Travel Demand: With travel of any kind being out of the question for so many for the last year or so, I believe that we will see a surge of domestic travelers eager to get on an airplane for a change of scenery, or to visit family and friends they’ve only seen through their phone screens. We are already seeing more folks pursuing long weekend getaways, or to see loved ones across the Western U.S. and Texas. We are already rebounding as we head into Spring and Summer.
As part of our series about “The Future Of Air Travel”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Wilcox Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder of JSX.
Born to a Swiss mother and American father in rural Vermont, JSX CEO & Co-Founder Alex Wilcox was a seasoned traveler and fascinated by aviation from a young age. Since his first invitation to observe a pilot in the cockpit and his first job in high school at Burlington International Airport in Vermont, Wilcox has rewritten the rules for simple, accessible and joyful air travel.
After graduating from the University of Vermont and working for top-tier airlines including Brockaway Air and Southwest Airlines, Wilcox joined Virgin Atlantic Airways, where he met David Neeleman and was first introduced to the concept of low-cost carriers.
David was the founder of JetBlue, while Alex was the first hire and they revolutionized the airline industry with a new, affordable flying option. After six years of cultivating JetBlue as one of America’s top airlines, Wilcox moved to India to develop a brand-new airline, Kingfisher Airlines.
After building Kingfisher Airlines from the ground to the sky, Wilcox identified a gap in the airline industry for businesspeople, families, and regional travelers needing a fast, affordable commercial flight option. As a result, Wilcox pitched his plan for a semi-private jet charter for businesspeople to Proctor Capital Partners, who were so impressed with his concept that they adopted the plan and named him JetSuite’s President in 2007.
In 2016, JetSuite evolved into JSX — an accessible, hop-on jet carrier that operates out of private hangars and minimizes travel time by up to two hours, eliminating crowded airport and long drives from the experience. Operating a fleet of Embraer 135 and 145 jets — which can also be chartered for private flights — JSX has revolutionized short-haul travel with Wilcox at the helm.
Since emerging as a leading jet service in California, Nevada, Arizona, and Washington, Dallas-based JSX has been named the “Best Overall Regional” air carrier in North America in Airline Passenger Experience Association’s 2020 awards season as well as one of Fast Company’s top five “Most Innovative Companies for 2020” in the Travel category.
By building an airline that combines the best of luxury travel — efficient check-in procedures, up to three checked bags, no additional fees for pets, Business Class leg room, and complimentary premium snack and cocktail services — while maintaining affordable pricing, Wilcox has carved out a new travel experience, offering a hop-on, private jet-like experience that is not just for the super-rich.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for having me! The pleasure is mine.
Aviation has been in my blood from a very early age. I grew up in New York City, and my maternal grandparents lived in Europe. We flew to visit them every year. I remember being amazed that I could be at home in Brooklyn and, in a matter of hours, be in a completely different part of the world.
But beyond the destination itself, the plane was just as magical to me and I loved everything about flying. In the mid 1970’s, when I was only 5 or 6, I vividly recall walking up to a Swissair 747 with the big, iconic red stripe down the side of the fuselage. There were no jetways in Geneva back then, so being right next to that vessel — and taking in the immense scale of it –left a lasting impression on me and I knew very early on that I wanted to be a part of this industry.
The red stripe must have also made quite an impression on me because it is a prominent part of our current JSX fleet design — except that our stripe is down the top and bottom of the plane.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I was recruited by an Indian billionaire to move to Mumbai and help start an airline for him. That airline became known as Kingfisher and it definitely resulted in many interesting moments — some of which are chronicled in the Netflix film “Bad Boy Billionaires: India”.
Other memorable experiences have stemmed from how excited and appreciative customers are of truly remarkable air travel experiences. In two instances, people were so happy that they literally prostrated themselves. The first time was by a customer on an inaugural JetBlue flight to San Diego. As he walked off the aircraft, he proclaimed his gratitude and genuine appreciation in a way I will never forget. My parents happened to be on that flight and saw it happen, which was a proud moment for me.
It happened more recently a few months ago when we introduced JSX service to Reno-Tahoe. When the inaugural flight arrived from Burbank, a loyal customer that had been waiting for us to serve that destination, walked down the airstairs and literally bowed down to our team in front of the event attendees and media. It’s in those wonderful and rare moments when I feel the impact that joyful air travel has on people’s lives.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
That had to be on my very first day of my very first real airline job. I was working ramp service for Piedmont in Burlington, Vermont and, right before the flight was to depart, the pilot told me he forgot the keys and asked me to grab them from the office. I sprinted a quarter of a mile to retrieve them before I realized they were playing a practical joke on me. Lesson learned? Transport planes don’t have keys.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?
It’s such a complex and challenging business — the priorities and dynamics shift literally every day. I’ve found that adopting the “Ivy Lee method” of writing down the six most important tasks at the end of the day, and then tackling them one-by-one in order of importance the following morning, has helped me stay focused on the “main thing” and avoid burnout.
I’d also encourage my colleagues to just stop from time to time and take a moment to appreciate the fact that we manage to safely transport thousands of people — by air — every single day. We connect them to the places and people that mean the most to them — family reunions, funerals, births, vacations, important business deals. At the end of the day, this is a business about people, and it’s an honor to be able to do what we do.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
The person that has had the biggest influence on me is David Neeleman (founder of JetBlue, Azul and Breeze). I’ve always had a lot of ideas but David, through his encouragement, mentorship, and leadership, gave me the courage to actually pursue my goals and aspirations on a meaningful scale.
