For discerning travelers en route to the Caribbean, the transfer between a large-cabin charter jet and a final-leg turboprop can often lead to inconsistencies in service. In response, Tradewind Aviation and large-jet operator Clay Lacy Aviation have partnered to provide seamless access to St. Barth, including plane-to-plane transfer averaging just 10 minutes.
To provide a first-hand account of the service, we spoke with entrepreneur Mark Bonfigli, who owns two world-class aircraft managed by Tradewind and Clay Lacy, respectively, and regularly makes the transfer journey from Los Angeles to St. Barth:
“St. Barth is an amazing French island that has a great community,” says Bonfigli, who has been traveling to the Caribbean for both business and leisure for many years. “They are focused on delivering extreme, beautiful luxury and nature and some of the best food you will ever have.”
Over the years, while chartering flights to the stylish destination, it quickly became apparent to Bonfigli that what was missing for travelers was two services that could work together. Because large jets cannot land at Rémy de Haenen Airport, passengers were stepping out of glamorous, high-end jets and into puddle-jumpers that made for bouncy flights with no air conditioning.
“There’s nothing wrong with that experience if that’s what you’re looking for,” says Bonfigli, noting the open windows on the flights. “But in reality, a lot of people are looking to not sweat and still be able to enjoy a glass of champagne.”
Once he had identified the disparity, an idea was born. “How do you put together a seamless travel plan for someone that’s coming from the US to high-end, luxury locations such as St. Barth?,” he asked. “That’s what SEXYjet and BabySEXY accomplish together. You get a luxury service all the way through.”
Bonfigli’s planes, a Gulfstream GV and Pilatus PC-12, are some of the most recognizable aircraft in the industry; the GV turns heads with a sleek, color-changing exterior that took more than 3,000 man-hours to complete (and the PC-12 will receive a similar paint job in the future).
Inside the sumptuous jet, passengers are welcomed by elegant Italian-leather seats, lights that shift in color, and a premier entertainment system – along with a partitioned sleeping compartment in the back of the aircraft. The professional cabin server, Melissa, is at your service and caters based on your favorite foods. (For Bonfigli and his wife, this means organic, locally made guacamole and their favorite gluten-free chips to start.)
“It’s kind of dreamy,” says Bonfigli. “Everything is simple and super elegant and comfortable. It’s just so beautiful in there that you don’t really want a lot of flights to end so quickly.”
The decision to have Clay Lacy manage the jet was simple.
Founded in 1968 by the aviation icon of the same name, the experienced aviation company has flown world leaders (including six US presidents and a British prime minister), government agencies, professional athletes, celebrities, and more. They typically employ GV aircraft for flights like the one from LA to San Juan, Puerto Rico – where the transfer takes place – because of the jets’ exceptionally high cruising altitude, long range, endurance, and reliability.
Upon arrival in San Juan, the GV and PC-12 provide unprecedented convenience by parking next to each other on the runway. Passengers can change planes in just a few minutes without going through an airport terminal or lengthy customs process.
Says Bonfigli, “You literally get on the plane in LA, you walk on a red carpet between the two planes, and then you find yourself in St. Barth.”
Perfect for the shorter runway at Rémy de Haenen Airport, the Tradewind-operated PC-12 is a high-performance, jack-of-all-trades aircraft that still delivers exceptional comfort. Unlike most small planes from other operators, those managed by Tradewind offer two pilots – a key feature in making passengers feel comfortable when transitioning from a larger jet.
“For a small plane service, there’s no one that comes close [to Tradewind] in my opinion,” says Bonfigli. “I’ve flown all kinds of small planes all over the world, and I’ve never had such a positive, consistent, year-after-year experience. I think I’ve probably done 50 trips with them.”
His PC-12 in particular offers oversized reclining seats, a fridge for cool drinks and light snacks, and a lavatory. (It’s so comfortable that he has actually taken it on much longer flights from St. Barth to Miami twice.)
“The beauty of it is that we’re using a plane that’s in the top percentile,” he says, “and we’re beautifying it and making sure that we’re serving [passengers] the way that we were when they were on the big jet.”
On the island, a quick check-in with customs – about 10 seconds, according to Bonfigli – grants you access to ethereal beaches, lush rolling hills, and unmatched accommodations from five-star hotels to stylish villas. Bonfigli and his wife spend their days hiking the shoreline, indulging in the vibrant culture, and playing beach tennis with locals. (He actually owns a beach-tennis-inspired apparel and sporting goods company with innovative concepts like bags made from indestructible, carbon-fiber sailcloth.)
“Both Clay Lacy and Tradewind understand what we’re trying to deliver,” says Bonfigli of the journey to and from the island, noting that passengers can quickly clear US customs and change planes in San Juan on the return. “I think that’s what we’re offering: luxury that doesn’t really exist.”
Featured Image: Clay Lacy Aviation