🎵 Cuanto le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta… 🎵
It was late 2020 or early 2021, and I was picking up my mom—a WN (Southwest) flight attendant—from work at Hobby Airport. I like to park in the cell phone lot and track the incoming arrivals on FlightRadar24, and I saw this white Embraer Regional Jet coming in under the banner “JetSuite X.” This is Texas—namely Houston—so I just knew it was some wealthy exec or a corporation, at least a medical flight.
It’s an airline.
Intrigued with more cash to burn than ever, I Googled this mysterious carrier with the intent to try them out as soon as I got my vaccines. Several months later, I anxiously booked my first JSX flight: Houston-Hobby to Dallas Love Field.
I’m an avgeek—a aviation fan, specifically commercial aviation; I could probably tell a 737-700 from a -300 just by smell (no, seriously). A Southwest lifer, I’ve been flying religiously since I was eleven years old, but now I can afford to venture out to new airlines and planes. JSX was my first target.
Formerly JetSuite X, JSX is a semi-private airline offering “hop-on” business-class service. A cousin of JetBlue, JSX is a public charter aiming to restore the luxury and exclusivity of air travel at a reasonable cost—in my case, $99 each way from Houston-Hobby to Love Field, their home base. As part of their luxury service, the airline is also partnered with GoRentals for high-end rental cars, and operates out of hangars with specialized lounges for their passengers. The more I learned about JSX, the more hype I got. I booked my ticket under a giant rainbow in the afternoon sky. A lightning-fast email exchange with Jessica G. in customer support answered all the questions I had about their check-in and COVID policies, and one month in advance, my ticket was booked.
So I’m excited about what I’ve learned, I have high hopes from what I’ve read on social media…but JSX can’t be that good?
I booked my flight a little over a month before my departure date; flights get more expensive within that timeframe, so I had to make a move. I forwent the GoRental in favor of Uber and Lyft, since I’ve never done a rideshare before. The booking process was about as simple as any other airline, if not more, and I went ahead and downloaded the app to keep track. This is where their “hop on” mantra comes in.
JSX is almost exclusively mobile—not strictly mobile, but their easy-to-use app is the foundation for their business model. The airline uses a fleet of Embraer Regional Jets, retrofitted to accommodate plugs for your devices, as well as very comfortable seating with a staggering 3 feet of legroom. ERJs seat three abreast, with two seats one side of the aisle, and one on the other. Only accommodating 30 passengers per aircraft, JSX removed that second-most row for the ships used within Texas, in favor of cup holders. Each row, for all intents and purposes, has its own window.
Back to the “hop on” service—24 hours before my flight, I was able to check in through the app so that once I arrive at the hangar, I only need to flash my ID and let them swab my belongings. Their most basic tickets allow two free checked bags at no more than 50 pounds apiece. I was parked in my driveway when JSX notified me that it was time to check in. I did, and just as I hoped, I got a seat with the cup holders. YES!!!
Dressed to the nines in black and grey, I took up the valet service to get the full experience. JSX operates out of private hangars—also called “fixed base operators” or FBOs—offering valet at most of their destinations. For Houston, it’s $35 per calendar day. Located on Nelms St. on the eastern side of Hobby Airport, you simply follow the red feather flags into their hangar, driving around a set of cones into the fairly tight space. There, you either give your information to the valet, or have your rideshare drop you off.
“Welcome to JSX!”
The entrance to JSX Houston is really modest—basically a patio table and a door with what looked like two trash bins or planters on either side. Tugging on my too-small blazer, I walked in and gave one desk agent my ID, while the other swabbed my luggage with some sort of white strip. I couldn’t keep my laptop in my suitcase because of the battery, so they graciously gave me a JSX tote bag to put it in.
“May I see your driver’s license please? […] Thank you. I’m just going to swipe your things for security purposes.”
“We also require masks inside the terminal and onto the aircraft.”
“Do you have any hazardous materials inside your bag or on your person?
“Any COVID symptoms in the last 14 days?”
“Okay, you’re all set. We have coffee inside this room; restrooms are down the hall to the right.”
“Thank you so much.”
For the purposes of this blog, I wanted to get to the terminal as early as possible, but within reason; you don’t really need to show up any later than 20 minutes before your flight, due to the check-in process I just mentioned. But I got there roughly 45 minutes before our scheduled 4 P.M. departure, with another three passengers waiting. I checked in to my return flight during this time.
When you enter JSX Houston, the terminal is basically a small airport lounge. There are bay windows to your right overlooking the airfield, and a glass booth with pub seating and a large coffee station to your left. Restrooms are down the adjacent hallway, with the reservation desk and hangar exit straight ahead.
Masked, I watched these 6-foot-plus businessmen come in one by one—some doing valet, and others via rideshare. Ironically I was a tad overdressed, but nary a track suit, nor propaganda, nor silk bonnet or durag to be found…
A few people came in through another entrance, to which they were politely asked to go back out the main door with their belongings and come back in. Remember those trash can things I mentioned earlier? Those are scanners, part of their enhanced security process (think “fast-motion TSA”). Though our flight was delayed half an hour due to the monstrous weather between Dallas and Houston, everyone remained patient, tapping their feet and clicking on their phones…or in my case, staring out the window like an anxious puppy.