For example, when he had the idea for what became JetBlue, investment bankers didn’t believe people would drive past La Guardia to JFK for a domestic flight. At the time, John F. Kennedy airport was wide open almost all day long, while La Guardia was congested and plagued with flight delays at the slightest bit of rain. David and I would get in my beat up old Saab and drive back and forth between JFK and La Guardia — timing the drive at different times of the day. It was never more than 20 minutes and David eventually proved that people would drive a few extra minutes for a clean, on-time flight with live TV. The rest is history.
By showing me how big ideas can be turned into reality, and backing me at critical moments, David inspired me to pursue my own big ideas, including starting JSX.
Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The mission of JSX is to provide a “joyful, simple experience” on every flight. I wake up every day focused on how to remove the chaos and stress often associated with air travel while providing hundreds of crewmembers (our word for everyone who works here regardless of job function) with a way to support themselves and their families, and hopefully having fun and enjoying it along the way.
Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the Aviation and Air Travel industries?
In the early days of aviation, flying was a simple and joyful experience — you showed up a few minutes before the flight, everyone dressed up and then you quickly boarded a plane and participated in the magic of flight.
Somewhere along the way, the industry managed to screw it up, and air travel became a drudgery — requiring travelers to show up hours before a flight, standing in long lines only to be shoehorned into a tiny seat while being nickel and dimed for everything from bags to drinks. I like to say that if the Wright Brothers could see what became of the flying experience, they would have stuck to making bicycles.
JSX exists to bring the magic and joy back to flying and the “innovation” is in removing the hassles and headaches associated with air travel today such as wasted time, sardine can packed planes, and mediocre snacks. Simply put, we found a way to carve out the bad parts of flying and keep only the best parts.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing these innovations?
All of them — but especially those that waste time.
How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
One of the questions I get frequently is whether or not this model of air travel is scalable. The answer is 100-percent, yes. There are hundreds of undeserved, short distance, point-to-point markets in the U.S. alone. Many of them are huge, and some are small and seasonal and totally underserved. Before the pandemic, we were experiencing double digit growth year over year and had big plans to expand to new regions and destinations. Despite the dramatic decrease in demand, we were still able to introduce some new domestic markets, including a new regional network in Texas, as well as pop-up flights to Salt Lake City, and our first international route from L.A. to Cabo San Lucas that we are rolling out in February 2021.
It’s a proven fact that flying is safer than driving and I strongly believe that by giving people a more convenient alternative to driving between short distances — we are, in fact, saving lives.
Are there exciting new technologies that are coming out in the next few years that will improve the Air Travel experience? We’d love to learn about what you have heard.
Yes! I am most excited about the new hybrid and all electric aircraft platforms that are actively in development. There are half a dozen credible prospective aircraft manufacturers in this arena and it is my goal to be at the forefront of these innovations as a way to reduce cost and the environmental impact of travel while increasing the convenience for millions of people.
That being said, I do not feel the same enthusiasm about UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and intra-urban “flying cars”. In my opinion that is still a very long way off, while the hybrid and electric “commuter aircraft” are quickly becoming reality today.
As you know, the Pandemic changed the world as we know it. For the benefit of our readers, can you help spell out a few examples of how the pandemic has specifically impacted Air Travel?
Just as 9/11 forever changed air travel, so will this pandemic. It still remains to be seen what the long term impact will be but we have definitely seen a seismic shift in our customer mix. In the first few months of the pandemic, it was mostly essential workers such as nurses and hospital executives flying between medical facilities. In the summer, we saw a resurgence of leisure travel to both Las Vegas and areas with a lot of outdoor experiences — such as mountain regions. Usually leisure travel trails off in September, but it remained consistent throughout the Fall and into the Winter while business travel has stayed largely stagnant.
Even with the vaccine distribution and the enhanced cleaning protocols in place across all airlines, I believe people are going to be much more mindful about not just where they travel to but how they get there and will seek the lowest exposure, most efficient options. For that reason, JSX has a huge opportunity ahead for growth and offering both leisure and business travelers that additional option they want and desire.
Can you share five examples of how the air travel experience might change over the next few years to address the new realities brought by the Pandemic? If you can, please give an example for each.
Increased scrutiny on sterilization and cleanliness procedures and protocols are now a renewed focus and priority for all air carriers. Our enhanced cleaning program at JSX including our Simpli-Fly program, which we launched last summer is now a permanent part of our operation and something we will closely monitor on a day-to-day basis.
People are now acutely aware of their level of exposure in crowded places — such as in airports and airplanes. At the start of the pandemic, we began innovating initiatives to give our customers more personal space onboard and rolled them out in record time. For example, in Texas, we introduced a fleet of Embraer-145 aircraft that are all single-seats (1×1), meaning you never have to sit next to anyone. For the other aircraft in our 2×1 configuration, there is never a middle seat and if you want more space you can purchase the double side to yourself at a discounted price.
For the past couple of months, we have seen an increase in the number of companies and organizations wanting to charter an entire 30-seat plane in order to move groups of people safely between destinations. It remains to be seen if this is a long term trend but there is definitely more consideration being given to this type of air travel.
The industry has seen a dramatic shift in the types of destinations being served during the pandemic and it will be interesting to see how these networks evolve over time.
With travel of any kind being out of the question for so many for the last year or so, I believe that we will see a surge of domestic travelers eager to get on an airplane for a change of scenery, or to visit family and friends they’ve only seen through their phone screens. We are already seeing more folks pursuing long weekend getaways, or to see loved ones across the Western U.S. and Texas. We are already rebounding as we head into Spring and Summer.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger 🙂
I wish there was a maturity pill that you could give people that could make them think before they speak, be sensitive to others and never engage in mob mentality — either online or in public. We all come from different perspectives and backgrounds, but we are all in this together.
Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!