By Natalie B. Compton
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. The buses boast wi-fi, electric outlets and plush, motion-cancelling seats with six feet (1.8 metres) of distance between rows.
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 other pick-up and drop-off points.
One-way tickets on The Jet start at $99 (around R1570), 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", 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 2.30pm 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 matte-charcoal behemoth parked between high rises and upscale shopping centres at 565 W. 33rd Street. The driver, Al, popped open the door and welcomed us on-board 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. The Jet says each coach has a Sanuvox UV filtration system that kills 99.9% of germs and bacteria. Also, they clean the vehicles using electrostatic disinfection.
Also, for coronavirus 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 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 a built-in tray table.
Founder and chief executive Chad Scarborough has been on-board 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 while pointing out amenities and sharing fun facts.
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. The Wi-Fi 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 realised how hungry I was as our bus bobbed along through New Jersey, and an attendant walked through the coach with a tray of free snacks.
The lavatory is described as "a large, upscale restroom." That description was apt. It also had more flattering lighting around the mirror than most bathrooms anywhere.
We pulled into downtown DC around 7pm. The last hours on-board 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.
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 looks like I may be racking up points with The JetSet rewards programme.