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Airline startup spreading wings in Texas

by Bloomberg | September 29, 2021 at 1:54 a.m.

A tiny startup is expanding its semi-private flight services in Texas, an incursion on the home turf of industry behemoth Southwest Airlines that targets business travelers in three of the state's largest cities.

JSX started service to Austin, Texas, from Dallas Love Field on Monday while doubling its Houston service to four daily flights. The carrier boards at the same areas as private-jet operators, bypassing congested main terminals and time-consuming security lines. Its Texas fares begin at $129 each way and rise based on demand, but typically remain under $400.

The business caters to wealthy urbanites who want something better than the cattle-car experience of major airlines but can't afford the opulence of a private jet. JSX is one of several startups looking to fill that gap in the market.

Aero Technologies Inc., a San Francisco startup from Uber Technologies Inc. co-founder Garrett Camp, sells jet flights in the U.S. to leisure destinations such as Las Vegas and Aspen, Colo., and in Europe from cities such as London and Nice, France. From Los Angeles, Aero charges $950 for flights to Las Vegas and $1,600 to Aspen. Blade Urban Air Mobility Inc., which began in 2014 to shuttle affluent New Yorkers between the city and the Hamptons by helicopter, has expanded to sell flights to Aspen from New York and Los Angeles, as well as between New York and south Florida.

Alex Wilcox, JSX's chief executive officer, said big airlines like Southwest aren't likely to respond to his company's move, as they serve a different customer base.

"They lose more people to the freeways every hour than they're ever going to lose to us," said Wilcox, a former executive at JetBlue Airways Corp. and summer intern at Southwest during college. "We're 30 seats, we're a higher price point and I think a different customer."

Airport security protocols since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have eroded short-haul air travel in many markets, Wilcox said, as many people find driving is more convenient and requires roughly the same time commitment.

JSX, which has a fleet of 23 Embraer SA ERJ145 jets, pitches time savings and ample legroom. Its planes are configured to have 20 fewer seats than most airlines would have in that jet. Onboard, there's no Wi-Fi, but snacks and cocktails are complimentary. The airline uses Transportation Security Administration-approved thermal scanning security measures to process passengers as they check in for boarding.

Despite its perks, JSX faces hurdles in attracting some of the customers who can afford its fares. In particular, the airline's daily flight frequencies -- a paramount consideration for many business travelers -- are sparse compared with the big carriers.

"Southwest is, in essence, a shuttle and JSX is an appointment," said Henry Harteveldt, president of travel consulting firm Atmosphere Research Group. The upstarts like JSX and Aero can succeed because "they're able to segment the market," he said. "They're able to attract the person who wants something better than Southwest but can't afford to go truly private."

A Southwest spokesman, Dan Landson, declined to comment on rival companies but said "we welcome the competition as we compete against airlines and air carriers in every market we serve."

Dallas-based JSX formed as a private, on-demand charter service. In 2016, it began flying scheduled airline service, the same year JetBlue took a minority stake in the company. Qatar Airways also is an investor.

Print Headline: Airline startup spreading wings in Texas

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