Now, fly private without paying an arm and a leg
MR ALEXANDRE Azoulay would like to tell you something about the rich today: They are not so different from you and me.
The wealthy clients ferried around Europe on his private-jet airline, Wijet, are more likely to request a Starbucks on board than a glass of Dom Perignon.
They dress in Zara rather than Dior. And they arrive at the airport in a car reserved through Uber, an online service, instead of a chauffeured limousine.
"The codes have changed since the crisis", when private jets symbolised excess, said Mr Azoulay, president and co-founder of Wijet. "We're in a phase I call Luxury 2.0, where people look at value and pleasure as a joint proposition."
It is all relative, of course. Wijet, a small start-up that began in 2009, charges per hour what most people would find expensive for a round trip to Europe.
But just as budget carriers like Ryanair and EasyJet made Spanish beach holidays and weekends in Prague affordable to Europe's working class by slashing costs, Wijet has set out to democratise air travel at the high end.
By offering private flights for a fixed hourly price of 2,200 euros (S$3,800) - far less than the 4,000 euros or more that rivals charge - Wijet is betting that what it gives up in exclusivity, it can make up eventually with higher volume.
"It's about opening up the industry to more people," Mr Azoulay said.
While the richest 1 per cent in much of the world have continued to spend freely through the global downturn, in Europe recession and austerity have eaten into the fattest wallets.
Wijet, which has charged budget-luxury fares since it started, has only five planes, with plans to grow to eight by the end of this year. It has flown more than 12,000 passengers on 4,000 flights. By comparison, VistaJet has 40 jets in its fleet and carried 27,000 passengers on 11,000 flights last year alone.
They and dozens of rivals are fighting for what remains an exclusive slice of European air transport. Private aviation makes up just over 7 per cent of overall departures. And the sector is still trying to regain its footing.
The industry suffered after the financial crisis that began in 2008 and this was compounded in Europe by the sovereign-debt crisis and recession.
Private jet traffic, which fell by 15 per cent in 2009, has been recovering slowly, but has yet to return to pre-crisis levels.
When Wijet carried its first passengers in 2009, it hardly seemed like the best moment to start a cut-price private-jet airline.
But the misfortune of others allowed Mr Azoulay to buy planes on the cheap. And he was eager to exploit what he saw as an unnecessarily complex and opaque sector burdened by layers of intermediaries and hidden extra charges.
With revenue growth of more than 40 per cent last year, and a roster of more than 500 corporate clients, Wijet's decision to position itself at the low end of the market appears to be paying off.
"People are not going to be willing to pay a premium to fly private any more," Mr Azoulay said. "I think that's done. There's no way back."