Sidling up to the JSX semi-private jet terminal at Oakland International Airport, somewhere down a nondescript back road named after a famous female aviation pioneer who went missing long ago, I was excited at the promise of free snacks aboard a Christmas flight to SoCal. To my dismay, instead of fancy kettle corn, I was greeted by two Starbucks machines and some jars of pet treats in the lounge.
The promised luxury travel experience had already taken a nosedive. Turbulence is always expected when trying to escape San Francisco for the holidays, but I thought this experience would be different. Thankfully, Nick the Greek was just 20 minutes away via Uber Eats.
Perhaps I was mistaken, or simply overenthusiastic, but I hoped that when flying JSX, a sexy “public charter jet service” that began in 2016 under a slightly different name and flies from Oakland to Burbank and other destinations such as Cabo and the Bahamas from select airports, I’d be greeted with a full-service bar and jovial waiters in black tie prancing about the lounge offering canapés, all while I sipped a giant gin and tonic from a massage chair.
The reality was somewhat more pedestrian: Classical music played slightly too loud, but not loud enough to drown out an incessant whirring noise. I was still at the airport, I suppose.
Still, the security experience was a breeze! I turned over my ID and, as thrilling voyages into the unknown frequently begin, endured a lightly invasive examination of my personal belongings in the form of a swabbing. The swabs were run through a machine, but there was no X-ray of bags or people. When boarding the flight, we had to hold our electronics in our hands—and that was the entire security process.
In spite of the warp-speed security, a JSX representative told The Standard the airline has a flawless safety record.
At least one passenger showed up at the terminal just 20 minutes before the flight took off for Burbank and was able to check in without incident and board with enough time to brew a robotic coffee in the lounge. Almost everyone had a dog. We had a cat. Said cat did not seem to mind being slid under the seat on board for the duration of take-off and landing, as well as the brief hop to Bob Hope Airport.
As for the 30-seater Embraer jet itself, it was mostly empty; passengers were seated one per side of the aisle, and those seated on the right enjoyed a spacious table with not one but two cup holders and an extra space to store carry-ons without having to hike them up above their heads.
The drinks were free, and my gin and tonic finally materialized in the form of two miniatures, some kind of lime powder, a cup of ice and a can of tonic. I poured the heady mix myself and logged into the free in-flight Starlink Wi-Fi.
While doom-scrolling at a cruising altitude, the snacks arrived. I chose a bag of airplane olives—a first for myself, a frequent flier who until Dec. 22 thought free chocolate on Swiss Air was the height of airborne luxury. The olives were actually very good, and I’d have had two bags on a longer flight, and probably another drink.
Upon landing at Burbank, at yet another hangar replete with luxury lifestyle magazines like Cigar Aficionado and Jetset, it only took five minutes to claim our bags. A smiley JSX staffer was dishing out Domino’s—but I was too full of olives and gyro to indulge.
Our roundtrip tickets, booked just 12 Christmassy days in advance, cost $1,436—including a cool $200 for one cool cat. They also included two checked bags up to 50 pounds each and a personal item. Valet parking at the Oakland JSX terminal starts at $40 before fees.
‘JSX Airline Is Under Attack’
In spite of offering a bit of luxury in an industry best known these days for charging outrageous baggage fees, JSX’s days could be numbered. Changes to a piece of existing federal legislation could see its business model regulated out of existence, the airline says. The Federal Aviation Administration says the relaxed security measures pose a safety risk, and TSA is looking into JSX, too.
The Dallas-based charter airline accused American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and labor unions of pressuring the feds to crush their competitive “hassle-free” airline.
Regulatory woes aside, JSX has fans—particularly among the tech elite. Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia and some 75,000 customers and professional organizations have voiced support for JSX in letters to Congress and federal officials. Some 60,000 letters were published, and according to an airline rep, over 99% were in JSX’s favor, the airline said.
“JSX airline is under attack,” Gebbia wrote with a link to JSX’s prewritten text to lawmakers for customers to submit. “It’s one of the greatest things to happen to air travel in years. I’ve just submitted my letter of support. You can, too.”
Public comment closed on Oct. 12. A spokesperson for the FAA told The Standard the agency is currently reviewing the nearly 60,000 comments it received.
Perhaps smelling blood in the skies, Southwest has disputed JSX’s claims, asserting that it spoke on behalf of pilots, air traffic controllers and other industry professionals who believe JSX’s business model creates a two-tiered system for air safety.
American Airlines said FAA regulations are meant to standardize security measures for airlines across the board, including public charter operators like JSX.
“We applaud the FAA for its intent to close the loophole currently allowing certain scheduled passenger carriers, like JSX, to evade the safety and security requirements of most airlines," the airline said in a statement. "America's security architecture was crafted after 9/11 to keep passengers safe, and we can't afford to see it undermined."
Whether JSX will stick around for the long-haul remains to be seen, but the airline has just announced its intent to order 332 hybrid-electric airplanes for delivery as soon as 2028. If nothing else, that’s a lot of olives.
Correction: A photo caption in this story was updated to accurately identify the aircraft depicted in a rendering provided by JSX.