As Flexjet looks to transition to a publicly traded company through a SPAC merger this year, it is focusing on providing high-quality service and an eye-catching cabin design that aims to differentiate aircraft interiors from the browns and beiges typical of private jets.
While the Cleveland-based fractional operator has been working hard to put an end to ordinary aircraft since unveiling its LXi cabin collection in 2015 and its dedicated Red Label crew service, its latest cabin design was unveiled at this week’s customer event at Opa, Miami Airport Locka Executive i Forbes was invited to watch.
The ultra-long-range Gulfstream G650, which costs around $75 million (the controller lists a used 2021 version for $61 million), can fly up to 16 hours non-stop. Last September, Flexjet registered its first vehicle of this type in Europe as it ramps up its international expansion beyond its US base. Currently selling to Middle Eastern customers.
The latest project is part of The Bacalar Project, a partnership with high-end carmaker Bentley, and includes one of its Sikorsky S-76 helicopters.
You can tell the Bacalar G650 apart from its silver and green Julep strap instead of the standard red and gold. There are several configurations inside. The Bacalar version has a forward galley, crew rest area and toilet. There are then typical four club seats facing each other in a 1-on-1 configuration.
At mealtimes, the conference table can be folded down to reveal a hidden two-seater sofa, allowing up to six guests to sit at the table. To the rear is a separate cabin with a couch that converts to a full-size bed, a club chair and a 42-inch flat screen TV.
Behind the owners/entertainment area is the main toilet and behind this cabin is access to the luggage room.
Although the design was inspired by Bentley, all materials must meet safety requirements. The press release reads: “The 5,000-year-old reclaimed river wood that makes up the handcrafted Bacalar veneer inspired the matching grades of wood veneer used on both aircraft. Satin Bacalar bronze fittings adorn the cabins, as well as a unique carpet carved with diamonds.
However, the latest interior is just the beginning of Flexjet’s plans to take the service level to an even higher level, says Megan Wolf, Chief Experience Officer.
After leaving his role as chief operating officer in September, Wolf, a 20-year veteran of the company, is tasked with diversifying Flexjet’s experience.
In addition to opening more own private terminals in key markets, locations in Bozeman, Miami, London and Scottsdale will be added to the current five locations; Flexjet raises the service factor in its large cabin and fleet for very long distances.
For example, VP, Owner Experience, Francesco Vanerio and Wolf reveal small tweaks such as classic European table preparation on board.
Vanerio, who was recruited by Flexjet CEO Kenn Ricci after the two met while he was working at Villa d’Este and where Ricci was a guest, says the idea was accidental.
After noticing that guests on a long flight seemed bored with the typical presentation of dishes that were pre-served in the kitchen, he decided to freelance and bring the ingredients for a fresh salad to the cabin, where he prepared a custom-made sauce and entertained the guests with his stylish presentation.
As the news got back to Ricci, he asked Wolf to figure out how Flexjet could improve his game, and now she and Vanerio are testing what is feasible when it comes to pushing the limits, allowing cabin crew to source ingredients from local suppliers to replenish earlier ordered catering.
“We’re starting by offering it as an option. You must read the room. If someone is busy with work, we will not disturb them. But on a long flight to Hawaii, it provides entertainment, a bit of theater,” she says.
Vanerio says customers especially like to see flight attendants make custom-made sauces with high-quality ingredients “instead of something that comes out of a container.”
Unlike airline stewards, who often rebel when asked to do more, Wolf says that’s not a problem at Flexjet. He says employees are excited to add new service elements. “It’s part of our passion for service.” Flexjet expects the current 76 stewards to more than double this year.
On the ground, expanded terminals give Flexjet a way to better build relationships with part-owners who spend millions of dollars to buy shares in planes, then millions of dollars a year to fly, says Wolf.
For example, during the holidays, gifts of Caviar Russe picnic baskets could be given to owners when they left or upon arrival. At its Naples location, which handles as many as 40 flights on busy days, it allows owners living there to store their cars seasonally in a weather-protected hangar.