Denny & Jamie Walker of Jet Linx Aviation
Denny & Jamie Walker and Jet Linx Aviation
Private jet travel was once reserved for the upper echelon—top global executives, world-class celebrities and the politically elite—but it’s becoming more and more accessible to both business and personal travelers through services like Jet Linx, said president Jamie Walker.
~ Larry Kavich, Jet Linx customer
For business traveler Sue Thaden, traveling by private jet through Jet Linx is not just a way to maximize face-to-face opportunities with clients and do business more efficiently, it also gets her home at least 34 more nights each year (and she counts every single one) to tuck her children in at bedtime.
For retiree Larry Kavich, Jet Linx means he and his wife Andi get to travel between their homes in Omaha and Scottsdale with their “girls”, two standard poodles named Sadie and Belle, accompanying them in the cabin. As he puts it: “I would no more put them in a crate on a commercial airline than I would put my grandchildren in a crate on a commercial airline.” And as a relatively recent kidney transplant recipient, it also protects his impaired immune system from risky exposure to large groups of people in the airport and during crowded flights.
Because of Jet Linx, Dick Bell, a retired executive, can move up his departure times with no fuss and get home from his travels sooner. And Paul Nietzel, an aircraft owner representative, has found Jet Linx to be a means of defraying some of his company’s costs associated with corporate aircraft ownership.
Private jet travel was once reserved for the upper echelon—top global executives, world-class celebrities and the politically elite—but it’s becoming more and more accessible to both business and personal travelers through services like Jet Linx, said president Jamie Walker. Jet Linx provides two basic types of services: Jet Card, which offers two different plans for flyers, and aircraft management services.
Jet Card programs provide access to a private jet with guaranteed availability and hourly rates. The Longitude Jet Card requires a one-time enrollment fee and users pay an hourly rate for unlimited flight hours on any of three sizes of private jets, depending on their needs, and no upfront deposit for utilization. The Latitude Jet Card is available in 25-hour increments with a prepaid deposit for activation and optional renewal. One-way rates are available, and clients can travel anywhere in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. The company can also provide service to Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America.
“We have a healthy balance between business users and personal users; we have more personal Jet Card users, more individual clients, but business users use the service more,” Walker said.
For aircraft owners, Jet Linx takes care of personnel management, pilot training, maintenance, fuel, hangar operations, Federal Aviation Administration compliance and insurance. The company also helps new buyers during the acquisition process, using its corporate buying power to negotiate favorable purchase prices.
Owners can also capitalize on revenue-generating opportunities by retaining ownership and making the aircraft available for charter, or by offsetting a portion of ownership. Both strategies can help them cover some of the costs of owning an aircraft.
“It helps reduce our cost per flight hour over the long run,” Nietzel said. “So as we own this aircraft, we’re getting revenue when we’re not using the aircraft. That helps defray our costs, which can be fairly substantial.”
Jet Linx has grown significantly since 1999, when founder Denny Walker, who still serves as chairman of Jet Linx Management Company today, set out to build a private jet company that would provide “the industry’s best customer service experience”. It’s the little things that make people feel important, like washing their car, delivering a left-behind iPad to a person’s front door, accommodating pets, celebrating personal milestones, and simply making a point to get to know regular clients and learn about their families and interests, Jamie Walker explained. His clients readily attest to Jet Linx’s outstanding customer service.
“I’m not one of their biggest customers,” Kavich said. “But everybody treats me like I’m their biggest customer.”
“It was easy to go with them but now we find it’s easy to stay with them because of the service we get,” Nietzel explained. “Our experience has been nothing but positive.”
“They just do a great job of thinking through all the aspects of what they can do to make it so easy to travel with them for business,” Thaden added. “They take all of the ‘what-ifs’ away.”
~ Jamie Walker, Jet Linx Aviation president
With reviews like this, it’s easy to see why the company was ready for expansion within only a few years of its inception, and this is where Jamie Walker, the founder’s son, came in. An Omaha native who attended college at the University of Kansas before launching a successful career in sales and marketing, the younger Walker was working in New York City in the real estate industry in late 2001. “When 9/11 happened, New York real estate went on pause,” he said.
