Beds don’t come standard on the Cessna 421 Golden Eagle. But then, this plane isn’t designed for ordinary sightseeing. It’s the flagship for Love Cloud, a new venture all about fulfillment of the mile-high fantasy in Las Vegas’ extra-friendly skies.
“I want it to be romantic,” says the company’s 32-year-old founder, Andy Johnson, “... one of those bucket-list things that you did that you will never forget for the rest of your life.”
It’s the first of its kind to be based in Las Vegas, and Johnson says the experience is on another level of luxury from his competitors. The cabin is basically a custom bed, and a wireless JBL system lets guests customize mood lighting and music. Condoms and lubricant are provided, and you can add chocolates, roses and limo rides to packages starting at $800 for 40 minutes cruising at 5,280 feet. Back on the ground, Mile High Club VIP cards are awarded, and Johnson hopes to link the cards to VIP services at Strip destinations. From tying the knot to rekindling sparks, Love Cloud seems like a perfect fit for Vegas to the entrepreneur, who shared that he just made it to the second round of auditions for popular startup-incubator show Shark Tank.
Johnson says that in addition to his business model, his application for the show included a disclosure: In 2012, in connection to his Virginia-based flight school, Johnson was charged by the U.S. Attorney with operating an aircraft “carelessly and heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others … subsequent to his Commercial Pilot Certificate having been revoked …” He pled guilty to a lesser offense—one count of reckless operation of an aircraft—and served 20 days in jail and one year of probation. While he disputes some aspects of the case and believes he was made an example, he admits flying without privileges on several occasions was a serious mistake.
“It was never the recklessness of flying, really. It was the recklessness of me wanting to keep the business afloat and not making the smartest actions and not thinking of ramifications,” he says, explaining that he flew with a suspended license because he was desperate to save his business in the recession. He launched it with one plane at age 24, and it had grown to 14 employees and a fleet of 17 when the economy crashed. Johnson claims that violations of aircraft certification/inspection requirements that led to his initial suspension by the FAA resulted from a mechanic’s clerical errors as opposed to legitimate safety issues, adding: “Safety is my No. 1 concern.”
Ultimately, he says he sold his flight school and thought of leaving aviation. “It’s who I am, and to not be able to do what I love so much was the biggest pill to swallow. And I didn’t have anybody else to point the finger at other than myself," he says. "When I used to take somebody from not even knowing how to fly an airplane to them flying for themselves and then actually getting their license, you know, they’ll remember that for the rest of their life, and I still have people that will call me or Facebook me and say, ‘You know what, after everything that happened, thank you so much for everything you did for me.’ ... I still touched a lot of people, and that makes me happy and it reminds me that I did do something right, I did do a lot of things right, and that I can do that again.”
Las Vegas is “the city of second chances,” and Johnson hopes to prove he’s learned hard lessons and moved forward, though anchoring Love Cloud here was more about the market for novelty experiences and the open-minded culture. While he plans to reapply for his pilot licenses, he’s running this business from the ground, focusing on development, marketing and customer service and leaving contracted commercial pilots to fly couples making memories.
“I hope that people really, truly will fall in love with Love Cloud ...” Johnson says. “It’s not just a flight with a bed in it. It’s something much more than that.”
A Love Cloud Q&A
Isn’t the Mile High Club about getting away with sex surrounded by strangers and at the mercy of the law? If it happens in a private cabin, does it count? If you Google it, the definition is having intercourse in the air above 5,280 feet, which is exactly one mile. … It might be corporate policy, but as far as FAA policy, there’s nothing really there saying you can’t do it. … How do people even make it happen in some of those small bathrooms?
You’ve solved that problem with a custom bed, special pillows for positioning and a wireless system for mood lighting and music. What’s on the song roster? You know who’s a good one? Nora Jones. … A lot of people I’ve talked to, they want to have their own playlist. … Maybe it was the song that played at their wedding or when they first met. I’ve found that people like to customize.
As a kid, did you dream of being a pilot? I majored in French; I wanted to be an international pilot like my dad. He was in the Navy, so that’s why I grew up in the Virginia Beach area. So aviation’s always been in my blood. I started flying when I was 13; I became a commercial pilot when I was 19 and became a flight instructor when I was 20.
You’ve gotten some weird responses to the Love Cloud concept, like some guy asking if there would be a bunk bed. I’m like, “This is not a submarine.”
Love Cloud offers packages ranging from a 40-minute experience to an hour and a half. What about tantric lovers like Sting who might need 14 hours? We’d have to refuel. And we can’t refuel in midair. … I think some people are quick, and they’re like, “I don’t need another hour. I’m a 10-minute guy; can we actually cut this off early?” Or you can sight see and get into the mood.
Even in Vegas, are you worried about ruffling feathers with such a sex-centric concept? Vegas is the place where people will do things that they normally would never do back home. They’re here to have fun. … Some people look at this as raunchy. I don’t. … I think that the way I lay it out, the way I present it on the website and the way that I talk about it is the way that people are going to perceive it.
Your own parents took a bit of convincing, but your mom ended up making the sound-muffling curtain that separates the cockpit from the cabin. She would say to people, “Look, I’m not in the business; I’m just the seamstress.” (laughs)
To make sure clients have privacy, your pilots wear noise-cancelling headsets. But is that safe, and does it actually work in such a small aircraft? [Passengers] will always have headsets available; they can always pull down the curtain. … We’ve actually put mesh in there to damper the sound. You’ve got to remember, too, these are two large engines, so it’s actually that kind of white noise that you get. … You could be as loud as you want; the pilot is not going to hear you.
And what about making sure that the cabin is hygienic? After every flight we have a professional cleaning service.
Clients take home a Mile High Club certificate, but it’s the size of a credit card. Why so small? Nobody’s gonna frame it and put it in their office. Maybe they will, but I highly doubt it. This is still one of those things, people want to be discreet but tell their friends about it.
You plan to expand, with a bigger plane that can go much farther than the 25-nautical-mile ring you’re limited to now—like the Grand Canyon—and accommodate more than one couple. What about taking the business to other cities? Even in a big metropolitan area it’s not always going to work. I think it would be New York, Miami, LA. That’s basically it for the continental U.S. Then you have maybe the Bahamas, Dubai, even Paris, maybe Rome. But I don’t look to be the person to expand it. I want to brand it.
What’s on your personal bucket list? One would be to fly into outer space; I think that would be so cool.