Air travel shouldn’t be that hard. Granted, in the age of low-cost, no-frills airlines, few of us expect much in the way of luxury when we swing to the airport gates, but we at least assume that – for the most part – the flights we have booked departures with only a minimum of delay.
In any case, that confidence may be misplaced in the coming months. With travel demand growing as Covid restrictions lift, UK airlines and airports are struggling to recruit and train enough staff to ensure everything runs as normal. The industry’s troubles culminated around a spring school break and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. It was peak time to fly and day after day airlines and travel companies canceled hundreds of flights, disrupting the vacation plans of thousands of people. And it wasn’t just in Britain. Airports in Dublin, Amsterdam and Toronto were also affected by cancellations. It wasn’t the industry’s best hour.
So maybe now’s a good time to launch a company that aims to bring a more luxurious — or at least convenient — form of aviation within the reach of a wider range of people.
Soft launched earlier this year and now offers an app to complement the existing website. TailHail is a company created to make private jet travel more accessible to people who would previously have been priced out of the market. It would be wrong to suggest that it democratizes the rare world of private aviation – you have to be in pretty good spirits to board a flight booked through TailHail – but it brings the prices down.
Headwind or tailwind?
But then again, is it actually a good time to launch? There are quite a few headwinds to overcome. Stagnant economies, inflation, energy price increases and the ongoing climate change agenda. These are factors that could limit any expansion in the use of private jet travel. When I spoke to co-founders James Moon and Marla Ubhi, I was eager to learn more about positioning a private aviation startup in these difficult economic times.
Tail Hail is essentially a booking platform that benefits both private jet owners/operators and potential customers. The idea is that by creating a central marketplace, owners can get the most out of their aircraft, for example by ensuring that a plane traveling from London to the South of France is fully booked in both directions rather than, say, full on the first leg and empty on the second. This is an important factor. In fact, if a plane is only packed on one leg, the passengers are paying for the round trip. If both legs are fully booked, the costs will be the same.
“By using our technology, we can lower the price,” Moon says.
As Moon sees it, the private jet market is fragmented, inefficient and surprisingly low-tech. “Most bookings are done manually,” he says. The TailHail system allows owners to upload their flights and routes and advertise empty legs, which can then be booked by consumers.
But is this really a market ripe for expansion? Despite all the rigors of cheap travel — luggage restrictions and a distinct lack of free refreshments — the love affair between travelers and airlines offering routes to the sun for just a few pounds, euros or dollars doesn’t seem to be waning.
But TailHail has some clear market segments in mind, including business travelers seeking greater convenience and wealthy millennials willing to spend a little extra for the kind of comfort that private jets offer.
“The benefits of private aviation are significant,” says Marla Ubhi. “They include convenience and the time you spend traveling – you can go directly to a particular airport on a private jet. And in some countries, private aviation is essential to get around.” Ubhi also believes the pandemic has increased potential demand. “What we’ve noticed is that people are becoming more and more concerned about germs,” she says.
The recent travel chaos may also prompt business travelers and consumers to consider new modes of travel, if the price is right.
The environmental question
But let’s go back to those wealthy millennials — a generation that’s said to be environmentally conscious to the point of shunning brands that aren’t deemed ecologically or socially optimal. Will they warm to private aviation?
“We are no longer putting planes in the sky,” Ubhi said. “We make better use of airplanes that fly.”
Maan underlines that point. “We are very proud that our technology will reduce the impact of aviation on the environment,” he says.
Tailhail’s platform was not easy or simple to build. The private jet market is a nice umbrella term for many operators. Some good, some bad. Tail Hail started in the soft launch phase by creating a small network. This allowed the team to get to know the operators and also resolve any issues in the software platform. Now that the app is about to launch, the operation is now being scaled up.
Will it work? That remains to be seen, but with the chaos in air transportation likely to continue, a platform that allows people to book flights and fly to and from convenient airports with minimum delay could well find themselves publicly available. Likewise, however, the economic headwinds are very real right now.