Possibilities Series: James Aviani (VP of Enterprise Systems & IT at Blue Jeans Network)
Every now and then, an amazing career opportunity pops up that you really don’t want to refuse—but if it means uprooting your life and family and moving hundreds of miles away, it might give you pause. Unless, of course, there was an air travel solution that would allow you to live and work where you wanted.
This is the story of James Aviani, VP of Enterprise Systems & IT at Blue Jeans Network. Thanks to Surf Air, he was able to take that job. And, he still makes it home every night. Here Aviani talks about flying, the importance of facetime, and saving a bundle on airfare.
On joining Surf Air
I was looking at another job opportunity, for a guy I used to work with, in the Bay Area; and it was going to be pretty much impossible to accept the position without Surf Air.
I didn’t want to uproot my family. It’s a start-up, and you know how these things go. Surf Air started servicing Santa Barbara to the Bay Area, and I thought this is phenomenal. It gave me a nice negotiating ploy. So it is one of those life changing things.
On commercial and other modes of transport
I’ve flown to the Bay Area for 20 years on and off. I did Skywest, I’ve driven, I’ve done every permutation possible to the Bay Area, with lots of vendors. And Surf Air is qualitatively better, no comparison. Now, you need to budget an hour more just to get through parking and other stuff at commercial airports.
With Surf Air, to be recognized as a safe person and get on the plane with a 15-minute lead time is fantastic. It changes the dynamic of travel. Also, the location is ideal because San Carlos is right in the middle of South Bay and San Francisco. I have meetings in one or the other place, and it makes it extremely easy for me to go north or south. I can make that decision at the last minute.
On making connections
Another great benefit has been meeting other people. It’s not exactly social. I’m a technologist, not a social guy, but even me—I’m surprised at how many people I’ve met. Kind of a funny bond, flying with people.
There was one guy I knew who was looking for a job and I was able to put him in touch with this other guy. You become colleagues. They’re not buddy buddies, but they’re definitely colleagues. I know them as well as I know the people I work with.
On Surf Air revolutionizing air travel
You’ve discovered this whole other world of air travel that’s quasi-private air travel. You realize the airports are split in 2, you have this completely different perspective on airport travel.
Extemporaneously, you get used to the small cabin size very quickly, and you feel almost more comfortable seeing the pilot, knowing what’s going on. Unlike commercial where you’re just hoping something’s going on in the front of the plane.
On how invaluable face time is
I work in the video conference space. I am super familiar with video conferences, however there’s nothing like going face to face. If I’m meeting my boss or I’m meeting a client—even though we sell video conferences, it’s really powerful to be able to connect in person. It’s an order of magnitude to be there physically. So for Surf Air to allow that to happen, it’s exceptional.
I wouldn’t feel comfortable hiring or firing or making major decisions [virtually]. That stuff has to be done in person. Or you need a lot of face time to build the trust, to make those decisions and not be there. There’s no comparison.
On flying at the last minute
The other thing that’s kind of funny, there have been times, something hot will come up at work and it’s like, this is not going to get resolved over emails. I’m like f*** it. I’m just gonna fly. I pop up and people are completely surprised, like ‘How did you get here?’
And it goes the other way too. Something at home will come up and there will be a seat available and I’ll go home. So that part has been great. There are times when it lends itself to very last-minute travel, which is really difficult to pull off with a commercial airline.
On the team at Surf Air
I’ve been very happy with the staff, they’re always friendly. I’ve done it now for 3 years, so we’ve had problems at times, but Surf Air works overtime to make it right. These situations occur, it’s very much on par with the best airlines.
Surf Air is very innovative, the notion of reserving a certain number of seats ahead of time. It took some getting used to, but I think that system strikes the right balance of predictable and flexible and fair.
On being economical
Oh god yeah, it’s more than economical. I go up [to the Bay] twice a week, sometimes 3 times. Round-trip tickets would be exorbitant. There’s no economical way to do that, so the choice would be to drive which would be laborious. Or cut down the travel to such an extent that I couldn’t create the human bonds to get my job done.
It would be extraordinarily challenging to do the work that I do without Surf Air.
On telling others about Surf Air
It has a certain reputation. People want to hear all about it. I live here, but I work 100 miles away. It’s like an airbus, or like a van we take up north that happens to fly. I don’t want to sound bragging!
I describe it as somewhere between being a pilot with your own aircraft and flying United. It’s a commuter aircraft, 8 seats, and no I don’t have to go through TSA. That’s when people get jealous.
On being with family
[My kids] grew up with me traveling all the time. I travel internationally, sometimes to India, so they’re used to it. But now, I sleep in my own bed almost every night. I will do everything I can to sleep in our house every night, and that mostly happens. There have been very, very few times I haven’t—it’s usually never to do with Surf Air, it’s usually a work thing.
My kids can count on me being home and being around every night. Surf Air’s absolutely made that possible.