Narrator: Airports suck. Camping out in customs lines, sprinting a mile to your gate, it’s the worst and the furthest thing from luxury. But imagine you had some extra cash saved up, would you spend it to skip all of that airport madness? Well, that’s what the minds behind America’s very first private terminal are betting on. In 2017, The Private Suite opened up at LAX. And for $4,000 per international flight, guests get access to a luxurious, super secure, private terminal just two miles from the normal one.
Amina: At LAX, it takes about 2,200 steps to get from the check-in counter to your plane door. For us, it takes 70 steps.
Narrator: Each year, thousands of the world’s millionaires and celebrities relax between flights in the terminal’s 12 individual suites. The Private Suite coordinates with 70 airlines, has an onsite TSA check, and owns a fleet of BMWs that drives travelers right to their planes. So what’s it like inside the place claiming to make travel not only easy but enjoyable? We had our LA team go and check out The Private Suite themselves.
Caroline: Hello, so I just arrived to The Private Suite at LAX. And there is a lot of security, like when you pull in, they asked for my ID, and this guy in like a bulletproof vest. So it is very highly secured. I am going to pretend I am very affluent for an hour.
Narrator: When you first pull up, you enter through these ominous gates with armed guards and a sign warning no filming is allowed. Right away, you’re assigned a logistics team of eight people. They take care of everything during your stay from valeting and detailing your car to checking in your baggage. And don’t worry about missing your flight, the team’s watching the clock. When you enter the terminal, there’s no check-in. You’re escorted straight to your private suite.
Caroline: Wow. Oh, my gosh, it’s like your private hotel room.
Narrator: Each suite has a fully stocked kitchenette loaded with snacks. You can also order food off a curated menu ahead of time, so it’s ready when you arrive.
Caroline: Oh, my gosh, they have food. It’s not like the fast food options you get at the airport. You get, like, healthier options. This is exactly what I ordered. Narrator: There’s a minibar with spirits, Champagne, and white wine. You can get red wine upon request. There’s even a candy wall.
Caroline: This is perfect for kids, but it’s also, like, perfect for me as an adult. We got M&M’s, chocolate-covered, I’m assuming they’re raisins, jelly beans, Hershey’s, and Skittles.
Narrator: All of the suites come with an en suite bathroom stocked with toiletries. There’s no shower in these, but the members can utilize the spa shower just down the hall. They can also book complimentary massages, manicures, or haircuts right in their suites. And in case you forgot something, each suite has pillows, power adapters, and travel accessories on hand. One of the suites even has a backyard complete with a putting green and cornhole. When your flight time approaches, your team will let you know it’s time to pack up. You’ll breeze through TSA in under a few minutes, and you don’t have to worry about bags, The Private Suite’s taken care of checking those in. Once cleared, you’ll hop on a 7 Series BMW that drives you the seven minutes across the tarmac to your flight.
Amina: When you’re driving, being driven through the airfield, you know, between the airplanes to your plane, that’s a really special kind of experience that frankly only we can deliver, and that’s something that, a memory that people take away with them all the time.
Narrator: So how does The Private Suite manage to cut down on travel times and still maintain privacy? With lots and lots of planning.
Amina: Most people don’t realize the operational complexity that happens in the background to even getting one member through here. For example, we have a control room. It looks like, you know, the NASA space center or something. We know exactly what container in the airplane your luggage is in before your airplane actually lands so that we can intercept your luggage and take it out for you before it hits the conveyor belt. That’s the kind of meticulous coordination that happens in the background every step of the way.
Narrator: Members of The Private Suite pay a yearly fee of $4,500 and an extra $3,000 per international flight, but you can utilize the suite even if you’re not a member. You won’t have a yearly fee, but you’ll pay between $500 and $1,000 more per flight.
Caroline: I can really see the benefits of being a member if you’re traveling a lot because I think that would decrease the price a little bit. But also, if you wanna splurge on a really fun trip that you’re taking with your friends, and you’re just like, “You know what, we saved up. We need to do this, like, the best way possible. Why don’t we just come in, come into the lounge, and just get on the flight with ease.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in March 2019.
JetBlue is firmly on the road back to normal as the pandemic enters its second year.
Flights are being filled to capacity as the airline stopped blocking seats in January following the Christmas travel rush. Middle seats had been blocked until October 15, 2020, around the time Southwest Airlines also announced an end to its policy.
