Uber-style private airplane trips are here – and flights cost from $111

Dec 8, 2023, 1:34 PM

KinectAir makes use of "empty leg" repositioning flights which would normally not carry passengers....

KinectAir makes use of "empty leg" repositioning flights which would normally not carry passengers. Mandatory Credit: KinectAir

(CNN) — If you’re used to booking travel with the click of a button or the swipe of an app, it might come as a surprise that the higher up the luxury chain you go, the harder it becomes to do that.

Always dreamed of flying in a private airplane? Usually that means calling a broker – and if you don’t have one on speed dial it can be an intimidating business. You might have to spend thousands on a membership to even get a quote, for starters. You might not know how much you’re splurging, either – private airplane operators can bill clients after the journey if extra fuel was consumed, for example.

But now, the Uber of private aviation has arrived. KinectAir aims to make the skies friendlier to regular people dipping their toe into the world of private planes. On the website, which was founded in 2019 for private air travel in the Pacific Northwest, you could already book a regular on-demand flight. But from December 2023 you can snap up a private aircraft bargain by booking an “empty leg” repositioning flight – all over the US.

And by bargain, they really do mean a (relative) bargain. The site offers quick hops starting at around $111 per person.

“We want to change the way people think about short flights,” says co-CEO Katie Buss, a former pilot in the US military.

“People think it’s only for the Bill Gates and Elon Musks of the world. It’s by no means cheap, but it’s more accessible than most people think. Instead of just going to Delta, we want people to see what flying private would be like … It’s a totally different way of travel.”

She says the company wants to “revolutionize” the private flight market in the same way that Uber did for taxis and Airbnb did for the hotel industry.

Cheaper planes, cheaper flights

The site uses AI-backed software to trawl through private airplane operators, co-CEO Ben Howard told CNN. “We’re letting the software do that sifting through the haystack to make it more accessible and give [customers] a better chance of putting together the trip you actually want,” he said.

And to keep prices down, they’re working with turbo-prop and piston-engine aircraft. Both are cheaper to run than a regular jet, although they fly slower. That difference in speed, however, is less crucial on a flight of under 500 miles, says Howard, who claims, “If you fly a jet to the same location, you’d be paying five times as much and get it done a few minutes faster.”

The way they’re really dropping those flight prices, though, are through the “empty leg” repositioning flights – where the aircraft has already been booked for one journey, and can pick up passengers to take them to its next booked destination.

KinectAir claims that its empty leg offerings come at a discount of up to 75% of a regular private airplane price. Most of the deals are for short-notice booking – from their data over the summer, three quarters of all bookings were made within 72 hours of travel, meaning that the empty legs were generated last-minute, too.

As a pilot herself, Buss says that the company will only add operators that pass their safety ratings.

Cheaper than flying commercial

Some of the prices KinectAir is advertising even beat flying commercial airlines in economy – when talking about last-minute fares.

An empty leg flight this week from Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport to Palm Springs was on sale for $698 – or $233 per person on the three-seater aircraft.

The cheapest direct one-way fare CNN could find over the next week from Phoenix to Palm springs was $300, flying from Sky Harbor International on December 14 in economy. That fare includes a free seat assignment but not a checked bag, which would be an extra $30. A first class seat would be $425 one way – nearly double the price of KinectAir’s empty leg.

For $264 you could pick a flight with Sun Country Airlines – but the journey would take 40 hours, with a stopover in Minneapolis.

And of course there’s no long check-in line or TSA when flying private.

Looking at another online broker, the cheapest deal from Phoenix to Palm Springs was $3,198 for a five-seater plane – or $639.60 per person.

Semi-private airline JSX, which operates out of private air terminals but sells individual seats on its aircraft, doesn’t fly that route. However, on a similar-length route from Phoenix to Las Vegas, prices start at $249 per person.

“In many cases, last-minute flights are more expensive per seat on commercial, and that’s not even looking at first class tickets,” says Howard.

“In our case, you’ve got to fill the full aircraft, but if a family of four is flying last minute, this is a really good option. United might charge as much as a private flight.”

The cheapest flight for sale currently is in Sunriver, Oregon, to Aurora, also in Oregon, on December 10, for $333 for a three-seater Diamond DA62 light aircraft – or $111 per person for the 48-minute flight.

The most expensive empty leg is a Spokane, Washington, to Bozeman, Idaho flight on December 13. The eight-person aircraft costs $1,792 for the 71-minute flight – or $224 per person.

There are no membership fees or transaction fees, as many competitors charge.

