We Went Aboard Crystal Skye, the World’s Largest Charter Jet

May 23, 2018

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Back in November 2017 at the Dubai Air Show, I managed to get a tour of a VIP 787-8 Dreamliner, known as the Dream Jet. There’s a full-size bedroom with a king bed, a luxurious master lav and a (relatively) gigantic living/dining room in the middle of the plane. But at roughly $70,000 per hour, it’s a mighty pricey ride.

While the Dream Jet feels gigantic, it isn’t the largest jet you can rent — that distinction goes to a 777-200LR called Crystal Skye, which is operated by a company called Comlux Aruba NV. Owned by Crystal Cruises, this aircraft’s been flying charter customers since September of last year, and it offers a nonstop range far beyond that of the Dream Jet. It can also hold many more passengers, making it appealing for larger groups.

Crystal Skye is very much in demand, according to the company, so it’s frequently shuttling groups all around the globe. It managed to snag some downtime in Miami this week, though, so I flew down for a tour. I’ll give you a detailed look soon, but in the meantime, here are some standout facts I picked up during Tuesday’s visit. It’s a pretty wild 777!

1. It took 18 months to retrofit.

The plane began its career in 2011, with Air Austral, based on the French island of Reunion. That carrier operates three 777-300ERs and a pair of 787-8 Dreamliners, but its only 777-200LR was sold off to Crystal, which spent a year and a half replacing the entire interior as the aircraft underwent a thorough C maintenance check. Crystal Skye entered service in September 2017 — its first charter brought the plane from Vancouver (YVR) to Shanghai (PVG) and on to Seoul (ICN) and Tianjin (TSN). That’s quite an inaugural flight.

2. There’s a chef and mixologist on every flight.

This isn’t your average airline crew — in addition to pilots and up to eight flight attendants, there are two Crystal employees dedicated to overseeing food and beverage on every flight, plus one crew member in the forward galley to prepare F&B, two in the rear galley and another two crew members tasked as “runners,” who execute the various in-flight meals. Crystal also staffs every flight with two engineers, up to two employees tasked with ground support, including luggage handling, and a representative from the company’s management team to make sure every charter goes off without a hitch.

3. There are 88 lie-flat beds.

Delta fits nearly 300 passengers on its 777-200LRs, and Emirates has 250+. Crystal Skye has seating for just 88, with lie-flat seats arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration from Door 2 all the way back to the rear lavs. Some customers, such as musical acts and sports teams, fill every seat, while VIPs and government customers might result in a much lighter load. Oh, and some pretty high-profile folks have slept in these seats — Will Smith just flew in that one above.

4. 24 passengers can dine in the lounge.

Or the space can comfortably accommodate up to 30 if some stand. These seats are designated for the 88 passengers seated in lie-flat beds in the back, though — you don’t get to bring another 24 friends along for the ride.

5. It can reach 95% of the world without a stop.

The crew once ferried the plane from Miami to Kuala Lumpur nonstop — that’s some 19 hours in the air. At more than 10,000 miles, it would qualify as the longest nonstop flight in the world by far, if it was a scheduled service, but no commercial plane today has that range. The 777-200LRs in airline service could not make it with a full passenger load. But charter customers can fly from Miami to Sydney, Singapore or other super-long-haul routes — or between almost any other points in the world — without the need to refuel.

6. You can’t book a single seat.

Want to fly on Crystal Skye? You’ll need to rent the entire plane. Rates start at $38,000 per hour and can climb to $50k, depending on the trip and how customers want the plane equipped. Adding staff, pricey wines, etc. will add to the rate, but if you’ll be paying nearly a million dollars for a flight halfway around the world, what’s an extra $12k an hour for a few posh add-ons?

7. Doctors and security accompany some of the passengers.

Yes doctors — plural. One customer opted to bring not one, but two physicians on a recent flight. And given the profile of some of the guests on board, it’s not uncommon for them to travel with private security as well.

8. There’s a larger-than-usual crew rest.

With such a large crew, plus the possibility of flying 19 hours across the world, everybody needs to take some time to sleep. Most of the staff catches some shut-eye in the large crew rest above the rear cabin, while the pilots and engineers get to hang in the smaller bunks up front.

9. An owl lives in the cockpit.

You heard that right — there’s a stuffed bird above the instrument panel. The crew found a live owl hanging out in one of the engine cowlings during an overnight. It seemed intent on staying put, so animal control had to come encourage it to move. Now there’s a stuffed version mounted on the dash — the bird is said to bring Crystal Skye good luck.

10. There are two windows in the lavatory.

You didn’t think you’d be getting away without a bathroom shot, did you? I’ve seen one window in a lavatory before — on an Airbus A380 — but never two. Now that’s luxury!

Bottom Line

So I know what you’re thinking… how many Amex points does it cost? If you’re looking to book an award, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. But if you’re a professional athlete, musician, A-list actor or head of state, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect to travel on Crystal Skye — or a plane like it — at some point in your life. For the rest of us, Emirates and Singapore first class will have to do.

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