But it didn’t stop there, JetBlue has been gradually moving away from pandemic-era safety measures like back-to-front boarding and has brought back fan favorites like soft drinks and more snacks in the in-flight service.
After flying JetBlue during the summer at the height of its safety efforts, I decided to take JetBlue home from Los Angeles to New York in March on one of its flagship routes. Here’s what flying JetBlue Airways is like in 2021.
Los Angeles is JetBlue’s new West Coast hub, having moved operations from nearby Long Beach during the pandemic.
JetBlue doesn’t have an entire terminal to itself as it does in New York here at LAX but it makes the space work.
Check-in kiosks were spaced and JetBlue even installed social distancing reminders on the floor.
Hand sanitizer stations were available next to the bag drop station.
And even the regular check-in line had multiple social distancing and face mask reminders from both the airline and the airport, in addition to plexiglass partitions at check-in counters. It was the most impressive setup I’d seen in the terminal.
JetBlue, like many US airlines, now requires customers to acknowledge a health declaration at check-in. I had to affirm that I didn’t have any COVID-19 symptoms, been exposed to the virus, or tested positive for the virus.
I also had to agree to JetBlue’s face covering policy and affirm I didn’t have a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater.
I used the kiosk to print my boarding pass and was reminded about the touch-free option by using the JetBlue mobile application to do everything from check-in to get a mobile boarding pass. Customers checking a bag could also just scan their boarding pass and the bag tag would automatically print without having to touch the screen.
I booked JetBlue’s version of basic economy for this flight but I was luckily still assigned a window seat. Most of the middle seats went empty on the flight and I was glad to see JetBlue wasn’t randomly assigned seats as some other airlines are for basic economy flyers.
Ticket in hand, I headed to the gate and saw some of the same safety features. Plexiglass partitions were installed at the check-in counter and the airport had installed social distancing placards on the floor but that was about it.
Boarding soon began in JetBlue’s standard procedure based on groups. There was surprisingly no pre-boarding reminder to wear masks
Passengers boarding first included JetBlue elite status holders, those traveling in Mint business class, active duty military, families with small children, customers with disabilities, and travelers with “Even More Space” seats.
JetBlue gave up on back-to-front boarding in early March.
I got to my seat, 25A, and settled in for the overnight flight to New York.
Everything about the seat was clean and I didn’t have any worry there whatsoever.
Health and safety aside, I was immediately reminded why flying on JetBlue is one of the best ways to cross the country, especially when flying on this aircraft.
The Airbus A321 fleet, including the A321 and A321neo, are incredibly modern and comfortable. I’d flown across the US on four different airlines in two days but when I sat down on the JetBlue flight, it felt like home.
These aircraft feature one of JetBlue’s older in-flight entertainment products but they still offer touch-screen capabilities, high-definition displays, on-demand content, and a map screen.
It also helped that the airline offers 32 inches of legroom in economy on this aircraft.
The front of the aircraft naturally filled first thanks to the new boarding procedure but the aircraft was empty enough where the back started to fill before too many people were settled up front.
Even though it was an empty flight to New York, flight attendants asked passengers to go to their assigned seats first before moving around the cabin.
Flight attendants also reminded passengers of the safety features of the aircraft including its high-efficiency particular air filters, or HEPA filters, and reassuringly said that the aircraft was just cleaned and disinfected.
It was also made clear that wearing a mask was required by federal law.
We departed Los Angeles with around three-quarters of the plane full.
I lucked out and had the middle seat open but not every row was so lucky.
After departure, the entertainment screens showed a video outlining the health and safety features of the aircraft to reassure passengers. Airlines tend to do this at the gate but I was glad to see it on the aircraft right in front of passengers.
The “dos and don’ts” of flying on JetBlue were explained including wearing a face covering…
And don’t crowd the aisle. This one was interesting considering JetBlue had just removed back-to-front boarding and its middle seat block.
Even more messaging was available on the map channel.
This kind of messaging goes a long way to reassure flyers returning to the skies for the first time during the pandemic.
We quickly departed Los Angeles and turned eastbound towards New York. The in-flight service began shortly after takeoff.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that JetBlue had gotten rid of the plastic bag service and was serving actual soft drinks. I even got the full can.
Customers also had a choice of snacks including cookies, chips, Cheez-Its, or a granola bar. I went for the cookies.
The rest of the flight progressed smoothly as most passengers tried to get some sleep in on the five-hour flight.
New York soon came into view and the flight was approaching its natural end.