Wheels Up, for example, charges a minimum $2,995 initiation fee, with a minimum $2,495 membership from year two onwards. NetJets also requires users to be members, as does UberJets. KinectAir’s fees are baked into the price you see. And you can see those prices without handing over your data or scheduling a phonecall, as you do with Wheels Up, NetJets or UberJets.

While usually booking a private airplane means going with an estimate – and receiving the final bill after the flight, once any additional fuel has been calculated – it guarantees the price you’re quoted is the price you pay.

“We understand statistically how likely [additional fuel costs] are to happen, have good weather models, know it’s less expensive to fly one way than the other – so KinectAir absorbs the variability,” says Howard. “We want to make private aviation work more like commercial.”

KinectAir’s closest competitor is Airble, which doesn’t charge membership fees, provides real fares not estimates, and has a “deals” page for empty leg flights. Airble also allows users to reserve a private flight, but mark it as a “shared flight” which opens up seats to be booked by other users, bringing the price per passenger down. The cheapest Phoenix to Palm Springs one-way this week costs $10,740 for eight people, or $1,342.50 per passenger.

Looking to the future

Of course, it’s a potentially contentious move to open a private airplane company as the climate crisis intensifies.

A 2021 study by the environmental nonprofit Transport & Environment found that 1% of people were responsible for half of all global emissions from flying. The private aircraft industry is booming, expanding by 31% between 2005 and 2019. What’s more, 40% of private flights are “ghost flights” – empty of passengers as they reposition for their next pick-up.

Howard says that filling those ghost flights “is a way to make flights more efficient.” He adds that turbo-props and piston planes burn less fuel than traditional jets.

Because private jets tend to make short hops, that makes them less environmentally sustainable – in Europe, for example, there’s an alternative by rail for 80% of the most popular private flight routes, Matteo Mirolo, Transport & Environment’s sustainable aviation policy manager told CNN in 2022. The US is in a different situation as regards public transport, however, with train travel not an easy option in most parts of the country.

But at the time, Mirolo said that because of their smaller size, private jets have the potential to be at the forefront to adapt to new technology as it comes on the market – and Howard says that the platform is also a first step towards preparing for the electric and hybrid planes of the future, which are expected to start with small aircraft.

In the future, the company hopes to start selling single seats, though they say it’ll take some time.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

National News

FILE: Bill Walton is seen during the Ruffles NBA All-Star Celebrity Game during the 2022 NBA All-St...

Tim Reynolds, AP Basketball Writer

Bill Walton, Hall of Fame player who became a star broadcaster, dies at 71

Bill Walton, who starred for John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins before becoming one of the biggest stars of basketball broadcasting, has died.

16 minutes ago

President Joe Biden pauses after placing a wreath during a centennial ceremony for the Tomb of the ...


President Biden lays wreath at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery

President Joe Biden is expected to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and participate in a ceremony in the Arlington National Cemetery’s amphitheater

3 hours ago

Traffic moves on I-15 in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 18, 2023. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)...

Bryan Mena, CNN

Americans are expected to splurge on travel this summer — again

Millions of Americans have taken to the skies, hit the road, fired up the barbecue grill and jumped into the pool this weekend to celebrate the start of summer 2024. Analysts are expecting the Memorial Day weekend to usher in yet another summer of strong consumer spending on travel and other leisure activities.

20 hours ago

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Garfield, voiced by Chris Pratt, in a scene from the ani...

Lindsey Bahr, The Associated Press

‘Furiosa,’ ‘Garfield’ lead slowest Memorial Day box office in decades

Movie theaters are looking more and more like a wasteland this summer. Neither “ Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga ” nor “ The Garfield Movie ” could save Memorial Day weekend, which is cruising towards a two-decade low.

21 hours ago

Sam Lemon, right, speaks during a news conference with Susie Williams Carter, center, and lawyer Mi...

Alisha Ebrahimji, CNN

A Black teen wrongfully executed for murdering a White woman in 1931. Now, his family is suing to defend his name

More than 90 years after Alexander McClay Williams was wrongfully executed, his family is suing the Delaware County, Pennsylvania, for damages, alleging he was sentenced to the electric chair for a crime he did not commit.

22 hours ago

Damage is seen at a truck stop the morning after a tornado rolled through, Sunday, May 26, 2024, in...

Sean Murphy and Julio Cortez

Latest deadly weather in US kills at least 20 as storms carve path of ruin across multiple states

Powerful storms have killed at least 14 people and left a wide trail of destruction across Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. The weather obliterated homes and destroyed a truck stop where drivers took shelter during the latest deadly weather to strike the central U.S.

24 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 Internet Safety Tips for Kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Uber-style private airplane trips are here – and flights cost from $111