Back home, his father’s business was poised for growth but the elder Walker was not involved in daily operations. The family business was ready for someone in the family to take it to the next level, so “I took a leap of faith and moved to Omaha in 2002,” Walker said. “The challenge intrigued me, but it’s been much more challenging than I anticipated.”
Jet Linx’s early success was based on a differentiation from other private jet services that operate massive floating fleets from one central office and utilize third-party airport FBOs (fixed-base operators). The company established a local base of operation at Omaha’s Eppley Airfield to directly manage every aspect of the customer’s experience, from scheduling through a local representative to departing from a private terminal to flying with familiar pilots.
“I know if you ever needed to get to the big cheese at one of their competitors they’d be out of the office or in another city,” Kavich said. “You can call Jamie or Dan (Dan Longo, Jet Linx Omaha president) and talk to them. I know where to find them, and that kind of makes them a hometown favorite.”
The local emphasis was enhanced by the fact that the Walker family was already personally well-connected in Omaha through Denny Walker’s business and philanthropic interests, including the founding of MemberWorks Corporation (formerly CardMember Publishing Corporation) and Walker Enterprises; serving on the boards of Boys and Girls Clubs of the Midlands, Boy Scouts of America Omaha Chapter, Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben, TeamMates of Omaha, TeamMates of Nebraska, and other nonprofits. Jamie Walker is an active member of Ak-Sar-Ben and served from 2010 to 2012 as the chairperson for the Ak-Sar-Ben Floor Committee. As a business entity, Jet Linx Omaha supports numerous community groups.
In order to expand, Jet Linx had to find a way to place that same community-oriented, personal service business model into markets in which the Walkers were veritable strangers. As Jamie Walker explained, the first expansion market, Indianapolis, was established through the purchase of a 30-year old local charter company. But subsequent expansion—to Dallas, Denver, San Antonio, Scottsdale, St. Louis, Atlanta and Houston—was through partnerships with reputable community leaders in each location, where they helped establish the Jet Linx business model and brand in the local market.
Jet Linx also emphasizes safety, earning the highest safety ratings possible in its class and implementing several formal internal safety management systems and training programs, including several in advance of FAA requirement.
“If you measure by reputation, we’ve earned respect in Omaha and we’re winning that respect in other communities as we become more established. It’s gotten us this far, but we can’t just rest on what got us here,” Walker said. “As we grow our footprint, we want to be known on a national scale by those who are looking for this kind of service.”
Window of convenience
The demand for private jet service continues to grow as more businesses consider the value of time and productivity lost by travelers to the domino effect of delays and cancellations, long waits at airports during the commercial flight process and even travel fatigue.
“If you want to avoid the TSA or if you want to get to places that you would otherwise have a hard time getting to and time is of the essence, owning an aircraft is a great business tool,” Nietzel said.
Thaden agreed. “I can do more face-to-face time with more customers and not compromise my ‘tuck-ins’. And I’m more rested and more efficient for the company.”
Once they’ve tried Jet Linx service for business travel, many clients will turn to Jet Linx for personal travel as well, Walker said.
“Jet Linx had done an excellent job at HDR so it just carried over for the last two years I’ve been using them,” Bell said. “They’re certainly there when I want things done. I have certain expectations and they always know what they are. And they’re very adaptable. I have a habit of always moving up my departures so I can get home earlier, and they’ve always been very flexible.”
“I like the way their terminal is set up in Omaha. If we’re due to take off at 10:15, we arrive at about ten after and walk straight through the through the lobby, up onto the aircraft. We are in the air in about twelve minutes,” Kavich said. “It just eliminates all the stress you would have of not knowing where the plane is going to land and what time it’s going to land and if you’re going to be stuck on the runway due to some condition.”
“It’s the personalized attention, the sensitivity to our needs and our likes and dislikes, catering to them and knowing what we like on our aircraft, knowing our habits,” Nietzel said. “Some of the larger carriers, they can’t address our needs in the same way that Jet Linx has.”
“Their people are very helpful; they seem to understand the service concept and certainly go above and beyond for us. And if we have any issue or problem they jump right on it and solve it,” Bell said. “I’ve flown on other carriers and they’re all good, but it just seems that the Walkers have the proper formula for success. They’re the type of people I like to do business with.”