When we landed, there was a reminder to social distance when deplaning but most didn’t heed that warning. It’s only natural for flyers to get up as soon as the seat belt sign turns off.
Walking off the plane, I noticed JetBlue had installed its own safety placards in the jetway.
The terminal in New York was also way better equipped than in Los Angeles. JetBlue had installed its own hand sanitizers at the gate…
Automated boarding gates were available to reduce contact with the gate agents…
And seats in the gate area were even blocked off, in addition to social distancing placards lining the falls and plexiglass partitions installed at the gate.
Overall, JetBlue did a great job at ensuring passengers are safe in both of its hubs, even though it is shedding off some social distancing efforts as more flyers take to the skies. The flight felt closer to a normal experience but there was still a strong emphasis on health and safety at every turn.
Alaska Airlines has been steadily expanding across the US in recent years since its acquisition of Virgin America, increasing its presence from coast to coast.
While its main sandbox is the West Coast, the airline now operates transcontinental flights from numerous East Coast cities. It’s not as big as the majors in the big four US airlines including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines, but Alaska has been getting its name out there in a big way.
Middle seats on Alaska flights were blocked until January 7, the second-longest seat-blocking tenure of a major US airline behind Delta. Now, flights can be filled nearly to capacity in economy.
Here’s what flying Alaska Airlines is like during the pandemic.
Alaska’s primary hub at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was busier than I expected when I arrived for my Friday afternoon flight to Los Angeles. As the airport’s top carrier, many of those flyers would be flying Alaska.
The entire Alaska Airlines check-in, however, had been overhauled with new safety features like plexiglass partitions at the counters…
Social distancing placards in queues…
Hand sanitizer stations…
And wipe stations in between check-in kiosks. It was an impressive start to my trip on the airline.
And before I even got to the airport, I was required to acknowledge a health agreement. Standard for most major US airlines now, I had to affirm that I haven’t tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 10 days, hadn’t been exposed to the virus in the past 10 days, and hadn’t exhibited symptoms in the past three days, in addition to agreeing to the airline’s mask policy.
The flight appeared to be largely empty and it was looking good that I’d have a row to myself. Alaska flies near-hourly between Seattle and Los Angeles so there was no shortage of flights available, even during the pandemic.
I quickly got my ticket from the kiosk and headed to the gate. I hadn’t flown on Alaska since before the pandemic when I flew from New York to LA to get In-n-Out Burger, so I was excited to fly the airline once more.
The same set of social distancing measures that I found at check-in were also at the gate, including more plexiglass partitions, hand sanitizing stations, and floor placards.
The airport also had its own social distancing agenda, blocking every other seat in the gate area with placards.
But while I had hoped for an empty flight, it turned out that this afternoon flight to Los Angeles was very popular with airline employees and standby passengers. There were at least 25 people looking to jump on board this flight, potentially thwarting my chances of an empty row.
Boarding began around 30 minutes prior to departure with Alaska following its normal boarding procedure. Customers board with their assigned group, listed on their boarding passes.
After pre-boarding, first class boards first followed by Alaska elites and those seated in “premium class.” Regular economy passengers in the back of the plane then board followed by those closer to the front. Basic economy flyers, regardless of seat location, board dead last.
More social distancing placards lined the jetway leading up to the aircraft. “Mind your wingspan” is Alaska’s slogan of choice for social distancing.
Flight attendants welcomed us as we filed into the Boeing 737 Max but nothing in the way of hand sanitizer or sanitary wipes were offered, as some other airlines are doing.
Walking past first class, however, I noticed each seat was given hand sanitizing wipes, a perk that economy class didn’t get.
I later saw on the airline’s website that they were available “on request.”
The cleaning measures truly showed. I had no concerns whatsoever about the cleanliness of the plane.
I chose seat 28F for the two-hour flight to Los Angeles, a window seat on the right side of the plane facing forward.
Everything from the seat area to the tray tables was spotless.
Alaska even had some of its new safety protocols listed in this booklet with a website link where flyers could view the full spread of measures being taken by the airline to keep passengers safe.
This flight would feature an in-flight drink and snack service with nine different hot and cold beverages on offer ranging from Coke to orange juice.
The rest of the plane slowly filled up and Alaska’s boarding procedure meant the front filled out before the back. Those boarding last would have to walk through an entire plane full of people if they were seated in the back.
Flight attendants during the boarding process continually reminded passengers that they were “obligated” to wear a face mask.
One flight attendant was also walking around with masks to give to flyers that needed.
