The Caribbean is well known as one of the world’s most alluring destinations, offering warm weather year round and an abundance of crystalline blue waters and white sand beaches. But, actually escaping to the Caribbean and returning back home can be a burden, sometimes cumbersome enough to spoil the entire experience. Between transportation to and from large, crowded airports, long and uncomfortable commercial flights, airline food and jetlag, the journey to the Caribbean is often anything but luxurious.
Flying privately – aboard aircraft such as the popular jets from Gulfstream Aerospace – significantly eases many, if not all, of the annoyances and inconveniences associated with commercial air travel. Whether chartering a Gulfstream jet, joining any number of jet membership or fractional-ownership programs, or purchasing a plane outright, flying privately offers countless benefits.
In addition to providing sole use of an aircraft, it enables travellers to avoid crowded airports by utilizing small private facilities at or near public terminals or fixed-based operators (FBOs), often located closer to the final destination. Many FBOs also provide on-site customs, catering and ground transportation services, among other amenities. The number of these private terminals in the Caribbean has expanded in recent years, with new or recently renovated examples in Antigua, Nevis, St Kitts and Turks & Caicos.
The Provo Air Center at Turks & Caicos’ Providenciales International Airport is the only FBO on the island and one of the busiest private terminals in the world. It serves as a convenient jumping-off point to reach other islands in the archipelago. As part of a major renovation that the facility recently completed, the internal passenger area was expanded to nearly 870 square metres. Among its services and amenities are laundry and catering, conference rooms, multiple passenger lounges, private parking and discreet entrance and exits. And its ramp space can accommodate jets as large as a private Boeing 777.
Another world-class FBO in the Caribbean is the newly opened Yu Lounge at the Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport on St Kitts. As its name suggests, the Yu Lounge feels more like a lounge or a private club than a terminal. In its well-appointed passenger area, the Yu Lounge offers travellers gourmet snacks and libations, as well as access to a concierge able to make reservations and book local activities.
Perhaps the most significant development for Caribbean private travel in recent years is the recent expansion of Signature Flight Support, a U.S.-based FBO network with more than 60 locations in the United States and dozens of others around the globe, including five in the Caribbean. This past summer, the company acquired three of its Caribbean locations – at the V.C. Bird International Airport in Antigua, the Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport in St Kitts and the Vance W. Amory International Airport in Nevis – and subsequently renovated them. A major Signature Flight Support facility at Providenciales International Airport in Turks & Caicos is currently under construction, marking the company’s sixth Caribbean facility. It will include a stylish 632 square metre terminal, luxurious lounges and office space and a substantial amount of hangar space and parking, plus a membership program.
While private airport facilities like these can make a world of difference, the level of benefit of travelling privately is largely determined by the quality of the aircraft and flight service employed. Private flight gives travellers sole use of a plane, for themselves and their family or travel companions, and the industry’s top examples offer a wealth of amenities designed to maximize comfort and productivity and reduce fatigue. Gulfstream, a leading manufacturer located in Savannah, Georgia, builds some of the finest jets in the world for private or business use. Its broad fleet of eight jet models – including two new designs not yet in service – range from an eight-passenger mid-size model to a large-cabin, ultra-long range jet able to carry as many as 18 passengers in 12 different cabin configurations.
For passengers flying from Europe, Gulfstream’s G450 offers an ideal range of more than 8,000 km when carrying eight passengers and cruising at Mach 0.80. (The jet can hold as many as 16 passengers.) In most configurations, the G450 – priced new at approximately US $36 million (plus options) – offers an abundance of cabin space that can be outfitted with plush leather couches and seats that can lay completely flat, two lavatories, a fully equipped galley, a Honeywell satellite communication system and multiple high-definition flatscreen TVs with access to a library of on-demand movies. And while such amenities are indeed relaxing, lengthy high-altitude flights and a lack of natural light in the cabin can cause fatigue. The G450 counteracts this with fresh air circulating through the cabin, advanced engine-noise suppression, a pressurization system that keeps the cabin feeling like it is never at an altitude higher than about 1,830 metres (even when cruising at more than 13,000 metres) and 12 large, oval windows – a signature feature of Gulfstream.
Though a smaller aircraft, the Gulfstream G280 – which entered service in 2012 – has 19 cabin windows letting in an abundance of natural light. It also offers 100% fresh air, and industry-leading low cabin noise and pressurization, all to help passengers feel less fatigued when arriving at their destination. The G280, priced new at roughly $25 million, carries as many as 10 passengers and has a shorter ranger than the G450, making it better for flight to the Caribbean from the United States or most areas in South America and ideal for taking quick jaunts between islands. It cruises at the same speed as the G450, but it has a shorter take off and landing distance, which enables it to land at most paved airstrips. The aircraft is available with a wide assortment of first-rate amenities and materials, and like the rest of the Gulfstream fleet, is outfitted with the company’s cabin-management system, which allows control of everything from its temperature to its entertainment systems via a smartphone app.
In October, Gulfstream and Flexjet announced Gulfstream would supply the Texas-based fractional-aircraft-share and flight-service provider with up to 50 jets. The order will provide Flexjet members with access to Gulfstream’s newest and most-advanced jets. The service will be ideal for travellers who may not be quite ready to purchase a Gulfstream jet outright, but who are ready to experience the myriad benefits of private air travel to the Caribbean and destinations around the globe.