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Onboard OneJet: Indy to Pittsburgh

Onboard OneJet: Indy to Pittsburgh

OneJet is making some waves in the industry with a bent toward business travel, and AirwaysNews got to experience the concept firsthand on a recent flight.

» Airlines - W | Friday, November 20, 2015 • Air News Times

"One trip. One Jet. Zero stops," reads a banner overhanging the check-in area at Indianapolis International Airport (IND).

OneJet, the airline industry's newest entrant, introduces itself as the solution for regional business travelers looking to skirt time-consuming connections in crowded hub airports. Previously, we ran an article profiling OneJet's relatively unique business model, which adopts some pretty atypical practices such as flying seven-seat aircraft and targeting almost exclusively the corporate traveler. AirwaysNews got to experience the concept first-hand, joining OneJet on a flight from their Indianapolis hub to Pittsburgh.

The folks at OneJet believe industry consolidation leaves the market dry for regional travelers. One merger after another has swept many former hubs under the rug, eliminating most non-stop options for those who reside outside of a major hub city. With the burden of mergers falling disproportionately on regional fliers, OneJet looks to attack this weakness. The company currently offers non-stop service between Indianapolis and four underserved markets: Memphis, Nashville, Milwaukee, and finally Pittsburgh.

The company fields a fleet of three Beechjet 400's (though one was out-of-service at the time of this writing). The aircraft feature just seven potential seats, though with the seats placed relatively close together OneJet only sells five per flight to maximize passenger comfort.

Believing that many find the idea of traveling on what appears to be a small, private jet impermissible for corporate business travel, OneJet consciously tries to normalize the passenger experience right up until its customers step aboard the plane. The airline utilizes normal terminal check-in counters right alongside other recognizable brand name carriers. It does not check bags, though this hasn't presented much of an obstacle with business travel not lending itself much to large suitcases anyway.

At the counter, customers simply input the first three letters of their last name, and the kiosk spits out a boarding pass. With a maximum of five people per flight, it's safe to say that endless lines won't pose much of an issue.

Simplicity is a common theme OneJet aims to drive home throughout the experience, likely resonating well with its business-leaning audience. Due to operating in more moderately-sized airports, passengers are unlikely to face lengthy security lines either, expediting the time from checking in to meeting the plane at the gate. It's not unthinkable that fliers might spend only ten to fifteen minutes from walking into the airport to sitting at the gate – a time savings that OneJet can emphasize to its corporate clients.

A row of newspapers greet passengers as they approach the gate (B4 in Indianapolis), helping customers stay up to date with current news. OneJet offers several fine touches to deliver a more premium experience, from the pallet of newspapers to complimentary Evian bottled water on-board.

Additionally, the same agent assisting with check-in moves to the gate for boarding, personalizing the experience for fliers. With many repeat customers so far, the agents get to know many of their patrons, commonly addressing regulars by their first name (although to survive long-term OneJet might need to diversify its customer base more substantially). Staffing check-in and boarding with the same employees also aids OneJet in cutting costs where it can – critical with the flight's costs spread thickly among only five as it is.

OneJet likes to tout the ease of boarding its flights, free of stuffy jetways and jockeying for position in line. With only five possible travelers on each flight, the boarding process consumes only a few minutes at the most, leading to a speedy departure. Many fliers identify boarding as one of the more traditionally dreaded components of flying, with time consumed languishing on the tarmac as the plane slowly fills with customers.

And provided the aircraft is available, boarding at OneJet commences as soon as all passengers arrive – even if that's earlier than expected. Our flight to Pittsburgh departed about fifteen minutes before schedule with all present and ready. The prospect of a quick departure appeals strongly to all fliers, but probably most deeply to corporate customers, with a delay potentially derailing business plans.

Passengers proceed down a typical jet bridge, but actually step foot onto the ramp to climb aboard the plane. Upon hopping into the plane, a luxuriously designed interior greets fliers, treated to leather coated seats and stylish wooden panels. Once all took their seats, one of the pilots faced the passengers to hand out bottled water and, taking a knee, personally delivered the routine safety announcements. This starkly contrasts the dull motions and blank stares from passengers characteristic to flying most major airlines.

It also builds on the idea of OneJet creating a more warm, friendly atmosphere, which it hopes customers will value. After all, ticket prices on OneJet will usually exceed those on other carriers. On the supply side, OneJet offers a unique service, representing the only convenient nonstop service on the routes it flies. But to consistently attract business, OneJet will also definitely need to appeal to the demand side of the equation, which it hopes to stoke in part by providing exceptional customer service.

Another complaint many travelers commonly hurl at the airlines is a rather lackluster sense of customer service. But delivering a comfortable experience takes center stage at OneJet. The agents, many of whom were formerly employed with other airlines, expressed pleasure in being better able to serve their customers more humanely, priding in the chance to deliver the top-notch experience they want to provide. Furthermore, a number of OneJet's employees along the journey conveyed that the more tightly knit work environment felt much like a family, which it would seem bleeds through to the way they treat customers.

Airborne, the Beechjet 400 handled very impressively, flying remarkably smoothly on its short hop over to Pittsburgh, even with some weather plaguing the journey according to the pilot. One might expect that a smaller plane would bounce around a bit more in-flight, but not so with the Beechjet 400.

A new crew of agents met the plane upon pulling into Pittsburgh. Scheduled to arrive at 8:00 pm, the plane docked about fifteen minutes earlier than promised, and with vacant terminals, customers were on their way shortly thereafter.

OneJet's long-term staying power is still open to question. The company's business model certainly deviates far from the norm (a standard that is especially profitable at the moment), and one might reasonably wonder whether the airline can break a profit if economic conditions tighten down the road. The airline industry isn't, and has never been, a particularly kind sector, especially to new entrants.

But OneJet's betting big that business fliers will consistently value a premium and convenient experience enough to fork over some extra dollars. Their impressive product definitely makes it awfully convincing, and the airline has some nice momentum going for it at the moment. The carrier plans to grow substantially in the near future, peppering in more of its destination map which will potentially allow it to draw from a wider audience.

Indianapolis garners a reputation for being the racing capital of the world. But the next big thing out of Indy might just be on the runway instead of the race track.

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