Even the safety briefing included a reminder that wearing a mask while flying is now federal law. Passengers were asked to report any offenses to flight attendants.
The flight departed with quite a few middle seats open. Alaska doesn’t currently block middle seats in regular economy as of January 7 so having any seats open was pure luck.
Flight attendants also worked to space passengers by moving them into empty rows. The aisle seat in my row, for example, was given to a passenger that was in a crowded row.
Soon enough, we were airborne and bound for Los Angeles.
Flight attendants quickly began the in-flight service, starting with snacks.
The bag included a variety of items from pretzels to flaxseed chips.
Then the drink cart came around and gloved flight attendants distributed full beverage cans accompanied by a cup of ice and hand sanitizing wipes. Printed on the napkin was a message asking flyers to put their masks on between bites and sips.
Once the service was over, I took a walk around the plane and only found a few passengers flouting the mask rule. Compliance, for the most part, was good.
Alaska also isn’t afraid to ban passengers for not wearing a mask. Almost 450 flyers have been banned as of March 17.
PS opened in 2017 as the Private Suite, a one-of-a-kind private terminal at one of the country’s busiest airports. Like most travel and hospitality companies, business was down at the pandemic’s peak in 2020 as would-be travelers stayed at home amid lockdowns.
But just over one full year since lockdowns began, PS is reporting a resurgence in new memberships from flyers getting ready to travel.
Amina Belouizdad, PS’ co-chief executive officer, told Insider that memberships have surged and the company has signed on more new members than it had before the pandemic. Annual membership costs $4,500 but the wealthy are scooping them up, even if they don’t have upcoming travel planned.
“I think people want to have peace of mind that they have access to this,” Belouizdad said. “It’s a signal of customer sentiment, is what it is. People are saying, ‘I’m expecting to travel over the next year, I want to make sure me and my family can do it safely.'”
And with that in mind, PS is embarking on a redesign for its Los Angeles flagship terminal to welcome back travelers with a new look. I stopped by PS on a recent layover in Los Angeles, here’s what it was like.
The major appeal of PS is avoiding the commercial terminal at LAX entirely, and that’s only increased during the pandemic. Memberships are up as the wealthy want guaranteed access, even if they don’t have plans to fly in the near future.
For those arriving at LAX by plane, the experience starts with a chauffeured car. PS representatives wait in the jetway to meet guests as soon as they step off of their flights, and promptly escort them to an awaiting vehicle below.
PS has a fleet of vehicles available to use depending on group size but the flagship is the BMW 750i. Ideal for one to two passengers, the classic all-white sedan features an executive configuration for passengers in the back.
The car is loaded with luxurious amenities including leather seats with recline functionality to individual climate control for passengers in the back.
There are even seat-back entertainment screens from which the SiriusXM radio can be controlled.
Then, it’s around a 10 to 15-minute drive to PS, located on the south side of the airport. As two runways separate the facility from the commercial terminals, drivers have to go all the way around the airport while obeying the airport’s modest speed limit
As an aviation enthusiast, however, I wish the drive lasted longer as we were right alongside moving aircraft for most of the drive.
Behemoth jets like the Boeing 747 were just outside the window, departing and landing just feet from the car.
It was like getting a private tour of the airport all while traveling at the height of luxury.
Upon arrival at PS, it’s just a short walk down a private hallway into the facility. Everything from reservations to payment is done online so there’s no checking in or waiting in line. I didn’t even see another guest for the entirety of my stay.
There are 13 suites in total at PS. Not all have received the redesign but that project is expected to be completed within the next six months.
I walked into the suite and felt as if I’d just checked into a luxury hotel.
It was incredibly modern and above any private lounge that I’ve seen at an airport. Members pay $3,250 per visit while non-members pay $4,350 per visit for up to four travelers.
The suites aren’t as large as a hotel suite but are comparable in size to a New York City studio apartment and include spacious living areas, wet bars, fully-stocked mini-fridges, and private bathrooms, among other features.
PS takes a personal touch when dealing with guests. A handwritten note is left for guests welcoming them to the facility and detailing what they can expect from the stay.
A massive high-definition television with DirecTV serves as the main entertainment for the suite, helping pass the time until a flight.
Guests can also make use of the in-suite phone and stationary. PS staff use the phone to communicate with guests and keep them informed on their departure information.
This quasi-kitchen and wet bar are where all of the suite’s food and beverage items can be found.
