If you were to imagine the perfect air travel experience, might it look something like this? I arrive at the airport 10 minutes before take-off. Hand my passport to a well-groomed man who sorts out the details while I sit down with a drink. Someone else takes care of my bags. I’ve got an open bottle of water and a laptop in my hand-carry, I inform him. “No problem sir,” he says with a smile. My passport is returned almost immediately, and I am invited to board. All within those 10 minutes since I arrived. The flight is straight out of a brochure. Plush leather seats that swivel and offer music and lighting controls for the cabin. Michelin star-worthy meals served on a white tablecloth, with silver cutlery and crystal wine glasses. Fasten seat belt signs that can be ignored. Zero commands to switch off my phone. A TV room with three-seater couch, a double bedroom, and a smooth, quiet ride that allows for easy cloud-gazing as well as idle chatter. This kind of premium travel has been available for years, but it is catching on, and while still unaffordable to most, it’s no longer the domain only of the billionaire jet owner . Membership services make this kind of A-list air travel an increasingly accessible option for the world’s business traveller, according to Ian Moore, chief commercial officer for Vista Global. Its VistaJet membership service offers access to a fleet of aircraft around the world , ready to fly within 24 hours notice from and to pretty much anywhere. Members buy, for example, 100 hours of flying for a year, and can then call on VistaJet whenever they need. “Our competition is aircraft ownership,” says Moore. “Ten years ago we had just 20 aircraft, now we have 350, and our market share is less than 5 per cent compared to private ownership – so the potential is huge.” 52 trips in 3 months: should Lionel Messi cut down his private jet travel? The pandemic has helped. As commercial air travel options became limited, the private option surged. Businesspeople who need to be places, fast, could pay US$75 million to buy a Bombardier Global 7500 plane (and around US$4 million per year for maintenance), or just sign up with a membership business and save time, money and hassle. VistaJet, that just bought 18 of those same 7500s, charges US$25,000 per flying hour for that option. And there are other operators too. While VistaJet owns most of its aircraft, other businesses have emerged that don’t own any. Jettly was founded in 2016 and offers something akin to Uber for planes: a website and app that allows you to charter someone else’s plane as easily as booking a hotel, with more than 23,000 registered aircraft available in 190 countries and territories. “Going back to commercial travel is extremely difficult once you’ve flown and experienced private flights,” says Justin Crabbe, Jettly’s CEO. “During the pandemic, we experienced a 67 per cent growth in new first-time private fliers. The benefits over outright ownership are quite clear – no ownership costs, no capital expenditures, no storage, no maintenance, no depreciation, no interest on loans, no minimum hours to maintain aircraft manufacturer warranties and no management of crews.” Living like a king: how did Elvis Presley spend his millions? But it’s still not cheap. “US$5 million liquid personal wealth and US$25 million revenue for corporate is typically when private flight becomes economical for our users,” adds Crabbe. Flights on the Jettly service range from US$3,500 per hour for a six-seat turboprop, to US$12,000 per hour for a 16-seat heavy jet, though none of this goes to Jettly – which earns its revenue through monthly membership fees. NetJets, FlexJet, Magellan Jets, Asia Jet and Empyrean Card are just some of the other businesses serving this jet set who prefer air travel without the trauma and hassle of airport security checks and zero legroom. And despite competing with the ownership market, jet makers themselves think these services are complementary. “There is certainly room for everyone,” says Mark Masluch, senior director, communications at Bombardier, which has provided jets to NetJets and VistaJet for decades. “The fleet operators facilitate access to business jets by providing different options. In that sense, our fleet customers represent a strategic partner in showcasing our products to a larger audience.” Inside Bling Empire star Mimi Morris’ crazy rich life Ownership will still make sense if you fly 200 hours a year, say. And then, when not flying, you can recover some of that cost by offering your planes on Jettly when they would otherwise be sitting idle. The sustainability question is still one that private flight operators need to answer, and one VistaJet takes seriously. It has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2025, and published a white paper this year titled “A 2022 Action Handbook for Change in Business Aviation” that outlined some of the things aviators can do to reduce or at least offset their climate impact, including using more sustainable fuel, auditing greenhouse gas emissions and investing in climate action projects. “We want to be a part of this,” says Moore. “We do carbon offsetting, we use sustainable fuel, tech efficiency helps us to reduce ferry times between ports, and we’re more efficient. We’ll be carbon neutral by 2025, and we deal with sustainable partners whenever possible.” Back on board, I land, disembark and would have been in a taxi on the way home within 15 minutes if not for Hong Kong’s Covid-hangover in-airport testing procedure. Sadly, even the most premium private jet service can’t yet sidestep such bureaucratic inconveniences. Want more stories like this? Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .