As Austin reaches "boomtown" status, the capital city is attracting people in droves, including tech executives, celebrities—and people who fly in on private jets.
Viral videos of dozens of private jets leaving Austin after F1 weekend—an event that saw Megan Thee Stallion, Ben Stiller and Chris Bosh in attendance—may have left you dreaming of the jet-setting lifestyle. Austonia spoke with three private aviation companies offering luxury flights for the non-celebrity.
Price: Start at $139
Highlights: Non-invasive security swabs, affordability, quick in-state travel, legroom and fancy snacks
A Dallas-based hop-on jet service, JSX gives the average joe a taste of fancy living with its semi-private service. While this service only makes in-state flights for the time being, JSX is looking to bring the joys of the private jet-setting experience to the masses.
What makes JSX special is its almost nonexistent wait times—flying JSX could get you from Austin to Dallas in just an hour from arrival at the terminal to stepping off the jet. The secret is its easy security system, which is TSA-accepted and doesn't require you to take off your shoes, toss out your liquids or empty your pockets.
"It doesn't sound like a believable thing—there's this whole other world of the airport that none of us usually have access to," JSX Director of Marketing Communications Benjamin Kaufman recently told Austonia.
Inside the plane, no two travelers have to sit together and everyone is treated to business-class legroom. The plane makes it easy to travel with your lovable furry friends, each seat has ample plugs to charge all your devices and offers complimentary *fancy* snacks and drinks once you reach 30,000 feet.
"It's not a private jet, it's semi-private flying for everybody," Kaufman said. "It's still accessible, it's affordable. It's basically bringing the perks that were once reserved for private jets and democratizing it so that more people have access."
Price: $4,000-$10,000, plus $2,500 annual dues
Highlights: Curated excursions, unexpected destinations, immersion, social connections and "empty legs"
Jeff Potter, the CEO of Manifest, has been around the globe but his trips to the underdog corners of the U.S. have historically been his favorites—Las Cruces and Mesilla, New Mexico; Spokane, Washington; and the Grand Canyon are some of his favorite places to be.
Manifest provides custom-curated getaways to U.S. destinations on private flights and opened up three Texas chapters in Austin, Houston and Dallas last month. Members of the travel club pay $2,500 in annual dues that gives them three guests on any trip, access to all the trips Manifest has curated, or the company will plan one for you if you don't see one you like. Potter said flight prices are in the first-class range.
Potter, the former CEO of Frontier Airlines, was born in France but said he wanted to communicate that the best destination isn't always the most obvious. He said he saw people get tired of the typical trip, so he started taking them white water rafting, on safaris and to unique experiences in their own backyard.
"You get to know that five-star doesn't necessarily mean incredible bedrooms in the hotel. It means authentic, it means rustic, it means realism, and I think that in many respects was missing," Potter said. "I always felt there was a misinterpretation of what the consumer really wanted."
Manifest fills "empty legs," or repositioning of flights that are scheduled to fly without any passengers, that would have typically been charged to the customer, thus driving down the prices. Manifest has managed to get ferry time down to less than half an hour, where most private aviators tend to ferry for two-to-three hours, putting cashback in the customer's pocket.
Where can you go? Skiing in Telluride, a yoga retreat in Aspen, an arts and culture tour in Taos, a music tour in Nashville and many, many more. Oftentimes there will be other travelers on the trip with you and Potter said it's common to find friends.
Potter said while it still isn't particularly cheap, Manifest has lowered cost by around 25% and hopes to bring it down to 40%.
"Private aviation is aspirational for 90-95% of the population and a reality for the other five, so we had to dig in because what I didn't want to do was create a company that was solely focused on ultra-high net worth individuals," Potter said. "Part of our goal is not only to deliver experiences to our members, (but) it's also to expand the audience."
Price: Flights can cost as low as $2,000-$4,000 in fractional programs, but can reach heights of $8,000-12,000 per hour for charter
Highlights: Business travel, fractional ownership, day-based schedules, celebrities and avoiding hotel rooms
So you live in Austin, have a mid-morning business meeting in Dallas, a golf game in Denver in the afternoon and you want to make it home for dinner? Chief Marketing Officer Andy Tretiak says that's not a problem for Airshare.
