MIAMI — It’s no secret that consumers often employ the help of various third-party search engines when hunting around for commercial airfares. But here’s a question: where do you turn if you’re in the market for a private flight? That seems a little less clear.
PrivateFly wants to change that. Noticing a lack of comparability in the private jet market, Adam Twidell — PrivateFly’s CEO — launched his company in 2007 with the intention of making booking a private flight easier and more transparent for the customer.
His site, now approaching a decade in age, helps match interested customers with a private jet company, laying out on a plate all of the different options and their associated prices given where the customer wants to travel. Mr. Twidell recently spoke about his concept in an interview with Airways.
According to its own website, PrivateFly is “a global booking service for private jet charter and private aircraft hire.” It operates very similarly to the third-party resources with which travelers might already be familiar, taking input preferences from customers and presenting them with potential itineraries matching those selections, all displayed side-by-side to allow for easy comparisons.
Given preferences for departure times, origin and destination, and jet size, PrivateFly helps travelers book their trips according to the most competitive rate on the market.
Adam compares his product to sites like Expedia, considering it the equivalent of this website for private travel. Despite the general lack of public awareness, he draws many parallels between PrivateFly and other third-party search engines, pointing out the willingness of consumers to book trips in this manner historically: “We haven’t created anything really original here,” he said. “People have been buying flights and hotels like this.”
There’s nothing revolutionary about PrivateFly, he believes. But nonetheless, no similar products existed in the private travel market before its creation, a void which Twidell sought to fill.
The airline industry owes a large share of its passenger traffic to just a few carriers. This differs substantially from the private jet market, one “much more fragmented” according to Twidell. “There are thousands of aircraft operated by thousands of operators,” he explained, which adds a layer of difficulty of the customer in determining “if they’re paying too much.”
Twidell wondered: “why isn’t there an online network connecting the two parties?” This very question provoked him to develop PrivateFly.
Starting the company represented a venture into untested waters. Twidell’s background includes a long history in aviation, but mainly as a pilot. He previously served in the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force, and worked as a private pilot with NetJets, a prominent private aviation company. But Twidell always knew internally that he’d end up “doing [his] own thing,” citing an “itch that was always there” to launch his own company.
Getting PrivateFly off the ground involved a great deal of risk. Twidell said he sold his home to finance the venture, reflecting the large investments required on his part. Furthermore, opening his doors for business in 2007, Twidell quickly faced the challenges of navigating his business through one of the world global recessions in history.
The economic downturn posed a particular challenge for the travel sector, but especially for PrivateFly, given the ease of cutting out private travel during tight financial times.
In some respects, “it was absolutely terrible timing,” he admits. But Twidell also believes that some of the cost-conscious attitudes fostered by the recession drove some customers to PrivateFly, in search of minimizing the cost of private travel. “During a recession, people want to hold onto their cash. Individuals challenged their suppliers and reviewed costs. All of those messages during a recession have helped,” he claims.
Additionally, he cites an influx of supply into the private travel market as a factor making flying by private jet more reasonable. There’s “lots of supply in the market,” Twidell claims. “There have never been so many different types of private jets, and the vast majority of the aircraft are young and have to be used.” Additionally, falling fuel prices contribute to “driving prices down.” As a result, the private jet market is “very competitive” today.
Of course, Twidell admits that flying by private jet is “almost always more expensive” than airline travel. But despite the additional cost, he maintains that, with the assistance provided by PrivateFly, a good number of travelers will willingly pay a bit more for a drastically more convenient and hassle free experience.
The level of demand for private travel varies significantly by region for PrivateFly. Some areas of the country experience “very seasonal” patterns, such as Florida or other prominently leisure destinations. Other regions display “more flat” demand, mixed more evenly with business and leisure fliers.
Interestingly enough, Twidell revealed the most commonly booked flight is actually from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Key sporting events also represent a high tide for PrivateFly, with the Super Bowl as the busiest single event of the year. Flying to Cuba also interests the company, should the United States government lift travel restrictions to the country.
Flying by private jet, as one might imagine, offers many valuable perks. For one, customers escape the often hassle-laden experience of traveling with the airlines, freeing travelers “of a lot of the stress.” Twidell stated that customers may arrive minutes before the scheduled departure time, and often drive their cars directly up to the aircraft, rather than battling through airport security and hustling to locate their gate.
Furthemore, private jets boast access to a wider variety of “smaller airports closer to the destination,” which translates into a “time savings” for the flier. For many business travelers, or even just wealthier leisure travelers, the value of these conveniences might outweigh the costs.
Twidell also highlighted the importance of premier customer service for PrivateFly. “Customer service is everything,” he proclaimed, noting that most of PrivateFly’s customers are “industry leaders or executives at the top of their company,” an audience accustomed to “people doing things for them all day long.” He pinpointed four primary reasons that one might influence one’s decision to travel by private jet: price, speed of response, expertise, and finally, amazing customer service.
Providing a top-notch experience significantly contributes to his customers’ valuation of private jet travel. Accordingly, several policies at PrivateJet are geared toward offering a highly personalized and comfortable trip. Twidell said his pilots “meet the customer at the front of the FBO,” which helps to “relax” the customer from the first point of contact.
Furthermore, PrivateJet ensures the aircraft designated for travel arrives at least an hour-and-a-half prior to departure, which allows for an early departure should the customer arrive earlier than expected. Exceptional customer service – simple things “that don’t have to cost money” – produces a “wow factor” that ultimately leads to many return customers for PrivateFly.
Keeping a lid on costs also functions as an important part of PrivateFly’s business. Twidell claims that the “most important thing about lowering costs is that we know exactly where the aircraft are in real time,” allowing PrivateFly to easily locate the “right aircraft for the customer’s needs that minimizes positioning.”
Additionally, readily available prices from competitors helps “stop the inflation of pricing,” with a wealth of information at customers’ fingertips as they book a flight. The understanding of PrivateFly “as a marketplace” is essential, says Twidell.
Most associate private travel as an activity only of the elites, which may in large part be true. But PrivateFly’s model is opening the door for some new customers to enter the industry, or at least making it easier to do so.