Where do private jets fit in the aviation landscape?

How Toronto's Jettly is offering a different travel experience than big competitors through private premium flights.
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Thanks to Canadian company Jettly, consumers can theoretically use an app to request a private flight from Toronto to Montreal (or any other destination around the world), arrive at the airport a half-hour later, have their luggage and passport checked by the pilot, and be off.

The experience comes at an average cost of US$20,000 to $30,000 – with many itineraries coming in at over $500,000 – but that hasn’t stopped the Richmond Hill, Ont.-based business from growing into a global network available in 190 countries and territories over the last two years, according to CEO Justin Crabbe.

“We’re essentially an Expedia but for the private aviation market,” he says. While customers can purchase a commercial flight through the online travel booking company, Jettly allows a person to book a whole aircraft headed “basically anywhere in the world.”

“There hasn’t been, until today, an ability to streamline the transaction and digitize the space,” says Crabbe. “That’s where we come in.”

The entrepreneur has built his business catering to a very specific client base: wealthier individuals looking to fly their families to Antigua for a vacation, for example. Jettly is also used as a “shuttle” of sorts, making routine flights into Alberta’s oil fields or piloting C-Suite executives from one city to the next, all in the same day.

At first glance, Jettly’s existence appears at odds with rising demand for more affordable flights. In recent years, Canadian airlines have begin offering entry-level fares and launching ultra-low cost alternatives, like WestJet’s Swoop.

But as Porter’s SVP and CMO Kevin Jackson told strategy this summer, the trend is more about segmentation. As some companies have sought to offer more flexibility with their low-end ticket prices, others have been investing in more refined experiences for premium business travellers.

“We appeal to the first-class traveller, the business aviation user, the person who is typically using first-class at the commercial level,” says Crabbe. “They’re the ones telling us, I’m fed up with the delays, I’m fed up with all this stuff.”

Its main focus has been to educate potential customers around the nature of its offering. While private flights are inevitably out of the question for customers looking to fly cheap, Crabbe says it’s not as expensive as people think: one flight from Toronto to New York costs $4,000; for a family of five, that amounts to $800 per seat.

While the company has tracked impressive growth since launching in 2016, most of it has come through a PR push and search-engine optimization. The company has gone after competitors in a “poaching campaign” presenting offers to customers searching for competitors like U.S.-based NetJets and JetSuite, says Crabbe.

The majority of Jettly’s business comes from the U.S., because of the size of the country’s population and scale of its economy. However, it also sees many flights out of Toronto and Vancouver, and Crabbe says 2018 has been ones of its busiest years to date. So far this year, 10,000 flight requests have been made by its roughly 8,000 user base.