Salespeople are the front line for private jet providers, but they sometimes put their own companies at risk of disappointing new clients
I often tell subscribers there are two big lies: “I love you forever” and “We don’t have those issues.” Personal commentary aside, the second untruth relates to the state of private aviation.
And so yes, flying privately is great, much better than the airlines, but it is far from perfect, no matter what a salesperson tells you about how their company is doing, and that’s the point of this article.
Let me start by saying I always tell subscribers to spend the time and speak to all relevant providers that fit their needs.
In some cases, there can be as many as 10 valid options, which means a big time commitment for busy people or anyone.
Still, speaking to providers who have programs that are a good fit is the best and only way to make the right decision.
Too often, subscribers share feedback from those conversations, which does not help that provider when it goes beyond just closing a sale.
The big lie in private aviation
The big lie in private aviation is that any company is immune to delays, cancelations, or service letdowns.
As much money as customers are paying, there were always mechanicals, and now there are longer delays in getting recovery aircraft.
There are also delays in getting parts and shortages of maintenance technicians, meaning longer periods aircrafts are on the ground and out of service.
An airplane that was supposed to be fixed yesterday and ready for your flight today. Well, it wasn’t and isn’t.
There are still pilot shortages, and training backlogs prevent newly hired pilots from flying you even when spots are filled.
Combine that with ground delays at understaffed FBOs, overcrowded ramps, and air traffic control holds and reroutes.
Oh, and let’s not forget the weather.
In fact, I had a cringe when the other day I saw one private jet broker advertising “no cancelations…no delays.”
Bad ad campaigns aside, the bigger problem is in the fight for your dollars; what you hear from industry salespeople, who are often very good closers, is promises of a rose garden without mentioning the thorns.
I hear subscribers say they believe some providers were selling more memberships or jet cards than they should have.
Well, I have yet to see any smoking gun that indicates a bunch of executives from any company was in a room knowing they couldn’t fulfill flights but saying, “What the heck, let’s take their money anyway.”
It would be a great story, and I can promise I would report on it.
After the 2008 crash and a decade of negligible growth, the industry went from normal to nothing when Covid hit, and then record demand in months.
It stayed that way for 18 months at a time that providers were – and still are struggling with supply chain and labor staffing issues.
The private jet provider business model
I’m not going to say companies shouldn’t do better.
But, in private aviation, the biggest source of new customers is current customer referrals. High retention rates are critical.
That’s because the cost of acquiring new customers who can spend six figures or more annually is expensive and like finding needles in a haystack.
In other words, there is a huge financial incentive for providers to get things right.
The pace of the recovery caught everyone by surprise.
In the summer of 2021, when the industry was being stretched with record demand, the consensus was that demand would become more manageable when the kids returned to school.
It didn’t. Month after month, flight activity set new records in the U.S.
Private jet prices and complaints rise
Of course, while all of this was going on, prices rose 40% compared to the end of 2020, so we have a mix of higher prices and worse service.
The percentage of subscribers who say they have had cancelations, delays, and service letdowns in the past year more than doubled from 21%-to-44%.
As a result, 50% say they are considering switching providers.
That may mean more discussions with other companies despite demand finally cooling down.
Either way, it means more than ever, consumers are shopping, and when they are shopping, they are telling other companies about the issues they are having with their current providers.
The salesperson’s general response is, “We hear those same things about company X. Fortunately, we don’t have those issues.”
And yes, it has to be the case that some providers are doing better than others. There’s just no actual hard data one can compare.
For a while, I was asking companies to share performance metrics. I stopped.
Whenever I would publish quotes from a company executive about their performance levels, it generated comments like, “That may be true, but not for me.”
And so, 95% good doesn’t mean anything for the 5% who had a bad experience.
This goes back to the point: There is no nirvana in private aviation.
The benefits of flying privately remain strong
Flying privately offers more convenient airports that save you time.
It saves you time transiting airports saving you time.
It’s pet friendly.
Flying privately makes family trips easier and business trips more productive.
I’ve yet to hear anyone tell me their private jet provider lost their luggage.
Interestingly, when I talk to subscribers, I find many have similar issues with their businesses.
I believe things are getting better, but they are still lagging where they should be.
I hear too many complaints, from last-minute cancelations and long delays in recovery flights to sloppy paperwork and incorrect billing.
Yes, there is a shortage of accountants, too. Good luck hiring as many folks as you need, right?
No sector is immune, it seems, and certainly the same is true in private aviation, from fractionals to jet cards or memberships and on-demand charters.
One interesting statistic from subscriber research is around 80% of subscribers say they renewed with their current provider or providers.
Hopefully, that’s because they are focusing on tangible factors – the rules and the policies of the programs they are considering.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t run for the hills if you are receiving horrible service. There’s a limit to what anyone should take.
That said, I speak to subscribers who have diametrically opposed experiences from the same provider.
It could be some folks are doing their flying on low-demand days when it’s easier to find recovery aircraft.
It could be that they are flying from busy private aviation airports with lots of available lift for recovery flights
Some customer-facing employees are great; others, not so much.
However, the feedback I see is too anecdotal to draw conclusions.
What should you do?
My advice is to ask salespeople to explain how their company is handling the issues the industry is facing.
What has their company done, and what are they doing?
Drill for specifics, not unwritten promises and platitudes.
Searching for a new provider purely to immunize you from delays, cancelations, and service letdowns is a recipe for frustration.
Honest conversations are the best way to find that ever-lasting love that gets you through the rough spots of any relationship.