I have yet to meet anyone who loves travelling by bus in the United States. The ticket prices can be appealing - the rest, not so much.
Between scratchy seats, questionable aromas courtesy of your fellow passengers, and the ominous, bound-to-be-sticky bathroom in the back, long-distance bus travel can often be a bleak scene. A travel start-up called The Jet wants to change that perception.
The Jet, named to bring private jets to mind, is advertised as a luxury motor coach that can make transit more comfortable and work-friendly than the competition at Amtrak or Greyhound. The buses boast WiFi that works the entire ride, electric outlets and plush, motion-cancelling seats with six feet of distance between rows.
For now, during the initial launch, The Jet only offers direct service between New York City's Hudson Yards development and Washington DC's Metro Centre. Over the next couple of years, the company plans to expand with pickup and drop-off points in Arlington, Virginia.; Tysons, Virginia; Hoboken, New Jersey; and Brooklyn.
One-way tickets on The Jet start at $US99 ($A139), which is more expensive than most bus fares and comparable to or cheaper than most plane and train tickets (unless you're willing to travel at odd hours). Each of the company's four customised coaches has 14 seats that passengers reserve online.
As someone who is interested in finding ways to travel "greener" and who wishes the United States had as many high-quality mass transit options as Europe and Asia, I was immediately into the idea of The Jet. I have family in New York, live in DC and regularly make the trip between the two, toggling between renting a car, riding in someone else's car or taking a train or a plane.
So, to get home from holiday celebrations up north, I tried The Jet to see if it lived up to the hype.
A few weeks ahead of Thanksgiving, my boyfriend, Daniel Adams, and I booked two tickets aboard The Jet for a Friday 2:30 pm departure to DC. We picked seats next to each other toward the front because I have a history of getting carsick, particularly when I try to work on a laptop in a careening vehicle during a long road trip.
We got to the Hudson Yards pickup spot a half-hour early in case we couldn't find our fancy bus. But you couldn't miss the thing - a 45-foot (14 metre) matte-charcoal behemoth parked between high rises and upscale shopping centres at 565 W. 33rd St. The driver, Al, popped open the door and welcomed us onboard early. Mark, the "chief operating officer" of the trip (like the bus version of a flight attendant), showed us to our assigned seats.
The bus was brand-new and spotless. Cleanliness (or "anti-covid innovations") is one of the company's selling points, as we're still in the coronavirus pandemic. The Jet says each coach has a Sanuvox UV filtration system that kills 99.9 per cent of germs and bacteria. Also, they clean the vehicles using electrostatic disinfection.
Also for COVID prevention purposes, there is a mandatory mask requirement when you're not eating or drinking. The staff is fully vaccinated, but there is no vaccination requirement for passengers.
I have endured plenty of budget bus seats; that synthetic sort of short-haired material haunts me. So it was a delight to see the Jet's Hoverseats. According to the website, the company spent two years designing them to be "the most advanced passenger seat in the world," and it is the first bus to use motion-cancelling passenger seats. The seats are 22 inches (56cm) wide, 5 inches wider than some airline seats. They are made with a gel-foam base and a memory-foam back and can recline 45 degrees. Plus there is a nice little leg rest and built-in tray table.
"This seat feels like I'm being held by a giant man, if you want to put that in your story," Dan leaned over and told me. "The people need to know."
While The Jet is still getting off the ground, founder and chief executive Chad Scarborough has been onboard for many rides to see how everything is going and to get feedback from passengers. He was on our trip and helped pass out drinks - wine, beer and soda are complimentary - while pointing out amenities and sharing fun facts. For example, Scarborough told the couple in the row in front of us that the motion-canceling seats are powered by Bose electromagnetic suspension technology, which eliminates 90 per cent of the vibration and bumps of the road.
"That's fascinating," one of the passengers said, actually appearing fascinated.
The magic of that technology couldn't be appreciated until the coach left Manhattan, rolled through the Lincoln Tunnel and approached the interstate. Dan pointed out how the seats in front of us bobbed up and down gently, and that ours were doing the same. Almost immediately after, he was reclined and napping, sound asleep.
Decidedly not napping (it was the middle of a workday), I logged on to the "streaming-fast HiFi WiFi" to resume fielding emails and managing deadlines. Unlike on Amtrak, the WiFi worked perfectly on The Jet and never cut out, not even in tunnels.
Working without being scrunched up, like you are on an economy seat in a plane, was also a pleasure. It felt like typing from a La-Z-Boy. I sheepishly made some phone calls, not sure about the etiquette but comforted knowing that the bus is marketed to business travellers who could relate.
I realised how hungry I was as our bus bobbed along through New Jersey and an attendant walked through the coach with a tray of snacks: Ritz peanut butter crackers, Kind bars, trail mix and Biscoff cookies. The free snacks were much appreciated, even if they were too light to fill the depths of my hunger. I blew it by not eating lunch before boarding, and Dan made the mistake of putting the cooler with our Thanksgiving leftovers in the storage under the bus.
Light snacks may have been a better move for my stomach, anyway. I had started feeling nauseous early in the ride, unsure if it was my Thanksgiving hangover or my on-brand car sickness, but I never felt bad enough that I needed to quit working.
The couple in the row in front of us asked for a coffee, and Scarborough told them they could make a latte or cappuccino with the coffee machine. The word "latte" broke Dan out of his slumber, and he ordered one too. "Single or double shot?" Scarborough asked.
By about 4 pm, the sun started setting and filled the coach with a golden-hour glow. My laptop battery was running low, and the outlets at my seat weren't working - an unfortunate technical hiccup.
The attendants had portable batteries on hand for USB chargers as a temporary solution, but I had to sit in another seat to access a standard outlet. I left Dan, who was back to napping after slurping his latte.
That was my opportunity to use the lavatory, described as "a large, upscale restroom." That description was apt. The space wasn't as big as ones on Amtrak, but it was much bigger than an airplane bathroom. It also had more flattering lighting around the mirror than most bathrooms anywhere.
We pulled into downtown DC around 7 p.m. The last hours onboard flew by without any interruptions to my work. I had settled my stomach with an Amstel and had enjoyed the coach's aroma of freshly brewed espresso. After 4.5 hours of sitting, even on a lavish cushion, my derriere was getting sore, and I was happy for the trip to be over so I could get home.
"I slept so well in this seat," Dan told me of his napping experience. "And I'm a tall person."
Scarborough thanked everyone for supporting the start-up during its infancy and said he hoped we would return for another ride.
Within about 10 minutes of the coach parking, Dan and I were picked up and dropped off at home by a Lyft driver. It was the smoothest, simplest and most pleasurable trip between NY and DC I have ever had.
There were no early station or airport arrival requirements, no jostling through crowded terminals, no crowds altogether. I am looking into booking The Jet again, and I have tabs open on my laptop comparing rates on Amtrak, flights and The Jet. It's somehow still cheaper than the others, despite offering a nicer experience. It looks like I may be racking up points with The JetSet rewards program.
The Washington Post