One recent Tuesday, Kent Linduff left his Boerne home just before 7 a.m., boarded a flight to Dallas, presided over three separate sales meetings, and returned home by 7 p.m, in time for dinner with his wife.
“I couldn’t have done that if I had flown commercial,” Linduff said in an interview with the Rivard Report as he sat in a Super King Air 250 turboprop cruising at altitude between San Antonio and Dallas. Linduff, 60, is a principal with Surgical Funds, which is based in Dallas, so he makes the trip often.
“It saved me at least three hours of standing in line, parking, walking, going through [security],” he said.
Another passenger, a woman who works in the local office of RBC Wealth Management and travels twice a week or more, agreed with Linduff, recalling how weather delays often slowed her return home when she flew commercial airlines.
She and Linduff are new members of RISE, the “Uber of air travel” that has recently added San Antonio to its 70 scheduled flights a week among Austin, Dallas, and Houston (both William P. Hobby and the private David Wayne Hooks airports). RISE members pay an initiation fee of $750 and then subscribe monthly, at varying price levels, for unlimited access to available flights that are posted six weeks in advance.
Booking a flight takes about 20 seconds or less online and can be reserved or changed without extra penalties or fees. Currently, RISE offers two same-day, round-trip flights a week out of San Antonio to Dallas or Houston.
In San Antonio, RISE travelers arrive 15 minutes prior to takeoff and park their cars just outside a private terminal near the airport. They show identification before being guided onto the tarmac to climb aboard a plane outfitted with comfortable leather seats. There are no check-in or security lines, boarding passes, or assigned seats. Drinks and snacks are provided, and directions to buckle up and other announcements come straight from the cockpit. Every seat is first class.
“This is a new category of travel,” RISE Co-Founder and CEO Nick Kennedy said. “It’s the sharing economy for aviation, and the most disruptive thing that’s happened in air travel since Southwest Airlines began 50 years ago.”
In fact, RISE does not own a single plane or employ any pilots. From the startup’s offices in the Love Field hangar in Dallas, RISE’s team of 20 connects owners of aircrafts – usually an underutilized and costly asset – with steady, paying customers who need to travel. The aircraft operators employ pilots to fly the planes.
“We know technology, service, and branding. They [aircraft operators] know how to fly safely and efficiently. We give them that recurring revenue,” Kennedy said.
RISE members so far include people who work in health care, construction, finance, real estate, food and beverage, and consulting businesses, and have an average household income of $250,000 and up. It’s common for passengers to exchange business cards and make deals while en route.
A former Electronic Data Systems executive, Kennedy experienced private jet travel for the first time only after logging 2 million commercial airline miles in a decade while leading entrepreneurial ventures.
“It was beyond anything I had ever imagined,” Kennedy said of the experience flying private over commercial. “I felt I had arrived.”
More importantly for Kennedy, with a wife and three young children at home, private aviation helped him achieve a better work-family balance. “This one was very personal to me,” Kennedy said.
It’s personal to RISE members as well. One recently sent Kennedy a selfie with his 11-year-old son, thanking him for helping him get home so fast. Another thanked him for saving his marriage. Still, others pull him aside and offer tips fon how to continue building and marketing the business.
“We’ve made air travel really complicated,” Kennedy said. “And the passengers have suffered for it. That’s the whole thing we’re fixing.”
The model is catching on, and while the company won’t reveal how many members it has, RISE says customers are asking for more.
“Over the next two years, we will add 20 additional cities outside of Texas,” Kennedy said, suggesting that RISE would soon offer destinations to smaller cities and airports as well as some weekend destination travel opportunities.
RISE comes to San Antonio at a time when City officials and business leaders are working to increase nonstop flights in and out of the city to attract tourism and business. This week, San Antonio representatives are in Washington lobbying for a nonstop flight between San Antonio International Airport (SAT) and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).
Most RISE members live and work in Dallas, where the company started operations 18 months ago. San Antonio is its newest hub, and RISE is hosting events and sourcing partners to develop more business here. As demand grows, more flights will be added.
Kennedy compares the subscription cost of RISE to that of a gym or country club membership, with most RISE members signing up for shared accounts that allow several people within a company to share in the flights. Although it may cost more money to fly with RISE than on a commercial airliner, the benefit is in the experience, he said. “It’s 10 times better.”
“It’s a myth that this is for the ultra-elite,” said Angela Vargo, director of communication and business development at RISE. “Over 70% of our members have never flown in a private plane. We are democratizing the private skies.”
Trial flights are $250 round trip. Vargo says 80% of those who take a trial flight choose to join RISE. Linduff is one such member. He had given up on commercial air travel and had been making his frequent business trips to Dallas by car.
This week marked his second flight with RISE.
“I’ll be home for supper. It’s like I just went into the office for the day,” he said. “There’s value in that.”