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Thursday, July 11, 2019


Cessna Citation Sovereign ready to roll from Sitka, Alaska Rocky G. Airport. Photography by the author.

GUEST BLOG / By Eric Peterson, novelist, travel/wine writer and’s dining critic--Rich people fly first class. Stupendously rich people fly on private jets.

Being an independent author and publisher, I am neither rich nor smart, but I am occasionally lucky. Earlier this summer, luck afforded me the opportunity to fly out of Sitka, Alaska, on a private jet.

No check-in lines, no hectoring TSA agents, no shrieking children and germ-addled adults sneezing in confined spaces—flying on a private jet, I soon learned, is the only way to go.

Sitka is a city of 10,000 and is known primarily for three things: it’s where the 1867 Alaska Purchase was signed, it was Alaska’s first state capital, and it’s only accessible by boat or air. Small as it is, Sitka’s Rocky Gutierrez Airport has a separate terminal for its private aviation traffic. Most airports do. 
People who fly on private jets are generally unaccustomed to holding their own umbrellas or driving their own cars—why would they mingle with the unwashed masses?

In the private terminal I was met by our jet’s captain, a lean man named Rich. He wore a pilot’s uniform shirt and tie and had a military bearing. He quickly relieved me of my roller bag and escorted me through two automatic glass doors to the tarmac, where a glittering jet stood waiting.

This flight was operated by NetJets, the largest private jet operator in the world and a pioneer in the business of fractional aircraft ownership. NetJets has some 750 aircraft under management. More than 7,000 uber-wealthy owners enjoy access to this fleet by paying colossal sums in advance. Trips can be scheduled on extremely short notice. Famed investor Warren Buffet was once one of these fractional owners, and he liked the service so well he bought the company.

Captain Rich walked me out to our jet, a Cessna Citation Sovereign. Four stairs extended from a clamshell-style door. This Citation was configured to seat eight. The width of the cabin was roughly that of a Cadillac Escalade. The height was a hair under six feet—once inside I had to stoop and duck walk to my seat.

The cabin’s interior was trimmed in clean white leather and accented with glossy brown burl wood. The plush leather seats were tan and faced one another in two groupings of four, a layout known as double-club seating. The drink holders and ashtray were gold. We wore our seat belts fastened low over our hips and across a shoulder, like in a car.

From my seat facing forward, I had a direct view of the cockpit. There was no flight-deck door, like you’d see on a commercial airliner. In a matter of minutes we left the tarmac and taxied to the runway. I watched through the cockpit’s windshield as though seated in a jump seat behind the pilot.

Positioned for takeoff, the length of the runway stretching before us like a big empty freeway, our jet engines roared. Rich and his copilot stood on the brakes, restraining the quivering jet while they went through their final checklist. Finally the nose dipped, and we hurtled down the runway. Next thing I knew, we rotated off the runway and began climbing at a steep angle. Looking behind me, the narrow strip of land that was the Sitka airport grew smaller and smaller.

At 10,000 feet, every NetJet has Wi-Fi service. There were ample universal power outlets throughout the cabin. Each seat grouping shared a generously sized burl wood desk that extended from the wall. The tranquil interior—and the snowcapped mountain peaks out the window—encouraged thoughtful work or deep meditation.

Our flight was less than two hours, barely time enough to catch lunch. I was curious: What do these modern-day jet-setters eat when they fly? Whatever my lunch, I intended to put it through its paces. This is, after all, a food column.

Unlike most of the high-end, vintage private railroad cars I’ve been privileged to travel on, our private jet had no galley, no chef, and no stewardess. Food was entirely self-service from a built-in refreshment center near the cockpit. Unwrapping my lunch, which came on a white plastic tray thoroughly covered in cellophane, was like unwrapping a mummy.

The lunch itself consisted of a small serving of potato salad and an equally small serving of fruit salad, a bag of chips, two quarters of a smoked ham and cheese sandwich, and a brownie wrapped in its own abundance of cellophane. The utensils that came packaged with the meal appeared to be made of real silver but proved to be lightweight plastic. I suspect Warren Buffet has invested in a cellophane and plastics company, too. The rolls were hard and surprisingly cool.

The makings for my self-service Bloody Mary were what I might expect at a tailgate party: Get a clear plastic cup, scoop your own ice, grab a room-temperature can of Mr. & Mrs. T Original Bloody Mary Mix, and take an airline-size bottle of Grey Goose, which came in a unique, elongated design I hadn’t seen before. 

Once I returned to my seat and mixed my Bloody Mary, it was time to eat. The potato salad was creamy and mustardy. It came with nice chunks of potato. The fruit was hit-or-miss: strawberries a bit sour, cantaloupe sweet and satisfying with notes of honey, blueberries bone-dry and pasty, honeydew succulent and pleasingly moist. As you might guess, the turnkey Bloody Mary met the standards of a run-of-the-mill bowling alley, but it beat flying stone-cold sober.

Next, I tucked into the ham and cheese sandwich. The two sesame seed sandwich rolls were hard and surprisingly cool. (This jet had flown in from Aspen, Colorado, and Nashville before that. I suspect our box lunches were loaded onto the plane at one of these previous stops and stored in a refrigerated compartment.) The layered slices of ham were an inch thick and the cheddar cheese slices were generous. I am a fan of spicy mustard, and fortunately my box lunch came with a 2-fluid-ounce bottle of Heinz Dijon Mustard and a small bottle of Heinz mayonnaise.

Now if only there were similar-sized servings of horseradish, Tabasco, and Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce to spice up the Bloody Mary.
After eating my sandwich, still taking pulls of my Bloody Mary, I turned my attention to my bag of Metro Deli Sea Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips. The chips were gratifyingly salty and had a good snap. When I thought no one was watching, I licked the sea salt from my fingertips.

The brownie, which came without a label, turned out to be more like a small square of German chocolate cake. It was topped with a gridlike pattern of chocolate frosting. As I ate my brownie it crumbled, and spongy chunks of chocolate fell exuberantly into my lap. I collected the chunks piece by piece, the dexterity of my fingers tested by a vodka haze.

Snow capped Alaska Mountains
Soon the drone of the jet engines and the heavy lunch were lulling me to sleep. I slept hard, only to be awakened by a sudden change in the engine noise and a drop in the plane’s attitude. We were descending through the clouds, already on approach to our destination runway.

Discretion is a hallmark of NetJet travel. The name of my host and our exact destination shall remain confidential, but for purposes of finishing this chronicle, I can tell you that upon landing, our jet taxied to three waiting rental cars, which were parked on the tarmac with their trunks open. Our bags were quickly transferred to the cars, and we left the tarmac in a mini-motorcade.

Passing through the security gate, I took one last look at the Citation in my rear view mirror, knowing I might never travel this way again. We entered a parking lot, which led to a frontage road, which took us to a busy thoroughfare and back to the real world.

Here’s my takeaway: You may not be able to travel like a one-percenter, but for the price of a picnic lunch you can always eat like one.

Eric Peterson's debut novel, Life as a Sandwich, was a finalist in the San Diego Book Awards. His most recent book, The Dining Car, won the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Award for Popular Fiction, the San Diego Book Award Gold Medal for Best Published Contemporary Fiction, and the Readers’ Favorite Book Award Silver Medal for Literary Fiction. The story follows a former college football star who signs on as bartender and personal valet to a legendary food writer and social critic who travels the country by private railroad car.

FOR MORE CRANKY DINER: Go to and on the home page type in Cranky Diner in the search square.  The rest is his stories.

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