A selection of high-end snacks, liquors, and wines were all on offer and available free of charge to guests.
Snacks included pistachios, almonds, keto-friendly cereal, and water crackers, to name just a few.
Guests are also encouraged to take snacks with them on the plane and given this blue box to do so.
The fridge contained chilled soft drinks, waters, milk, alcoholic beverages, and even some more snacks. A guest here will truly want for nothing as everything is at their fingertips.
Those making cocktails can use the bar station and the pre-filled bucket of ice.
And there was no shortage of glasses, cups, and dishes to use when dining.
Complimentary travel accessories were also scattered across the suite including noise-isolating headphones, headphone splitters, and charging cables.
The luxury continued into the restroom complete with marble floors and vanities, as well as gold-plated sink faucets.
And the complimentary amenities kept on coming with everything a traveler would need to freshen up before a flight.
There was even a selection of over-the-counter medications on offer if a traveler is feeling unwell or just wants a dose of Vitamin C to boost the immune system while traveling.
The suite design is the result of a partnership with Cliff Fong, a renowned design consultant, and it really felt like home instead of a transient space.
“Our vision was always like, let’s create a space that feels residential, that feels like their home, that doesn’t feel like the airport, that doesn’t feel like a commercial space, that feels very familiar and collected,” Belouizdad said.
The suite window overlooked the airfield, as well as the PS fleet of luxury vehicles. The firm also offers a new service, called PS Direct, where flyers can be taken straight from their domestic flights to their final destination and avoid both the commercial terminal and the PS facility altogether.
Directly adjacent to the suite is an outdoor patio with benches and chairs to enjoy a bit of the outdoors before heading off on a plane for however many hours.
Suite 13 is often the most sought after since it includes this private outdoor space, accessible via a sliding door from the living room.
Meals are included in the stay and everything comes pre-packaged for sanitary reasons.
The current menu is largely focused on Los Angeles-inspired meals, mainly salads and sandwiches, for lunch and dinner.
I sampled the Peruvian steak sandwich and the chicken and prosciutto salad. Both were bursting with flavor and better than most of what’s available even in LAX’s premium lounges.
It really came as no surprise that the wealthy are buying up access to the facility since staying here was so much more enjoyable than any airport experience I’ve had in years.
For me, I found the true luxury of the suite wasn’t the complimentary goodies that were offered but that it was a quiet place to relax during a long layover nestled into an already long day of travel. Suites also feature a sleep kit with eyeshades and earplugs.
When it was time to leave, PS staff came to the suite and escorted me to the in-house Transportation and Security Administration checkpoint. There’s no line and TSA PreCheck was available.
Then, it was just a short drive back to the commercial terminals and my awaiting JetBlue Airways flight.
PS Direct lets travelers skip the terminal entirely, including the PS private terminal, and head straight to their final destination just moments after stepping off of their commercial flight. That means no more waiting in taxi lines or walking through a crowded terminal to find one’s driver.
A PS representative greets passengers in the jetway and escorts them directly to the airport tarmac where their stylish BMW 750i awaits. The four-seater sedans feature executive passenger seating complete with seat-back entertainment screens, recline functionality, seat-warming capabilities, individual climate control, and a sunroof, to name just a few amenities.
Only PS annual members have access to the service and just a single ride incurs a fee of $3,450, which is $200 more than the cost of booking a luxurious suite at the facility. A yearly membership at PS costs $4,500 and comes with benefits like complimentary valet parking, free spa services (not available during the pandemic), and priority reservations when booking suites.
Amina Belouizdad, co-CEO at PS, told Insider that the higher price point for the service compared to its suites comes as a result of the cost of licensing for its drivers and other expenses associated with launching the service.
For frequent PS users, the experience will be largely similar to what they’re accustomed to when frequenting the suites except they’ll just skip the private terminal be driven straight to their homes, hotels, or wherever they’re staying in Los Angeles. Even those flyers that have checked bags can skip baggage claim and use the service.
“If you’ve checked bags, you wait five minutes on average in the BMW while we retrieve your bags from the plane, put them in the trunk of your car, and then we drive you straight home,” Belouizdad said.
The service is currently only available when arriving on a domestic flight. PS has its own US Customs and Border Protection facilities that inbound arrivals can use but that requires a stop in the private terminal.
Planeside pickups have historically been a benefit of flying private but PS is the first to make it available for commercial flights in the US, an impressive feat considering the heightened security environment that exists at bustling international airports like LAX.