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Private jet business soars for the Super Bowl

Greg Raiff, CEO of Private Jet Services, has a business boom as riders head to NFL’s big game.

Jonathan Alcorn for The Boston Globe

Greg Raiff, CEO of Private Jet Services, has a business boom as riders head to NFL’s big game.

For many people traveling to the Super Bowl on Sunday, squeezing into an economy-class seat is not part of the equation.

Why fly with the masses when you can charter a jet equipped with couches and cooked-to-order steaks and a flight attendant wearing your team’s jersey?

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For companies that provide private jet service to the rich, famous, and other high rollers, the Super Bowl of their business is, well, the Super Bowl. Demand soars as wealthy individuals and corporate heavy hitters pull out the stops to see and be seen at the most buzzed-about sporting event of the year.

Even with Boston’s proximity to the game, being played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., local aviation companies are still getting a big boost. Magellan Jets of Quincy is flying dozens of planes carrying about 150 people to the Seahawks-Broncos contest this weekend.

A few are leaving from Boston, with prices starting at $25,000 round trip for a 10-plus-passenger Gulfstream or Falcon, but most are coming from Denver and Seattle, where clients are paying $45,000, $55,000, and more for a similarly sized jet.

About 15 percent of the Super Bowl crowd — expected to be about 80,000 this year — travels to the game by private jet, said Greg Raiff, chief executive of Private Jet Services Group in Seabrook, N.H., enough to make his business jump by one-third compared with other winter weekends.

“The Super Bowl is like Christmas for the private jet business,” said Raiff, who counts the Boston Bruins and NASA astronauts among his 50,000 annual clients. “It’s the holiday that the NFL gives us.”

Like many private jet businesses, Magellan and Private Jet Services are brokers that book flights on planes owned and operated by others. Magellan uses fashion designer Ralph Lauren’s plane, for instance. The industry has made a few attempts recently to open private jets to nonmillionaires, allowing members of jet-sharing services to book individual seats for as little as $1,000. But largely, private jets are still only affordable to the 1 percent.

This Super Bowl is the first to be played in the New York area, the center of the financial universe, which is creating a more corporate atmosphere than previous contests, observers say. Wall Street types who live close by do not need a flight to the game, but others are climbing aboard private jets for some serious football-related schmoozing.

Most of Magellan’s regular Super Bowl clients are going to the game to build business relationships, said chief executive Joshua Hebert — and the plane ride provides plenty of opportunities to network. Most of Magellan’s passengers this weekend are CEOs in the financial industry.

“They’re not going to sit and drink beer and have fun,” Hebert said. “They’re going to see people and be seen and get business done.”

But that doesn’t keep Magellan from making the atmosphere as festive as possible. The company finds out which team passengers are rooting for, and decorates the plane accordingly: streamers, sports blankets, pompoms in team colors, and flight attendants in team jerseys. They even deck out flight attendants in opposing jerseys if the crowd is split.

The catering is typical game-day fare — corn dogs, chicken wings, pigs in a blanket — but prepared by professional chefs. And plenty of mimosas, Bloody Marys, and beer, of course.

But some high-flying fans go to the Super Bowl just for fun. For the past six years, Private Jet Services has flown a Manchester, N.H., man and a group of his friends and family to the Super Bowl. He gets a stretch Hummer from his door to the Manchester airport, a 12-passenger jet, steaks from Ruth’s Chris, and unlimited Diet Coke — all to the tune of $75,000.

Passengers on Sentient Jet of Braintree pay about $9,500 an hour or more for a ride on an eight-passenger jet, and that price includes a lot of perks. If a client wants a half-mushroom, half pepperoni pizza at the end of every business trip — and one does — he gets it, said Andrew Collins, president of Sentient Jet.

Sentient even helped an environmental enthusiast rescue several bear and lion cubs and fly them to animal sanctuaries.

“Private aviation, it’s a little finicky,” Collins said. “When someone’s paying for private flying, they want to believe that we are in full control of every single element.”

Sentient, which earned about $150 million in revenue last year, has at least 15 Super Bowl flights on the books. Several will fly into Teterboro Airport, a facility that is only few miles from MetLife Stadium, but presents special challenges on Super Bowl Sunday.

Teterboro is already one of the busiest private aviation airports in the country, serving up to 400 aircraft on a typical winter Sunday, and the airport is expecting more than twice that for the Super Bowl, over the course of several days. For security reasons, the Federal Aviation Administration is shutting down air traffic within an eight-mile radius of the stadium from 5 p.m. Sunday until an hour after the game ends.

About 600 planes can remain parked at the airport. The rest will have to drop off passengers and pick them up after the game, but the airport is only allowing about 25 aircraft to arrive per hour afterward to keep congestion at a minimum.

Some local aviation companies did not get the surge in business they would have if the Patriots had made the Super Bowl. Before the ill-fated AFC Championship game against the Broncos, Rectrix Commercial Aviation Services, which owns five jets and is based at Hanscom Field in Bedford, got more than 100 inquiries for flights to the Super Bowl, said chief executive Richard Cawley.

And afterward? Cawley laughed: “None of them called back.”

Katie Johnston can be reached at kjohnston@globe.com.
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