were above the clouds for most of the journey and I pulled out a large shared tray table which the passenger across from me also used. The first bell came in and I connected to wifi. One of the passengers was having difficulty connecting because of “too many devices connected”, I quietly shut off my two phones using the wifi in addition to my laptop and suggested he try to reconnect again – he was then successful. It seems a little greedy but I had no idea there was a limitation on devices though it makes sense in retrospect. Wifi is included with the ticket, no passwords or logins required, just an open connection which is so refreshing. I worked for nearly a whole hour before we dropped back below 10,000 feet, the cornfields and country roads of Iowa now in plain view.
As we maneuvered into sequence for the approach passengers moved their heads around to get a view of the cockpit window. I was even able to grab a shaky view of the landing which I filmed (undoubtedly to the annoyance of my fellow passengers) as dropped over the runway and touched down in Omaha.
We taxied to the gate, a former Midwest Express hub gate, at Omaha Eppley Airfield and as a hometown guy there was some personal pride as we parked at the gate. Agents helped me with my bags despite my insistence to the contrary and one such agent asked me where I was coming from, and was surprised to hear that I was an Omahan for most of my life.
He opened the door, the very familiar terminal came into view as he said, “Welcome home.”
As I type some of this review from 33,000 ft I remember the joy of flying and others on my flight do too. Business people are flipping through paperwork and returning emails, but one passenger was absolutely captivated by the experience.
Samantha is traveling to Omaha for a business trip. She hadn’t heard of OneJet before, her ticket was booked by her employer. In the terminal I could tell she was both on my flight (it was a fully booked seven-seat Hawker 400) and excited for the flight but playing it cool. We made some small talk, then everyone boarded the plane, I got on last and sat next to Samantha for the flight, my seat was assigned, hers was the last available open – lucky her. Everyone was excited for takeoff, the cockpit door is open and you can see the plane charge down the runway, what’s not to like? But Samantha was staring out her window. She didn’t move the entire flight.
It’s easy to be annoyed by flying today. Flight attendants and passengers are constantly at odds, basic economy is meant to make the product worse so you will pay to avoid it – that’s a corrupt view of your customer base. Lower flight costs leads to lower flight service, airports are crowded because it’s cheaper than ever to fly and there are more flights than ever before. But for one hour and eleven minutes Samantha stared straight out the window and watched the world go by in utter joy and amazement. There’s a part of me that I saw again and wished to recapture. The joy of flying, of looking down on the clouds instead of up, an endless horizon, a silver sweeping wing defying gravity.
It certainly beat Southwest Airlines.
Do you plan on trying OneJet? What routes would work from your city that fit their model?