Come Fly With Me

Flight-sharing apps allow travelers to split the cost of private transportation

Private aviation just got more affordable. At the beginning of October 2020, entrepreneur Carl Marbach launched SharedCharter, a flight-sharing service for private jet charters. Likening the site to Airbnb, Marbach says it provides travelers a way to connect and reduce private aviation costs by at least half.

An example: SharedCharter recently arranged a charter flight from Colorado to Florida for six couples who met through the app. The flight cost $21,000. By dividing it among the six couples, the cost became $1,750 per person.

“It never gets to be cheap,” Marbach admits, but the site isn’t trying to appeal to the value-driven traveler. Instead, it hopes to capture the market already comfortable with a $1,500 first-class ticket. Factor in the conveniences of flying private aviation— smaller airports, no waiting in line, no baggage claim—and the reduced price tag becomes justifiable.

“There are certainly people who are not concerned about the price and wouldn’t consider sharing a charter with anybody,” Marbach says, “but there are a whole lot more people who won’t consider a charter at $24,000 but who would consider it at $12,000 or $6,000.”

SharedCharter isn’t the first service to connect private fliers. JetSmarter launched in 2012 and was touted as the Uber of private aviation. It had celebrity investors and subscribers, and at one time the company claimed a valuation of $1.5 billion. After a series of lawsuits and fraud allegations, the company was acquired by Dubai-based Vista Global in 2019. The rebranded service, XO, offers single seats on shared flights.

“There’s no question that all sorts of business models are being tried right now,” says Stephen Green, general manager of the Naples Jet Center. “There’s an accelerating pace of private jet transportation across all price points, from the highest to the lowest.”

Though Green says those who fly private are absolutely worried about cost, in the Naples market cost is less important than safety and reliability. If a plane that’s scheduled to take six customers from the Naples Airport to Aspen the day before Christmas has a mechanical problem, travelers want to make sure the operator they’re flying has enough jets to swap them to a new plane easily.

Still, Green imagines that flight-sharing apps such as SharedCharter will also have an appeal for more cost-conscious leisure travelers, including “folks who haven’t traveled private a ton, but who can afford it. Maybe historically they took 12 round trips a year out of RSW, and now they’re going to take two on a private jet out of Naples.”
That’s exactly the market Marbach is aiming for. “I started in coach, then I moved to the front of the plane because it was more comfortable,” he says. “This is just the next step.” That step might be difficult to make while going from $1,500 to $15,000. But at a lower price point, Marbach’s betting it will open private aviation to a new type of clientele.

Photo Credit: Getty
Published: February 2021