It’s the closest thing to renting your own private plane and travellers won’t have to endure TSA-style airport security checks.
A start-up airline wants to take the hassle out of air travel for frequent flyers, by offering unlimited flights for a fixed monthly subscription fee.
Surf Air is gearing up to kick-start flights to and from regional US airports this summer – starting with short hops between Palo Alto, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles in California.
The airline recently began selling subscriptions to its “all-you-can-fly” shuttle service – which starts at $790 (£498) for unlimited flights and is limited to two reservations at a time.
Travellers can upgrade to hold up to six reservations at any time for $1490 (£940) and all members must initially sign up to a three-month contract, after which they pay on a monthly basis.
And as flights will depart from regional US airports, Surfair will take a different, TSA-compliant approach to security by running background checks of every customer who signs up.
Its founders, brothers, Wade and David Eyerly say they want Surf Air to be the “Netflix of private travel” – by offering frequent flyers a simplified flying experience, without the fees and charges that can catch out travellers on regular commercial flights.
Members will be able to change or cancel their bookings – including at short notice – without extra cost, they added.
But unlike all-you-can stream services like Netflix, the airline version won’t have mainstream appeal.
The subscription model will only appeal to those who travel regularly on the airline’s circuit and feel they can get their money’s worth from the service.
Customers on the airline’s radar will include business commuters and wealthy individuals with a holiday home near the four airports on the airline’s route map.
Surf Air will start up with two single engine turboprop aircraft that can shuttle just eight passengers at a time, bringing executive-style travel and comfort but limited seats to the market.
Membership has therefore been limited to 500 subscribers, initially.
The airline’s founders say they hope to expand service with other short routes in time – such as to Las Vegas, Palm Springs, San Diego and Sacramento.
Unlimited flights nothing new
The idea of paying upfront for unlimited flights is nothing new – and has in the past been offered by major airlines including Air Canada, JetBlue, Air India (on domestic flights), Sun Country Airlines and Brazil’s budget airline, Azul.
However, airlines have only taken the model so far, by offering unlimited passes for a limited time only.
Surf Air hopes it will be able to take the model to new heights.
While the venture still needs final approval from the FAA before it can get off the ground, whether the subscription model lasts the distance will depend on many factors.
Critics question if business travellers will be prepared to give up their frequent flyer miles earnt on traditional US carriers.
Other challenges include whether the airline’s flat monthly subscription charge will be enough to make the airline a profit – against a backdrop of volatile oil prices and high operating costs on its small aircraft.
And it remains to be seen if travellers will pay up and not travel as much as they think they will, or whether demand for seats will outstrip supply.
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