Keys to the Sky: A Conversation about Flying Private

Andrew Collins, CEO of jet card company Sentient Jet, talks about the lifestyle of flying private.

What we lost in speed when the Concorde flew into the great blue yonder in 2003 we seem to have made up for in comfort and convenience with today’s private-aviation options. In fact, private flying has become the Birkin bag of 21st-century travel—i.e., the most expensive and coveted accessory for worldly sophisticates. Recently, DEPARTURES sat down with Andrew Collins, president of Boston-based Sentient Jet, to talk about all things flying private.

If you could fly anywhere tomorrow, what plane would you pick? Hmm...it would depend on where I was going.

And the cost was not an issue? I really love the Challenger 300 and 350 in the super-midsize category.

Why? It can go coast to coast, is quiet, fast, and an elegant aircraft.

How many jets do you have at your disposal? Of the 7,000 aircraft available for charter worldwide, 4,000 reside in the United States, and of those, we’ve safety-certified fewer than 1,000. A lot of people will say they can give you access to 7,000 jets, but you don’t want that. You want someone who has done an audit.

What's the most commonly requested jet? Light and midsize jets, like the Hawker 400XP and Lear 60XR, in our preferred age category, which features models manufactured in or after 2000.

If a client wants to fly to the Kentucky Derby, what kind of jet would you put them on? A Cessna Citation XLS, which is a midsize jet with stand-up cabin room. We’ve been longtime supporters of the horse-racing community. At this year’s Kentucky Derby weekend, which takes place on May 5 and 6, we’ll be hosting a race-day breakfast with Bobby Flay, an avid horseman and Sentient Jet’s first official brand ambassador.

Do you do other sporting events too? We’re the official provider for NBA teams like the Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, and Orlando Magic. The ownership groups now are no longer single owners; they’re syndicated and they’re all private fliers, so they tend to have the team fly the same company the owners fly.

What do you see as the future of private aviation? Has everything that can be done been done? No. What you’re seeing us do now is investing heavily in technology. People are trying different things with different models—it’s like living in an R&D lab. This includes models like seat sharing and discounted flying and aggregating what we call empty legs. After being in this business for a while, we don’t rush into the technology game for that reason alone but make sure the innovation serves a practical purpose. We recently introduced an app that allows you to book a flight and receive a safety report, and lets you know if you’re near one of our partners. So it will say, “Hey, I see you’re by Aspen’s Little Nell hotel. Stop in for a drink.”

Is there a handmade experience in addition to a technological one? It seems like for the expense, your customer wants both. That is part of what we have to cater to. What we saw last summer with our mobile applications is that the customers who booked flights without speaking to anyone didn’t do it because we enabled it; they did it because they trust the company and know they have the option to pick up the phone.