Firm taps market for single charter seats

 - January 29, 2009, 5:06 AM

Newly launched PrivateJet allows travelers to buy and sell individual seats on chartered aircraft. Individuals can use the site to post available seats for sale to pre-registered fellow members, with a 25-percent commission applying on each seat sold.

According to managing director Alex Hunter, PrivateJetShare acts as a social networking channel, encouraging people with common interests and travel itineraries to share aircraft. For example, people who have second homes in an area such as the French Riviera might find it convenient to travel together in a shared private aircraft.

In some cases, the price of each seat will be less than that for a fully flexible scheduled airline business class ticket on the same or similar routes. In other cases, the flights offered will get members much closer to their final destination than available airline service (see Seats for Sale).

Buyers and sellers have to register with PrivateJetShare to be able to use the site, with membership subject to vetting to exclude “known criminals” from using the system.

The seller has to provide information to verify that the seats offered are on an aircraft legitimately operated for charter by an operator holding a valid commercial aircraft operator’s certificate, and the UK-based company will check this information to prevent the site from becoming a conduit for illegal charter operations using privately registered aircraft. According to PrivateJetShare, the charter operator’s standard aircraft insurance covers all passengers, regardless of whether the customer booked a flight directly with them or purchased individual seats through the Web site.

The lead passenger, the person who booked the flight, makes decisions such as how many seats will be sold and at what price, and whether to impose restrictions such as to exclude children or leisure travelers from the flight.
PrivateJetShare confirms all flight details with both buyers and sellers before the departure. The cut-off for bookings has to allow enough time for both parties to be informed of these details.

After a booking is made, passenger details are passed on to the operator via the lead passenger for inclusion on the passenger list and other immigration and airport requirements. The passengers are also given the operator and handling-agent details after booking. 

Each flight posted will show the departure and arrival airports, a date and time for the departure and a price per seat. PrivateJetShare can provide suggested seat prices, and it holds the money paid for the seats in an escrow account before passing it on (minus the commission) to the seller once the flight has been made.

Members selling seats can opt to reduce the sale price posted on the Web site but must sell all seats offered at the same price.

Another option for PrivateJetShare members is to post a “tentative request” for a flight to discover whether other members would be willing to share the cost of a charter booking to a specific destination at a specific date and time. The goal is to attract enough commitment to fill 60 percent of the available passenger seats. If this threshold is not met, the members can agree to proceed with the flight, but pay a higher per-seat cost. Alternatively, the member who posted the tentative request can cancel the transaction, forfeiting a £100 ($150) deposit. If the flight goes ahead, the deposit is deducted from the commission paid by the member for the seats sold via the Web site.

In some instances, PrivateJetShare itself is posting tentative flight proposals to give examples of the trips that can be made. These proposals expire if insufficient commitment is forthcoming.

When members register with the site, they indicate a personal travel profile that the system can use to pair up sellers of seats with prospective buyers. They can also ask to receive e-mail alerts to promote flights that become available.

Hunter, a 27-year-old former charter broker, acknowledged that sharing a chartered aircraft with a third party involves some loss of flexibility, mainly in terms of the ability to change departure times at short notice. However, he told AIN that the business model is especially timely in the context of the prevailing economic downturn when charter customers may find it harder to bear the cost of hiring a full aircraft. In his view, members will sacrifice some flexibility and privacy to avoid having to go back to the airlines.

“When we first had this idea, we thought it would appeal mainly to those wanting to upgrade from airline service but more recently we’ve seen how the model can work the other way by giving people a way to avoid having to downgrade from charter to the airlines,” Hunter commented.

The terms and conditions for flights booked through PrivateJetShare will essentially be enforced on an honor system. “There is an element of host and guest in this sort of arrangement, and a blackball system will apply for members who breach the rules,” said Hunter.

According to Hunter, some charter operators initially resisted the idea of seats on their aircraft being essentially resold by their own customers. However, he added that most have warmed to the idea–perhaps because demand has softened in recent months and they don’t want to stand in the way of bookings.

As of early December, PrivateJetShare had signed up more than 500 members, and it claimed to be building the membership by about 10 percent each week.
The first flights booked through the program were expected to be made by the start of this month.   

Seats for Sale

The following is a sample of some of the seats and flights being offered for sale at on January 8. All prices are in British pounds. The prices in parentheses indicate sample business-class one-way fares either for the same or similar city pairing:

• London Luton to Geneva. Departure at 9 a.m. on February 14. Eight seats available on an unspecified super light jet at £1,500 each. (British Airways scheduled one-way flight costs £593.)

• London Farnborough to Samedan. Departure at 10 a.m. on February 16. Return on February 22 at 2 p.m. Eight seats available in a Cessna Citation Excel at £2,700 each for the round trip. (British Airways scheduled round trip to Zurich, 125 miles north of Samedan, costs £723.)

• London Luton to Milan Linate. Departure at 10 a.m. on February 20. Return on February 22 at 5 p.m. Eight seats available in an unspecified light jet at £1,770 for the round trip. (British Airways one-way scheduled round-trip costs £794.)    n™