I spent Tuesday evening and Wednesday with Southwest Airlines for their Media Day. It was held at their corporate campus by Dallas Love Field. Ending at 3 p.m. on Wednesday my choices for easy flights back – remember, I was literally at the airport so I decided to fly and not drive – were a 5 p.m. Southwest flight or a 4 p.m. flight on JSX.
- I’d never flown JSX before
- And it would get me home an hour earlier
That all sounded great! JSX flies Embraer regional jets in a premium configuration from private terminals (FBOs). They’re technically a ‘scheduled charter operator’ that allows them to fly from these terminals, which involve less of a security hassle, with aircraft up to 30 seats.
They ask you to arrive at the airport 20 minutes before your flight, 30 minutes with much checked luggage. Their fares are competitive and they’re serving about 20 cities so far, mostly in California, Texas, the Southwest and up the East Coast between Florida and Texas.
JSX was founded in 2016 by Alex Wilcox, who was President of India’s former oneworld carrier Kingfisher Airlines, was a founding executive at JetBlue, and previously worked at Virgin Atlantic. The airline has investments from JetBlue and Qatar Airways.
JSX was only operating two flights a day on my route, but their 4 p.m. happened to be perfect.
Flying Southwest an hour later would have been cheaper – they offered 9 non-stop flight options starting at $76. In some sense these aren’t comparable products, but it was the relevant alternative.
For $260 more than the JSX fare I purchased I would have had a refundable ticket, with a free seat assignment and extra checked bag. I’d also note an interesting flexibility policy: JSX allows name changes on tickets for $25, waived for the more expensive fare class.
I was paying twice the price of Southwest, but it was worth the extra money to try a new airline and to get home for dinner rather than missing it. My fare didn’t come with a free seat assignment. I could have paid for one, with prices ranging from $20 to $50. But there was absolutely no point in my doing so. Possible reasons to pay for a seat assignment include:
- a desire to sit with someone else (I was traveling solo)
- ensure you receive a seat with a side table, or the exit row for extra legroom (but on a 189 mile flight I did not much care)
Paying extra for a regular seat without the side table made no sense at all! And when I checked in I was able to get the exit row seat with tray table, so I lucked out.
The Southwest event actually ended before 3, but I naturally spent too much time chatting and catching up with people at the end, from the Southwest senior executives who had been presenting to journalists I hadn’t seen in awhile. At 3:20 p.m. I said ‘oh, I guess I’d better head to my flight.’ I pulled up a rideshare and it was 6 minutes away. I had to give the vehicle description to security so they could come through the gate to where I was located on the Southwest campus. It was actually 3:31 p.m. when I made it into the car, and it took 10 minutes to get to the terminal.
I arrived at the JSX terminal 19 minutes prior to departure, and there was a short line to check in. The three agents helping passengers were dealing with some computer issues that required rebooting so it took a few minutes before they were able to check me in. The agent at the next desk over got on a walkie talking saying they were going to hold boarding for the Austin flight while they cleared the line.
The check-in process was simple. They scanned my ID, swabbed my laptop bag, and handed me my boarding pass. I went to sit down, and there was a short maintenance delay of less than 10 minutes before we were called to board.
The terminal itself was bright and attractive, with enough seating, though it was close to full when I was there. People don’t wait there long, so seats are all they really need. But there aren’t any concessions. On the other hand, since you aren’t going through TSA, you can bring your own snacks and water with you if you wish. (You’ll have drinks and snacks on the plane as well.)
Everyone lined up to walk through security and show their boarding pass, and then outside to the aircraft.
On climbing stairs up the aircraft we were met by a smiling flight attendant who welcomed passengers on board and seemed genuinely happy to be there. Boarding passengers who weren’t trying to get into the same aisle or stow bags overhead took just a few minutes, so we were on our way quickly. The flight was approximately three quarters full.
The JSX ERJ-145 had 30 seats in 1-1 configuration (so every seat is both an aisle and window) versus ~ 45 seats in a standard configuration for the aircraft, although the seats themselves aren’t really larger than what you’d see on a competitor E-145 – at least on the left side of the aircraft.
When JSX moved from a 2-1 seating model to 1-1 on the aircraft they kept the same seats for ease of FAA certification for the cabin. The seats generally have 35 or 36 inches of pitch, which is generous, but are a standard 17 inch width. They added a side table to the seats on the right side of the aircraft making those seats more desirable. The tray table has two built in places for drinks.
I had a couple of extra inches of legroom in the exist row. That’s great, although the tray table doesn’t extend so I had to lean forward to work on my laptop.
There are no overhead bins on the aircraft. You get the storage space under the seat in front of you (which is greater for those right side of the aircraft seats), otherwise you need to gate check your bags. They hustle those quickly. Overhead bins on an ERJ-145 don’t usually hold much anyway, so I thought the tradeoff for spaciousness in the cabin was well worth it.
Soft drinks, beer, wine and liquor are complimentary on board. Snacks are passed out as well.
There wasn’t wifi yet on my flight. However they’re the launch customer for SpaceX’s StarLink on a scheduled aircraft, and that service starts in a few days. STARLINK was even plastered on the side of the plane operating my flight, and I understand they expect to roll out the service across their full fleet by March. The planes have standard power outlets at each seat.
There’s a lavatory on board, which I’m told is nice but I didn’t visit it during my short hop to Austin.
Leaving The JSX Terminal In Austin
When we touched down in Austin I turned on my phone and requested a Lyft. It may take just a little longer to get one at the terminal than it does requesting one from the main commercial terminal in Austin, but I only had to wait at the curb for a couple of minutes. Uber would have been a 20 minute wait for a vehicle, so I lucked out with Lyft. All-in from touch down to getting into my rideshare was less than 10 minutes.
Without bags I was able to deplane first and head straight through the baggage collection area and out the (very) small terminal to the equally small parking lot, that offers valet parking for departing passengers at $45++ per day and rideshare recommended.
The Future Of JSX
The ‘hack’ of being able to depart from an FBO rather than the main terminal, and not having to go through standard security screening, and to do so at a commercial airline price is simply too good.
Obviously the time savings matters most (as a percentage of total travel time) on shorter trips. Normally for Austin – Dallas I’d consider driving except that here I literally needed to be at the airport. However JSX changes that calculation. But I’d happily fly JSX for three hours if I could secure a solo seat with side table and now that they’re getting inflight internet.
However I’m just not sure something this good is going to last. As they grow, they’ll become more of a competitive threat to the major airlines. While they fully comply with regulations that allow them to offer a more hassle-free experience, I expect bigger carriers to run to regulators and legislators to try to get the government to curb their business model. Sure, it’s legal, they’ll claim but they’re exploiting a loophole or technicality and that’s not really what scheduled charter rules had in mind.
When Southwest Airlines launched at Dallas Love Field as an intra-Texas airline, the incumbent majors sued to keep them out of the sky. When Southwest finally prevailed in court, Braniff and others managed to convince Congress to pass a law (the Wright Amendment, no longer in effect) that wouldn’t allow Southwest to fly beyond contiguous states. When Legend Airlines – headed by a former FAA Administrator – exploited a loophole in the Wright Amendment to offer first class service out of Love Field to places like New York, DC and Los Angeles the major carriers sued them out of existence.
So far JSX is a pleasant alternative, but they have over 50 more planes on order, and I have to think the biggest carriers aren’t going to like the competition, and will lobby heavily to stop it. I enjoyed my first trip with them enough to say that I hope I’m wrong, but choose JSX while you can!