The Kansas City-based air operator has some pretty high-profile clients, including shareholder and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, a native Texan who has been known to fly his mother out to games privately.
Airshare offers many services for all your private flying needs:
- Aircraft management, for those who already own an aircraft and need it cared for.
- Fractional memberships are available based on the number of days the owner wants to use the aircraft each year. 1/16th is the smallest share, which equates to 20 days of usage. Shareowners pay a monthly management fee and pay-as-you-fly hourly rates.
- EMBark Jet Cards offers 10 days of flying over a 24-month period. Cardholders pay for the card in advance and pay-as-they-fly hourly rates.
- Charter services are also available for nonmembers, though the flights tend to be more expensive.
This is full-on private flying, so you get all the perks that come with it—dramatically reduced touchpoints, no security lines and freedom to fly whenever, wherever multiple times a day, if you wanted to.
"In some cases, you walk right onto the plane, you go and the plane is yours. You leave when you want, you come back when you want," Tretiak said. "You've got the convenience aspect and the enhanced productivity. Obviously luxury is important but for us it's about maximizing the productivity for our customers, whether that be on the business or leisure side."
Tretiak said that while private aviation demand is up all over the U.S., Austin is seeing its fair share. Airshare expanded to Austin in 2013. Tretiak said he was surprised by how many people just wanted to visit the city.
"From a business standpoint, we see Austin as a burgeoning tech hub, the other thing that really attracted us is that next wave of business leaders and high-net-worth individuals," Tretiak said. "Frankly, we have a lot of flights just for people that go on vacation to visit the city."
- Austin mayor's COVID Cabo trip and for his political career - austonia ›
- Dallas-based airline JSX brings semi-private flight to Austin - austonia ›
- JSX, private jet, kicks off first hop-on flights from Austin - austonia ›
- Peek inside the new semi-private jets flying out of Austin ›
Just as the world takes a breath from the Delta variant-induced third COVID surge that pushed hospitals past capacity this summer, a new variant—the omicron—is forcing countries around the world to once again consider shutting their doors.
It's too early to tell whether the variant will have the devastating effects of the Delta variant, the Mu variant—which accounted for 3% of U.S. cases before dropping off almost entirely by October—or somewhere in between. But as omicron continues to rise sharply in all provinces of South Africa, the Biden administration is reintroducing some travel restrictions that went into effect Monday.
As the variant spreads to countries around the world, including Canada, the Netherlands and Hong Kong, the World Health Organization declared omicron a "variant of concern"—though some are calling the move premature.
What is omicron?
The omicron variant, B.1.1.529, is now under strict watch from the WHO after quickly spreading throughout Southern Africa.
It's genetically different from the Alpha and Delta variants and has up to 30 mutations in its genetic code, leading some to worry that the risk of retransmission from those who have already had COVID could be high. The strain's mutations could also aid omicron in beating out other strains and spreading more quickly to hosts.
Omicron is the latest version of the coronavirus to cause concern. Here’s what we know about where it’s spread so far and what makes it different than other variants that came before. https://t.co/ncciXnIuw9
— The New York Times (@nytimes) November 29, 2021
It appears to be doing the trick. While an Associated Press report found that case numbers in South Africa are still well below other pandemic peaks—3,220 new cases were reported in South Africa on Saturday— up to 90% of new cases in the South African province of Gauteng are omicron.
The strain's effects seem to be mild so far, and hospitals haven't been overburdened yet, though hospitalizations are rising.
And doctors worry that the full extent of the variant hasn't been realized. Vaccine hesitancy is strong among South Africa's youngest population—22% of those aged 18 to 34 are vaccinated—and most of those infected with COVID have been in those younger age groups. Doctors worry that older age groups will be more adversely affected.
And while experts in the country expected a fourth surge and possible variant, the omicron still came as a "shock" as it quickly spread to all nine South African provinces and other continents. It's now the first strain labeled as a "variant of concern" since the Delta variant.
