How Instagrammers Are Faking the Luxury of a Private Jet for Just $64 an Hour
Somewhere in L.A., you can affordably pretend to fly among the private jet set. But online deception is rarely a surprise anymore.
For a brief moment in 2017, Bow Wow spent a day as one of the internet’s supporting characters. From an airport in Georgia, the rapper shared an Instagram photo of a private jet. “Travel Day,” the caption read. “Lets gooo.” Minutes later, a seatmate posted a photo of him in economy on a regular flight. The jet picture, it turned out, had been a stock image stolen from a Ft. Lauderdale private limousine company. Twitter filled with photos of the #BowWowChallenge—trappings of luxury, but obviously faked. “Gotta spoil myself now and then,” one user wrote, alongside a clunky Rolex drawn on construction paper.
The #BowWowChallenge got something close to a reboot recently, when word broke that Los Angeles photo studios rent out fake private jets. “Nahhhhh I just found out LA ig girlies are using studio sets that look like private jets for their Instagram pics,” @maisonmelissa wrote on Twitter. When blogs got wind, they collected photos of culprits posing by the same white leather seats, mahogany paneling, and small, round windows. “TikTok & Instagram influencers exposed for renting fake private jet set,” the Dexerto headline read. Even Lil Nas X—notorious ex-Tweet decker—weighed in, photoshopping himself onto the familiar white upholstery. “It’s crazy that anything you’re looking at could be fake,” @maisonmelissa said. “The setting, the clothes, the body… idk it just kinda of shakes my reality a bit lol.”
But like the photos, the story wasn’t exactly what it seemed. For one, the searches turned up only a few images, just a fraction of which came from actual influencer accounts. For another, they hadn’t come from a range of studios, but from a single venue in Los Angeles called FD Photo Studio, which bills its fake jet as the first and only of its kind in the city. For a third, only a small portion of their clientele come from personal shoots. Most customers use the set for the same reasons they use any other in Los Angeles: the entertainment industry. “Hip-hop music videos are our bread and butter,” an FD Photo Studio employee said. That bears out—check out the jet in the music video for Famous Dex’s “What I Like.”
FD Photo Studio is owned by a middle-aged blond man named Sergey Kostikov, who immigrated to California from Russia in the 2000s. At the time, Kostikov moonlit as a professional photographer, but had trouble finding places to shoot. “Everything I saw you had to pay $500 for the whole day minimum,” he said, “and that was before the equipment and insurance and lights.” In 2012, he rented a small, well-lit space in L.A.’s Fashion District—hence the initials, FD—and made simple sets by hand: a black wall, a white wall, a brick backdrop. He let friends book the place to cover rent. Mostly, he said, it was his hobby.
It was only in 2017 that the studios became a business and they remained very low-budget. Kostikov made most of the sets from scrap parts, enlisting the help of a single contractor for the more complicated stages. Dubbed “Olympic 4” for extremely straightforward reasons—it was the fourth set at the studio’s Olympic Boulevard location—the fake jet rents for just $64 an hour. If Kostikov had been able to recover a broken jet hull, it might have been cheaper. “The problem with airplane graveyards is that they only sell parts that can be used,” Kostikov said. “If they can be used, they’re expensive.” He and the contractor built it from wood.
The set itself is pretty spare—just a short, white tunnel lined with gray, airport carpeting. There are two chairs, a table, and a couch, though Kostikov plans to add more accessories. One side of the tunnel ends on a wood paneled wall; the other side opens up into the cluttered warehouse where it’s stored. Elsewhere on the property, there’s an all-white room with a rotating floor for cars, a hollowed-out industrial garage, an LED tunnel, a boxing ring, and a black room with a rig for fake rain.
Americans love few things more than finding out someone has less money than they claim—that Trump’s taxes don’t square with his ostentatious dealmaking, that Kylie Jenner isn’t a billionaire. It’s a normal response to a culture that places such high premiums on wealth, that lets those who have it move largely unchecked. There’s a satisfaction in pulling back the curtain, reveling in how little’s going on back there.
Uncovering illusions in social media offers a similar schadenfreude. But the surprise of online deception has been stale for a while. There is an ingrained suspicion now in any online experience that all, most, or some aspect or another has been artificially inflated or tweaked. A New York magazine piece titled “How Much of the Internet is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually”—published nearly two years ago—described the “fakeness” of the present internet as “less a calculable falsehood and more a particular quality of experience—the uncanny sense that what you encounter online is not ‘real’ but is also undeniably not ‘fake,’ and indeed may be both at once, or in succession, as you turn it over in your head.” What I’m saying is, there are a lot of fake jets out there. At least this one's carbon neutral.