The Truth About The Startup Selling Those $111 Private Flights

I spoke this week with the co-CEO and CFO of Kinect Air, a buzzy startup that is offering private jet flights without a membership.

They sent out a press release, and a lot of outlets rewrote it, misunderstanding their message in the process. CNN, for instance: Uber-style private airplane trips are here – and flights cost from $111.

  • When I saw ‘Uber for private jets’ I instantly thought ‘FlyteNow’ which really was an app between consumers and general aviation pilots letting private pilots pick up passengers for gas money until the FAA said that was illegal commercial activity and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

  • The focus of the piece was on selling open legs of private jet flights, re-positioning flights where the plane is flying anyway to pick up a scheduled customers and doing so empty. So those flights can be sold cheap. But many startups have offered open legs before, that’s not unique, and a regulatory issue prevents them from selling $111 flights – it’ll generally run from almost $1,000 to several thousand dollars.

Nonetheless there’s something really interesting about what they’re doing, it’s just not what’s getting the buzzy interest from a misunderstanding because people seem to read and rewrite press releases without knowing what they’re writing about or doing the work to get clarification.

Kinect Air sells open legs on private flights, and lets you schedule private flights online, all without a membership fee or even registering first. They’re being touted as a company that lets you fly private for $111. But the real innovation is online booking and confirmation, and working with operators of less expensive aircraft.

Selling Open Legs On Private Jet Flights

Kinect Air has an open leg marketplace, where you can book a flight on a private plane that needs to travel between two cities. They’re going anyway so you pay for them to take you on that route at that time and it’s a lot cheaper than chartering a plane yourself.

They work with a lot of operators, and even occasionally put together roundtrips and do so using more than one operators in a single itinerary. That’s pretty cool, but this is also limited.

  • Open legs generally become available a couple of days prior to travel. This is for last minute trips. The person chartering the plane is doing so for their own flexibility and their plans may change!

  • You can set a time for the flight within a window set by the operator that accommodates their repositioning needs.

  • The flight isn’t actually guaranteed. Things usually work out, but the private charter client may cancel.

Most importantly Kinect Air does not sell individual seats on open legs. Something we’d seen from a lot of startups is that they charge a membership fee, and they offer open legs for free. But selling individual seats on charters is heavily regulated by the FAA and they don’t have approval for that.

Moreover the practice of selling seats on scheduled charter flights is currently under review, with a pending set of new rules, as American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and pilot unions have lobbied to end the practice (trying to prevent SkyWest from operating Essential Air Service routes as a charter service, accessing co-pilots with fewer hours of experience, and trying to put JSX out of business as a premium competitor based in Dallas.

This is how regulatory capture blocks innovation, limiting not just the businesses that incumbents are trying to block but other developments that could make the industry better for consumers.

Selling Flights Online Without A Membership

This is the real first innovation. You don’t have to pay a monthly fee or high upfront cost to search and book flights. Anyone can book a private charter of their own, or an open leg, right on their website (mobile-optimized, no app yet).

You can also sign up for notifications of available open legs to or from your preferred city. For open legs, again, you’re paying for the whole flight and the number of passengers is how many people can travel – they show a per-person cost – and amounts can be even less than $111 but you’re paying for all the seats.

Create Your Own Private Jet Trip Easily

Most private jet booking is full of friction. Not having a membership or even having to sign in to search options and prices is innovative.

For someone without a pre-existing membership in a charter service you usually fill out an online form and the charter company follows up with you, or you have to call. It takes time and you may be calling more than one company. So setting up a trip with real pricing right on the website and without hoops to jump through is nice.

They’re also working with piston engine charters which aren’t sexy or luxurious aircraft, but can give you trips much less expensively.

Democratizing Private Jet Travel

The pitch for Kinect Air is that they’re democratizing private jet travel. That’s not quite true. Selling individual seats on open legs would be closer to that, but they cannot do this.

What they’re doing is making searching for private jet travel easier, and they’re connecting with operators of less expensive planes to fly, both of which are real innovations and reasons I’ve bookmarked the site.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Finding an open leg to/from your airport at the date/time you want to fly is like a duck hunter pointing a gun out the window and hoping a duck is flying past the window.

  2. I’ve never flown on a small jet. Maybe it would be fun to do sometime. If a return trip cannot be arranged, I would get a different form of transportation back.

  3. Overused buzzword of the decade: “democratizing”.

    As in when a $10,000 private jet is now $8,000. You know, because it’s now completely within reach of the average American, whose ANNUAL disposable income (from which he or she has to pay for housing, food, gas, etc. etc.) is $56,088 … NOT!!

  4. Do they take dogs? There is a huge new segment of pet owners who book private jets to transport their dogs in the cabin rather than risking cargo.

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