BlackJet, the Uber for private jets, takes off

Meant to make private jet (sort of) affordable and easier to book than commercial flights, the new service kicked off today and hopes to upend the industry. But who will use it?

BlackJet, a private jet service modeled partly on Uber, started flying today. BlackJet

SAN FRANCISCO--In an era of "Entourage" and a well-publicized fleet of planes personally owned by Google's top execs, the private jet has never before seemed as accessible to so many.

The truth is, of course, that just a tiny fraction of the population will ever set foot on any plane other than a commercial airliner, but traveling by Gulfstream has become romanticized in popular culture, and as that's happened, there's been a rise in the number of companies aiming to provide a more efficient, and more affordable way to fly private.

BlackJet's iPhone app is said to take just ten clicks to book a private jet flight. BlackJet

Into that new environment comes BlackJet , a company co-founded by Uber co-founder Garrett Camp that started flying today. And while it's hard to compare a car service to one providing seats on private planes, BlackJet is hardly shying away from that comparison.

At its core, BlackJet is about letting people very efficiently book travel aboard chartered planes between any of ten cities across the U.S., and at a cost not that far off from first-class commercial tickets. Indeed, the company promises the ability to book a seat in just ten clicks -- a far cry from the day or two it has traditionally taken to reserve a seat aboard a similar plane.

And that's the company's special sauce, explained CEO Dean Rotchin. In the past, he said, it has only been possible to reserve by the plane -- and now, passengers can book by the seat, and at substantial savings. A one-way ticket from San Francisco to New York likely comes in around $3,300, Rotchin said.

Rotchin explained that BlackJet has contracts allowing it to leverage excess capacity on any of about 4,000 privately-owned chartered jets thanks to an industry-first high-tech reservation system he said is easier to navigate than any commercial airline's. And bookings, made in just seconds, are guaranteed as long as the passenger makes their reservation at least two days ahead.

Of course, the service isn't available to just anyone. In order to be book, membership is required, and being a member costs $2,500 a year. So who will be a BlackJet member? According to Rotchin, it'll be professionals and businesspeople whose time is too valuable to waste going through the standard rigamarole of commercial air travel. And, obviously, those who can afford to shell out first-class prices for any seat.

Hundreds of people waited in line in San Francisco today for a free BlackJet membership. But how many will ever use the private jet service? Daniel Terdiman/CNET

At its launch event in San Francisco today, BlackJet offered to give away free membership (and a companion seat on the first flight taken) to the first 1,000 people who showed up. And while many hundreds of people showed up to take advantage of the offer, it's not at all clear how many of them will ever available themselves of the privileges afforded by their new membership. CNET spoke to four people in line, and while all seemed attracted to the service, none were willing to say unequivocally that they they would pay for a seat on the planes. After all, BlackJet hadn't explained its pricing in much detail in advance, and there was a very well defined sense of confusion about how much a ticket costs.

"It's a little high end," said Tonya Chin of San Francisco, who was waiting in the line. "I guess it's in line with private jet costs."

Chin said she would consider flying BlackJet, but that "it would have to be a special occasion," such as a bachelorette party, or maybe even her own wedding.

Another in line, Carlos Nieto of San Francisco, said he would "absolutely" fly BlackJet in order to "get that kind of luxury and service at a price that makes sense." But told how much BlackJet flights actually cost, Nieto seemed to back off his certainty that he would use the service.

 

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