Air travel shouldn’t be quite so difficult. Granted, in the age of low-cost, no-frills airlines, few of us expect much in the way of luxury when we rock up to the airport gates, but at the very least we assume that – for the most part – the flights we’ve booked will depart with only a minimum of delay.
For the next few months at least, that confidence might be misplaced. With demand for travel rising as Covid restrictions fall away, U.K. airlines and airports have been struggling to recruit and train enough staff to ensure that everything runs as normal. The problems of the industry culminated in the period surrounding a Spring school holiday and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. It was a peak time for flying and day after day, airlines and travel companies canceled hundreds of flights, throwing the holiday plans of thousands of people into chaos. And it wasn’t just in Britain. Airports serving Dublin, Amsterdam and Toronto were also hit by cancellations. It wasn’t the industry’s finest hour.
So perhaps its a good time to launch a company that aims to place a more luxurious – or at the very least convenient – form of aviation within the reach of a larger number of people.
Soft-launched earlier this year and now offering an app to complement its existing website, TailHail is a company founded 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’s democratising the rarified world of private aviation – you need to be pretty well-heeled to board a flight booked through TailHail – but it is bringing the price points down.
Headwinds Or Tailwinds?
Then again, is it actuallygood time to launch? There are a quite a few headwinds to overcome. Stagnating economies, inflation, energy price rices and the ongoing climate change agenda. These are factors that might mitigate any expansion in the uptake of private jet travel. When I spoke to co-founders James Moon and Marla Ubhi, I was keen to find out more about the positioning of a private aviation startup in these troubled economic times.
Tail Hail is essentially a booking platform that sets out to benefit both private jet owners/operators and possible customers. The idea is that by creating a central marketplace, owners can make the most of their aircraft – for instance by ensuring that a plane that travels from London to the South of France is booked up in both directions rather than, say, full on the first leg and empty on the second. This is an important factor. If there a plane is full on one leg only, the passengers are, in effect, paying for the outwards and return journey. If both legs are booked up, the costs even out.
“By using our technology, we can bring price points down,” says Moon.
As Moon sees it, the private jet market has been fragmented, inefficient and surprising low tech. “Most of the booking has been manual,” he says. The TailHail system enables owners to upload their flights and routes and advertise empty legs, which can then be booked by consumers.
But is this really a market that is ripe for expansion. Despite the all the privations of low-cost travel – baggage restrictions, and a distinct lack of free refreshments spring to mind – the love affair between travelers and airlines that offer routes to the sun for just a few pounds, euros or dollars doesn’t seem to be diminishing.
But TailHail has some clear market segments in mind, including business travellers seeking more convenience and wealthy millennials who are prepared to spend a bit extra for the kind of comfort that private jets offer.
“There benefits of private aviation are substantial,” says Marla Ubhi. “They include convenience and the time spent travelling – you can go direct to a particular airport in a private jet. And in some countries, private aviation is essential to getting around.” Ubhi also believes that the pandemic has increased the potential demand. “What we’ve noticed is that people are increasingly worried about germs,” she says.
The recent travel chaos may also prompt business travellers 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 is said to be environmentally conscious to the point of eschewing brands that are considered environmentally or socially less than optimal. Will they warm to private aviation?
“We are not putting more planes in the air,” says Ubhi. “We are making better use of planes that are flying.”
Moon underlines that point. “We are very proud of the fact that our technology will reduce the impact of aviation on the environment, “ he says.
Tailhail’s platform has not been easy or straightforard to build. The private plane market is a neat umbrella term for a myriad of operators. Some good, some bad. Tail Hail started at the soft launch phase by creating a small network. This allowed the team to get to know the operators and also work through any glitches in the software platform. With the app about to launch, the operation is now being scaled up.
Will it succeed? that remains to be seen but with air transport chaos likely to continue, a platform that allows people to book flights and fly to and from convenient airports with a minimum of delay might well find and audience. Equally, though, the economic headwinds at the moment are very real.