It's unclear if the variant is more immune to vaccines, although some signs indicate that it's a possibility.
Where has it been detected?
Cases of the Covid omicron variant have appeared in more than a dozen countries as of Monday. https://t.co/2bPapBIYK2 pic.twitter.com/idnQ6LjIfH
— NBC News Graphics (@NBCNewsGraphics) November 29, 2021
The omicron strain still hasn't been detected in dozens of countries, and it's far from the first strain to make a mark since Delta. But it's coincided with a quick uptick in cases in South Africa, where it was originally found, and became the dominant strain in Pretoria, a city of around 750,000, in just a few weeks.
Omicron is now present in nearby Botswana and has jumped on board flights to Europe, Asia, Australia and North America. Hong Kong has detected three cases, while 10 European nations including the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Germany have found a total of 45 cases. Canada has detected three cases, and none have yet been found in the United States.
What has been done?
Against the wishes of both South Africa and the WHO, several countries have decided to once again shut their doors.
After detecting an omicron case, Israel decided to bar entry to foreigners, while Morocco suspended incoming international air travel for two weeks. Dozens of countries are restricting travel from Southern Africa to South Africa's chagrin—the government said travel restrictions are “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker.”
The WHO also called for borders to remain open as closing borders appears to have a limited effect on the spread of variants, and many countries are hesitant to clamp down on restrictions that have limited its citizens for so long.
The United States said in a statement Friday that it would restrict travel from eight southern African countries except for citizens and permanent U.S. residents who test negative for the virus.
White House Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that it's "too early to say" whether tightened COVID restrictions will be needed to combat omicron but that citizens must be ready to do “anything and everything” to prevent its spread.
When will we know more?
The WHO said it will take around two weeks to gauge the full effects of omicron, from its ability to evade vaccines to its contagiousness.
For now, countries have once again urged their citizens to get vaccinated. Some vaccine companies have already spoken about the strain, including Moderna, which said Sunday that a new vaccine that protects against the variant could be released in early 2022 if needed.
For now, Fauci said that the country must "prepare for the worst" just in case omicron becomes the culprit of yet another surge.
“Inevitably, it will be here. The question is will we be prepared for it? If and when, and it’s going to be when, it comes here hopefully we will be ready for it,” Fauci said.
- Joe Rogan incorrectly says vaccinated people cause mutant strains ... ›
- The Delta variant is spreading—Here's what you need to know ... ›
- Unvaccinated Austinites at risk of Delta variant with hospitals seeing ... ›
- Emerging Delta COVID-19 variant found in Williamson County ... ›
- UT identifies third COVID variant on campus - austonia ›
- Delta variant, unvaccinated fuel rise of Austin COVID cases - austonia ›
- New COVID variant, Mu, detected in Texas, next threat to Austin ... ›
Austin may end up staying above freezing through mid-December, a departure from typical temperatures this time of year.
The average first freeze in Austin and San Antonio usually happens around now, as the National Weather Service pointed out Monday.
The average first freeze in Austin and San Antonio is typically right about now. No freezes for the foreseeable future. There have been some years where the first freeze didn't happen until January!— NWS Austin/San Antonio (@NWS Austin/San Antonio) 1638210545
Still, Austin’s Mediterranean-style climate has a wider range of first freezes than many other places and we’re subject to cyclical influence, says Monte Oaks, a meteorologist with the NWS.
One influence is La Niña, a climate pattern that happens in the Pacific Ocean every few years. This is the second La Niña winter in a row, an occasion known as a "double-dip." While its impacts are far-reaching and can impact weather around the world, the U.S., in particular, is expected to experience an impact on temperature and precipitation from La Niña. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said earlier this month that La Niña conditions have already developed, and in Austin, its effects have been on the mild side. As a result, Austin could have a delayed first freeze and an earlier last freeze than typical.
Many are on edge heading into winter after witnessing Winter Storm Uri hit Texas in February. The power outages caused by a failure to winterize the grid led to the death of hundreds, and in the imminent possibility of another hard-hitting weather event, Texans are still at risk.