It’s now a little after 4:00 P.M., and our plane has arrived: ship N243JX, an ERJ-145. The plane taxied up to the hangar like a winged Uber, as the ground crew carefully unloaded the handful of luggage and lined them up at the base of the airstairs. The incoming passengers filed through the lobby one by one, some running into friends on the way out, and after a few minutes, it was our turn to hop on.
As we patiently exited the lobby, we scanned our boarding documents just like any other airline—most of us on our phones, some of us in the form of a receipt. But then we followed red stanchions like a VIP event up the airstairs and onto our aircraft.
Our flight attendant for the day was Deanna.
I had never flown anything smaller than an MD-80, and that was two decades ago at age 12. At 5-foot-10, I still had to crouch down as I made my way to seat 8, clearly marked on the starboard side where the overhead bins usually are; JSX removed them for additional headroom. The plane made a U-turn from the hangar to the taxiway at around 4:30 P.M. as Deanna did her safety demo alongside a P.A. recording. We sat on the ground awaiting clearance—weather—and by 4:45, we were off; it was raining for my vacay—a wish granted. We hit turbulence during the climb, but ultimately Deanna provided the first of a few services on the extended flight.
I, my drink and my curiosity sat 20,000 feet in the air in a luxury airliner whose livery resembles Braniff’s—their brand WAS luxury—flying into the home airport of both airlines. A Millennial on edge, I knocked back my Wild Turkey and Coca-Cola as the ultimate calming agent. We were assigned an alternate route due to a storm system, touching down in Dallas after a little over an hour.
“Y’all don’t want to get off? You can stick around for the next trip, if you like,” Deanna joked. Though I was tempted, my bag was waiting for me under the breezeway in pristine condition. From there, I proceeded to order my very first Uber, to bring me to my very first Airbnb.
Look, this trip was strictly a mental health vacay. Between flights, I did nothing but eat Chinese in my room, watching swing music on Pandora TV. My life this is Vroom commercial, and JSX had a huge hand in giving me the peace of mind I’ve never really had. Ever. And even just for my mental health, this has been the best $300 (plane ticket + Airbnb) that I’ve ever spent in my life.
While I just learned about JSX, certain people KNOW JSX. Just before departure, another guest was explaining the airline on the phone, “$99! I know, right?” Now, you can’t expect an insanely quiet cabin on a rear-engine jet. But the overall five-star experience throws all of that out the window. That’s the operative word here: the JSX experience.
I’m an old-school traveler, so I have high expectations. Considering what I’m accustomed to in air travel, which is nothing like the horror stories of today, JSX has managed to restore the luxury and borderline exclusivity of the medium, while being awesomely approachable and modern…while also making me feel guilty about having such a secret weapon in my travel arsenal. As I left my barber the day before my flight out, I got an email about some REALLY big expansions for the growing airline: two additional daily flights between Houston and the Dallas headquarters, as well as new service from Dallas to Austin. I sent him my referral code for $20 off his first flight.
In summary, JSX is that good—100% “that airline.” You’ll almost feel guilty about how smoothly everything flows, knowing that you’re probably taxiing past dueling passengers or a hurt flight attendant…
In the current, as I sit here in seat 6 for flight back home to Houston, I long for the days of my youth when flying was a luxury. But thanks to “low” oil prices and fuel-efficient jets, the airlines are able to offer tickets cheaper than ever. Unfortunately, that’s allowed more people to take part in this formerly sacred means of travel. Even American Airlines’ own CEO acknowledges it. But JSX has changed the game—its current years reminding me of the origins of Southwest. Maybe I shouldn’t have written this blog, so JSX could remain a dirty little secret. The egoist me wanted to keep such a goldmine under wraps, but the egotist in me had to brag; I couldn’t help but share my excitement start to finish. I’ll admit that I’ve taken a personal interest in the company and want to follow them closely. My only request is that they open up an online store so we can, you know, flex JSX.
My flight home was scheduled for the same N243JX, but the cabin wouldn’t cool and we were moved to neighboring ship N260JX, an ERJ-135, within minutes and without a peep of compaint from other passengers. As for the valet service, I received a digital ticket via text the day of my flight out, followed by receipts via text and email before my flight home the next day. I simply presented it to Erian, the valet, paid the $35 daily fee via card reader, and my truck was driven to me from the safety of a nearby canopy.
So I raise a glass to BIGSTRIPE. I think I’ll blog about the unfriendly skies next…if I actually have the energy for that…
Special thanks to flight attendants Deanna and Christi, as well as the entire #BIGSTRIPE team for a game changing Xperience.
Special thanks to Captain Lance Lockhart of Wyldebyrd Art on Etsy.