While reading Matthew Zeitlin’s amusing account of a recent flight he took via Beacon, a new private aviation service that offers all-you-can-eat private flights between White Plans (a suburb of New York) and Boston, among a handful of other northeastern destinations, in Buzzfeed, it occurred to me: though the $2,000 per month subscription free for Beacon is high by any reasonable standard, and far out of the reach for the vast majority of people, it might not look like such a bad deal if you take a fair number of round-trip flights between Westchester County and Boston. Moreover, if Beacon attracts enough customers, one can imagine that price coming down a fair bit, assuming aviation fuel prices stay fairly low. Could it be that private aviation services like Beacon and California’s Surf Air will soon serve a good-sized chunk of America’s “mass affluent consumers”?
A central part of Beacon’s pitch is that because its passengers don’t have to go through lengthy security procedures, they save a great deal of time — a precious commodity for high-earners. The unpleasantness of commercial aviation is a significant deterrent for many would-be “super-commuters,” a group that Mitchell Moss and Carson Qing of NYU define as people who work in a given metropolitan area but live far beyond it, and who commute by air once or twice weekly for work. If falling prices for these private aviation services lower the burden associated with super-commuting, we will presumably see more of it. Perhaps dormitories will spring up in high-cost regions like New York city and the Bay Area to specifically cater to workers who choose to live in picturesque low-cost towns. Firms might choose to set up shop in close proximity to airports served by the Beacons and Surf Airs, to take better advantage of this larger labor pool of super-commuters. Or perhaps advances in virtual-reality technology will render all of this moot, as remote work grows harder and harder to distinguish from the in-person variety.
Either way, conservatives in particular have reason to cheer the rise of super-commuting, whether by subscription-based private jet services or virtual reality: workers will be less at the mercy of high-cost, high-tax jurisdictions. People often wonder why high-earners don’t flee high-cost, high-tax jurisdictions in search of greener pastures, and though there are many reasons that is true, one of the chief reasons is that these places tend to have huge capital endowments that won’t vanish overnight. It took a long time for Wall Street to become Wall Street, Silicon Valley to become Silicon Valley, and Hollywood to become Hollywood. To make a living in financial services, technology, or entertainment, it helps to be in the places with the deepest talent pools, as you can benefit enormously from knowledge spillovers. So governments jack up taxes because they know that even if they lose a few tax-sensitive households at the margin, and even though they might not attract as many high-income households as they might otherwise, they won’t lose huge numbers of established high-income residents who need to live in the region to earn high incomes. When super-commuting becomes much easier, and when people have the option of living in cheaper, amenity-rich communities while still working in expensive metropolises, that may well start to change.