Experts told The Texas Tribune that the state hasn’t done enough to prevent another winter blackout. Plus, recent analysis by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas revealed the grid is still vulnerable and many power plants could be forced offline under extreme conditions. As KXAN reported, the cold blast last winter came about through a stratospheric warming event—unrelated to La Niña—that brought the intrusion of Arctic air from the North Pole. This year, winter is expected to bring fewer freezes and less snowfall.
Locally, Austinites dealt with conditions of broken water pipes, a boil water notice after water treatment plants shut off, and an outage that left thousands without water. On top of that, many also lacked gas and heat and opted to warm up in their cars.
The city has completed prep work in case of another extreme weather event. Austin Energy increased vegetation management, further sectionalizing circuits and developing processes to reduce power in the downtown network. And Austin Water carried out repairs at most of its water treatment plants, dispatched heaters, sand, and more winter equipment, and plans to have all exposed pipes insulated by the end of 2021.
The Texas sun is an encouraging sign in the face of cold conditions. Oaks says more sunshine allows temperatures to warm up. For now, the National Weather Service has only found one recent freeze at the sites they track in Austin, which happened at the airport on Nov. 23.
- Arctic Austin: how to protect your home in freezing weather - austonia ›
- The lasting thaw: 5 long-term impacts of Austin's deep freeze to come ›
- Winter freeze leads to worsening road conditions, slowing EMS ... ›
- What Texas' deep free means for Austin Energy's renewables plan ... ›
- Austin Energy earned $54M in net revenue during winter storm ... ›
Homeowners in Windcrest, Texas don't take Christmas lightly. Decking out their home in thousands of lights, one Windcrest couple even won ABC’s Texas episode of “Great Christmas Light Fight” that aired Sunday.
Known as "Christmas sweethearts," John and Brenda Wilson were awarded $50,000 after going up against fellow Texans, including a family in Amarillo and two families in Corpus Christi, in the ninth season premiere of the lights show.
(Great Christmas Light Fight)
Their holiday display featured a hand-built sled, a train called the Peppermint Expressway with actual peppermint smoke coming out of it and Santa's reindeer "in training." Designer and judge Taniya Nayak noted the linework of the lights displayed on the roof and the positioning of the red and lime green color palette.
"Right off the bat when the lights turned on, I couldn't believe how beautiful these peppermint lights were... it's just such a fun, happy, yummy, delicious vibe to it," Nayak said when she announced the Wilsons were the winners. "It really made a smile go from one ear to the other on my face."
Judge Nayak said she also enjoyed that their display had different stories behind each section.
(Great Christmas Light Fight)
John, or "Mr. Christmas" as Brenda called him, said he has been putting on a Christmas lights display for over 20 years—and it's only got better since he met his Mrs. Clause 12 years ago. The two said they met online and were 98% compatible.
"Brenda and I grew up back in the 50s when things were very simple, so we wanted to create something from when we were growing up," John said on the show.
And their efforts paid off: along with their monetary prize, the couple earned a light-bulb-shaped trophy.
KSAT reports the home got the attention of the show's casting directors last year, who encouraged them to apply to be on the show. The show was then shot last year, but the couple didn't learn they won until this year.
While being on the show is their intro to stardom, locals are familiar with the Wilsons' yearly display in the light-centric Windcrest. Each year their home is part of the Windcrest Light Up, a decades-old tradition where residents go all-out with their holiday light displays. They've won at least three grand prizes in the Windcrest contest and several other category first-place prizes.
The Windcrest Light Up kicks off Dec. 4.
- 11 Christmas light shows to keep the holiday cheer going all ... ›
- Countdown to Christmas: Holiday themed bars in Austin - austonia ›
- Holiday shopping: Austin retailers warn of widespread product ... ›
- Zilker Park Holiday Tree installed, park closes for trail of lights ... ›
- Peppermint Parkway drive-thru at COTA tickets now on sale - austonia ›
- 11 Christmas light shows to visit in Austin near you - austonia ›