Automated Text-to-Book is in addition to being able to book via its app, desktop interface, phone, email and even fax. It will be rolled out later this month.
The goal is to reduce friction. It gives members another digital way to make bookings without have to worry about getting stuck on hold.
The text booking provides a recognition and validation system to prevent fraud.
If you have more than one account, it will ask which you want to book with so correct rates are used.
At launch, you will be able to book flights within the Continental 48 states. Sentient officials say booking to other places where it offers fixed rates is coming later this year.
The interface enables you to provide departure airport, departure time, arrival airport, and number of passengers. Using your smartphone, you simple type in answers as if you are texting.
If you provide a city instead of an airport, it will offer airport options.
A scheduled programming update will add Teterboro if you write in New York City, something that currently doesn’t happen.
You then get options and estimated pricing by jet category. After selecting, you are asked to confirm details. If you answer yes, you receive a booking confirmation number.
The estimated price factors in hourly rate, current fuel surcharges, daily and segment minimums, taxi time, and peak day surcharges if applicable.
Like many jet card, final price is based on actual flight minutes, calculated after your land.
If you want to order catering or ground transportation, you still need to do that via the app, desktop portal, phone or email.
A facility to confirm pets via text booking is being added.
The interface won’t accept bookings on High Demand days.
While Sentient only has 29 Peak Days in its program, as demand surged, last October it introduced a booking cap of 200 flight hours per day.
Once it hits that limit, it has the right to decline bookings.
During an interview, Sentient Jet CEO Andrew Collins said the high-demand date policy is working. So far, it has only hit the cap four times this year. Last year, it reached the booking cap on nine dates.
Other programs have implemented blackouts or vastly expanded peak days. For example, an analysis by Private Jet Card Comparisons found the average number of peak days at 49.1 at the end of Q1. It was 22.8 days prior to the pandemic.
Collins tells us, “We were not satisfied with just rolling out more peak days, or more this or more that. What we wanted to do was make a bargain with the consumer…to do it in a different way, which was, we’re going to tell you the rule, and we’re going to tell you when we’re going to invoke it, and how we’re going to invoke it. Instead of saying to you, you can’t fly on these 60 (blackout) days, we’re going to use high-demand days. Instead of 60 (blackout) days, I can tell you in 2021 we used it nine times.”
So far in 2022, the High Demand rule has been invoked on four dates, according to Collins.
It equates to 73,000 flight hours per year. If Sentient was an operator – it’s a broker – that would have ranked it second on the Argus list of Part 135 operators.
In terms of the approach, he notes, “Nobody really has the crystal ball to say, ‘Hey, that Tuesday afternoon in December is suddenly going to blow up, and suddenly there’s going to be a run-on supply.’ We didn’t want to have our consumers at the mercy of just us taking bets. We wanted to make sure that we could service them in a dynamic and thoughtful way. It was the smartest play we made last year.”
Last year Sentient flew 30,000 legs, an increase from around 17,000 in 2020. He expects 2022 numbers to be similar to 2021.
After joining others in halting new membership sales last year, Sentient is back selling. However, all new members must wait 90 days to begin flying.
Collins says he is satisfied with the decision to stop sales to new members completely last Fall and the now 90-day waiting period for new members.
“We decided to favor our client base. Our client base has been the group of individuals collectively that have helped build this company. We knew we had a responsibility to them,” Collins says.
So far, like others Sentient has increased call-out. Non-peak call out went from 10 hours to 24 hours and more recently 48 hours.
It has also added fuel surcharges – at first for just new members, but within weeks, to existing members.
Daily minimums have increased in that taxi time is now in addition to the minimum instead of included. That means the minimum charge for light and midsize jets is now 72 minutes instead of 60 minutes.
There have also been at least four price increases to its rate card. While that impacts new members and renewals, it follows years of marginal or no increases.
About the changes, Collins says, “A lot of people think you move from 10 to 24 to 48 hours because you’re focused on margin or something like that. No, in actuality, we were focused on our team. Our team was working 24/7 sourcing, and we really wanted to pay attention to our team, because the other side of the equation, we have clients on one side, but you have your team members on the other, and like everybody else, our teams went through a lot in this market, and we really wanted to pay attention to them.”
Looking ahead, Collins sees the market somewhat stabilizing. He says, “I don’t think you’re going to see the exponential growth you saw between the past two years…I think it’s not going to be the summer of ’21 again…forward bookings tell me that ’22 is going to be a little more stable.
A February survey of Private Jet Card Comparisons subscribers found 44% said they had operational issues with their providers over the previous six months. 79% said they had at least one flight delay; 41% said providers moved departure time after they booked while 30% said providers simply couldn’t accommodate their requested departure time.
For members Collins believes things will be “highly better in terms of coordination, in terms of organization, and communication. Will we still have surges on days? Absolutely. Here’s the thing. If you can tell me what those days are, you’ll be like Biff in Back to the Future and be able to predict the Super Bowl.”