From black-painted jets to humancentric cabin design, luxury leisure airline Aero is all about carefully chosen destinations and magical flying experiences
There was a time, long ago, when flying commercially meant a magical adventure that began as a passenger stepped on the plane, not when they arrived at their destination. Cheaper tickets and the not unworthy ambition that flying ought to be available to most, if not all, have made the airlines more accessible, but airports have become crowded and airliners people-moving machines in which that sense of personal experience is easily lost.
Private flying has been the alternative for those who could afford and justify it, since neither first nor business class travel provides the same convenient experience. Operators have long attempted to strike a balance between airline and private jet operations and, in summer 2019, Aero, backed by Uber co-founder Garrett Camp, began flying bizjet-like operations between Mykonos and Ibiza, adding services out of Farnborough Airport, UK, to Ibiza and Nice in 2020.
For those willing to pay a not unreasonable premium over commercial travel, Aero offered an attractive, personalised service in its all-black, 16-seat ERJ135. It became a popular option into 2020, but then COVID happened. While the airlines struggled on, Aero found itself offering exactly the type of service that made passengers feel safe and cared for, and avoided the need for them to use major airports.
Early in 2021 it launched a new enterprise, delivering a similar product from Van Nuys, California, ultimately serving Napa, Aspen, Jackson Hole and Sun Valley. Again, its destinations are carefully chosen and passengers are promised a luxury experience that begins the moment they arrive at the airport – because Aero operates exclusively from FBOs.
Looking to understand more of the ethos behind the Aero brand, EVA spoke with Design Director Jessica Pastor and Chief Marketing Officer Zain Richardson. Pastor has an industrial design background, with a passion for humancentric design and, she says, ‘lots of experience in lighting’. After joining Aero in 2019, Pastor has been the driving force behind how the cabin looks and feels, and how it reflects the company’s brand. Richardson, meanwhile, is relatively new to aviation, but familiar with the luxury travel industry. His focus is on Aero’s ‘guest experience’, based on delivering hospitality rather than a simple transport service from A to B.
It’s fair to say that Pastor has created the physical expression of the Aero brand, designing the cabin for an immersive experience. “We want to help our customers chill when they need to relax, help them enjoy their meal, their quiet time, while enhancing their wonderment. Lighting is a very powerful tool for subtly shaping and guiding the journey experience, almost like an invisible hand. The immersive experience enables us to craft the entire journey.
“We looked into colour psychology to understand the colours we render in upwash versus downwash lighting and when they are combined very specifically, at the right moment, it triggers our brains so that we react appropriately at the correct time. We might begin with a peach colour, like a sunrise, and use a blue palette to re-energise the cabin.”
Aero has clearly taken a high-tech approach to creating its cabin experience but, at the same time, its imagery includes a passenger with a book open on her lap, enjoying some traditional, low-tech inflight entertainment. It speaks to Aero’s understanding that passengers want the freedom to relax and, if they so desire, read a book during their flight because that’s the personal experience enabled for them.
Sound and physical space are also crucial to the experience. Immersive sound, delivered via Bongiovi’s unusual speakerless acoustic system, enhances the journey, Pastor explains. “There’s the ‘wow’ experience when you first step into the cabin, enhanced by music that will always be playing at that point in the journey and which becomes familiar and links to the brand – think about the sound you hear when you switch on an Apple computer. The audio is also important at other points in the journey, but never overwhelming or intrusive, so that it won’t interfere when passengers want to watch movies, for example.” Richardson adds that with the Bongiovi system using some of the cabin panels as speakers, the sound quality is notably rich, with enhanced bass tones.
Colour, lighting and sound are combined in a carefully curated mix, and it seems obvious that there ought to be a signature Aero scent. Richardson confirms that the team is ‘working through the senses’ and a scent is ‘definitely on our radar’. “As advocates for humancentric design, we understand there is always something in the cabin that can be improved,” Pastor continues. “As a start-up we gather customer feedback and react to it, quickly. I believe it’s unprecedented in the airline industry and as we learn we improve, especially in this post-pandemic world.”
Aero has set itself up to disrupt the airline market and Richardson says that passion for disruption, built on Garrett Camp’s experience with Uber, is part of the company DNA. And nowhere is it more evident than on the outside of the jet. “The idea is to create wonder and astonishment. Thinking about the resources people assign to their leisure travel we saw a disconnect where travelling to the destination had become a chore. We wanted the flight with Aero to be the start of the vacation. It’s all about wow moments and we’ve invested a lot in creating those through brand touchpoints, including that first look at the plane.”
Aero’s guests love how the jets look and Pastor says the appreciation of pure black comes directly from Camp. The brand colours, which manage to appear almost as shades of one another, have evolved over time and manage to dominate the all-black finish. Inspired by the sky, sunset or sunrise, they reinforce the brand at various touchpoints in the cabin, in the carpet trim and as a small dash of colour on crew uniforms. The idea is to express the brand, through austere design, in a way that feels natural rather than overtly branding to the point where the customer no longer takes notice.
So early in its operation, it is a testament to Aero that even while there’s a determination to constantly improve the brand and customer experience, it already has an expanding fan body. Richardson confirms: “We have guests requesting uniform items and other pieces. As part of the continuous process of improvement, we’re collecting feedback on the items of the guest journey that they love the most and how we can help them take those home. The bespoke quality of our design naturally lends itself to creating a piece that helps a guest feel like part of our community.”
Sourcing those pieces of exclusive fan merchandise also opens the door to associations with prestige brands and destinations, but Richardson sees it as more than simply branding existing items. “Our guests are increasingly looking to our concierge service to help plan every aspect of their journey and I believe they are also looking to us to become a curator or arbiter of different tastes, that can help educate them or immerse them in the new experiences that travel brings.”
Aero’s Embraers are beautifully configured with bespoke 16-seat cabins and, from the outside, they are essentially similar to the Legacy 600 business jet. The offer is akin to luxury corporate flying, but with the benefits of conciergerie, personal service and the ease of travelling via FBO. And, assuming that one or two small families are travelling on a flight, then the ambience and exactly who is occupying the space around you moves closer still to the private jet experience.
Yet it is more than that. Richardson uses the word ‘curate’ and ‘curated’ to describe Aero’s product. “We want to become a curator of coveted destinations, where people base their next trip on where we’re going next.” Aero, it seems, is in the business of adventure through the magic of flight.