Fly Like You're Rich With Social Flights (And Private Planes)

Now that people can organize themselves online, private air travel isn’t just for the wealthy anymore.

airport terminal

About the "Baked In" series: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg likes to say that social dynamics are going to work their way into every industry, and the companies of the future will be the ones that bake them in from the beginning, rather than slapping them on as an afterthought. This series takes a look at companies that are discovering new opportunities by using social components in the foundations of their businesses.

Have you ever wanted to take a quick weekend trip to some out-of-the-way place, but canned the idea because there was no practical way to get there without having to make a connection or two followed by a long drive—all of which would have eaten up half your weekend? Social Flights, a new company that is using the social web to fill up private planes, is betting you’re not the only one.

The founders of Social Flights believe that, if you had the chance to grab a seat on a private plane that would fly point-to-point, as the wealthy are able to do today, and the cost of your seat was comparable to what you’d pay to fly commercial, you’d grab it.

The idea behind Social Flights makes sense. The social web gives people the ability to self-organize. Why not allow them to self-organize into groups of people that want to fly to the same place at the same time?

Weekend getaways aren’t the only use envisioned for the new service, Chief Innovation Officer Dan Robles tells Fast Company. The company also sees applications for business travel, where executives often waste countless hours wending their way to meetings via commerical aviation’s hub-and-spoke system.

Until now, however, the idea simply wasn’t feasible. Brokers, who arrange charter flights, have historically focused on wealthy individuals and companies, because the brokers could only sell whole planes, and those were the only groups that could afford to shell out the bucks.

But now with the social web, people don’t have to rent the whole plane. A member of Social Flights can simply post an itinerary they'd like to take. If enough other people want to travel to the same place at the same time, a plane gets booked, and each flyer simply pays the cost of their seat.

Social Flights soft-launched at the end of February and so far has arranged about 12 flights, CEO Jay Deragon tells Fast Company, including about 90 Mississippi State football fans who flew in three planes from Jackson, MS, to Jacksonville, FL, for a bowl game. The cost was about $350 per person, Deragon says, compared to the $500-$600 it would have cost to fly commercial, not to mention the time they saved—and possible hotel overnights—by flying direct.

Deragon says the number of trips booked through Social Flights will ramp up as individual locations get critical masses of customers, a process he says should take about 18 months. People have started to sign up in about 30 locations so far, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Charlotte, Charlottesville, Nashville, Memphis, and Detroit.

The idea doesn’t just appeal to travelers. It’s also attractive to charter companies. On any given day, 60% of the country’s 15,000 top-rated charter jets go unusued. And of the 40% in service, about a third travel empty during their one of their legs.

"Most people don’t think of the social web as anything more than a marketing scheme," Deragon says. "But there is so much waste that can be eliminated by using it."

Read more from the Baked In series

[Image: Flickr user cogdogblog]

E.B. Boyd is FastCompany.com’s Silicon Valley reporter. Twitter. Email.

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