Shopping For A Better Life

Shopping For A Better Life

Michelle GilletteHow Surf Air is enhancing the lives of its members.

LUXURY.  In the past that word may have brought to mind opulence and excess. But long gone are the days of the glorified, red power tie and the over-indulgences that went with them. CHOICE is the new luxury: having good options and the time to enjoy them. 

by Michelle Gillette

We are in an era where there’s a shake-down taking place.  It’s the end of pretending.  People are re-examining their lives, getting rid of what doesn’t work and enhancing what does. People are shopping for a better life.

As a Los Angeles based life coach, it’s not uncommon to have clients come to me wanting to improve the quality of their lives. At some point, just like the Saturday Night Live skit would have you believe, we inevitably get around to talking about the “life-sucking vampire known as traffic”, as my client Dan (not his real name) refers to it.

Dan is a successful businessman with a young family, a thriving business and a beautiful, luxury vehicle…that he spends WAY too much time sitting in as he commutes from one part of California to another scouring the state for good real estate deals. If he’s not in his car he’s at an airport or on his way to one.

But all of this commuting is getting to him.  It’s taking time away from his family, wearing him down, as well as his tires, brakes and clearly his mood.  “I’ve worked so hard to create this life, I wish I had more time to actually enjoy it”  he shared.

“You DO have other options”, I reminded Dan.  He braced himself for the “enlightenment” that would come next.

“What? If you’re going to tell  me to sell my business and become a naked surf instructor, I’ll gently remind you that I have a hefty mortgage, a wife who loves to shop, an expensive skiing obsession and a kid who is destined to have effed-up teeth unless we get him braces.”

“No, keep your clothes on. Please. And you also get to keep your house, your wife, her shopping habits, your skis and even the kid with soon-to-be designer teeth.”

Dan and I had already discussed ways to make his commutes more enjoyable:

– Audible books and podcasts? He gets too engrossed so they distract him;

– Great music playlists? That helps. But not nearly enough;

– Hire a car and driver?  He loves the idea of paying someone who will feel obligated to laugh at all of his jokes – but he’s concerned about what to do with the driver in the downtime.

– Chartering a private jet instead of flying commercial?  Tried that. Too costly and excessive to do it on a regular basis.

Dan is a discerning man who is at once witty, intelligent, business-savvy, successful and a bit impatient. He also truly values his family and his time. While I’d love to spend several sessions helping him “find the gift in the commute,” because there is often much to appreciate in the journey – the pragmatist in me quickly realizes that he’s a man who wants a solution now.

 “Actually Dan, you were onto something when you used the word surf.” I tell him.

Before he got too distracted with images of wind-surfing to work from the Santa Monica pier to the San Francisco Bay, I interrupted him with some convenient news: there’s a new airline called Surf Air.

“It’s an “All-You-Can-Fly” Private Travel Membership airline based in Santa Monica that currently has flights going to and from un-crowded, private municipal air terminals around Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, the Bay Area, and as of May 2, Tahoe/Truckee.”

Surf Air 1


Surf Air flies private aircraft called the Pilatus that seats up to 7 passengers. The membership dues start at $1599 per month which allows its members to fly as many times as they want per month, but they can only make one reservation at a time. Once that flight is completed they are free to book another.  If the member wishes to secure several reservations at once then he or she might opt to upgrade to one of the higher priced memberships that they offer. 

All members are pre-screened for security purposes and able to book flights in under 30 seconds via an app or the Surf Air concierge. They can arrive at the local airport just 15 minutes before their flight departs, park for free, and fly off to their destination. When they land, a concierge can have a car waiting for them and/or help them with any other travel needs.

It’s like a charter but without the extra overhead costs or the scheduling directives.   Unlike a charter that caters to the VIP’s timeline, Surf Air flies a set schedule.  Thus, it’s “wheels up” according to their clock, not the client’s. But for many, the flexibility the member gives up in terms of scheduling flight times can be made up in financial savings, networking opportunities, and ease of use.

Surf Air is capitalizing on the fact that for people like Dan, quality of life matters, and time is money. And you know what else is money? Money!  So why not offset some costs and offer up savings to the member?  Unlike charter flights that often require the client to pay for the deadhead time or the “empty leg” (the cost of flying the empty plane to its home) or paying for the plane and the pilot to be on stand-by, Surf Air model allows them to fill their seats with other members on what would have been empty return flights.

Surf Air meetingThey currently have three aircraft in their fleet all of which are the Swiss made Pilatus PC-12, a highly efficient aircraft with excellent safety records.  According to their website, Surf Air goes above and beyond the regulatory requirements in terms of safety and maintenance as safety is always a top priority.  As such, two experienced pilots are on each flight even though only one is required.

According to Surf Air’s CEO, Jeff Potter –  formerly of Frontier Airline and Exclusive Resorts, Surf Air currently has 500 members. Its clientele tends to be young, successful men and women who, like Dan, value their time.  Many commute between the Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach (the burgeoning tech hub around LA) who want better commuting options.  As Jeff points out, the flights tend to be an excellent opportunity for the members to network.  Its members have created a nice little community. Jeff’s used the current members as his own unofficial focus group, and what he’s learned is that some of the members value their flight time so much as an opportunity to unwind and converse with other like-minded people that some have requested NOT to have Wifi on board.  It’s a chance for some to “unplug” and make human contact again, all while getting to their destination in a plush and comfortable setting.

Surf Air has also become popular with those who love a good weekend getaway and now that Tahoe/Truckee has been added, it’s easy to envision an increase in Surf Air’s leisure travelers: Shopping trips between Los Angeles and San Francisco, a romantic rendezvous in Santa Barbara, gambling trips to Tahoe and skiing in Squaw, etc.  At some point, they may add destinations like Monterey, Napa and Sacramento, so some Pebble Beach golf trips and some wine tours will certainly be in order.

Dan’s wife, the shopper, is going to love this because if he signs up, he’ll be able to bring her along with a guest pass. (Something even George Jetson’s Magic Teleporter stop-watch didn’t offer!)

Surf Air will not make sense for everyone. But it may make sense for Dan and those like him; people who are have created a nice life for themselves but want more time to enjoy it; people wishing to maximize the quality of their travel experience, enhance networking opportunities, and become part of a community; people who want better options and wish to move more efficiently through their day, and in this case – across California.


Blackjet – like Uber for private aircraft.

Empty Leg Market – A website that lists some of the empty leg flights available. Empty Leg Market does not own or operate any aircraft, nor does it perform any due diligence on the operators listed on this website

Evojet – worldwide jet charters that offers empty leg flights.

Hop A Jet– offers empty leg flights.

JetSuite – JetSuite’s last minute daily flight deals give you the chance to fly “empty legs” privately starting at only $536 each way (for the whole jet).  These deals appear within 48 hours of departure.

NetJets – Premium service, higher cost.

Sentient Jet – world’s largest provider of private jet travel. Offers empty leg flights.

For more options, Google “empty leg flights.”  But please be aware that not all companies offer the same level of safety standards, so do your homework.

About the author: Michelle Gillette is a mom, certified Martha Beck Life Coach, freelance writer, artist and former hedge fund executive.

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