FlightCar sees future in peer-to-peer carsharing

| December 13, 2013

Travelers, you did it: You made it through security, the three-hour delay at JFK, and the cross-country flight seated next to one — no, two — crying babies. Now all that stands between you and the 90-minute drive to Granny’s is… the hour-long wait at the airport car rental desk. Unless you opt for new carsharing service FlightCar, that is.

The startup acts a middleman between car owners who’d rather avoid doing business with the $11 billion airport-car rental industry. Travelers who will be away for some time and who wish to avoid the high fees of long-term airport parking provide FlightCar with its fleet. The startup parks the vehicles in its lot free of charge and returns them washed, as long as owners don’t object to FlightCar arranging carsharing of their own cars, too.

Even if a vehicle isn’t rented, parking is still free for the owner, as is the car wash. If the car is rented, the owner receives $10 for each day it’s on loan. Vehicles must be 1999 or newer models to participate in the program, but their owners determine the rental price. For example, in June in San Francisco, a 1999 AM General Hummer was available for a $155 five-day rental, while a 2010 Kia Forte in Boston was available for $21 per day.

Renters are picked up curbside, driven to FlightCar’s lot, handed keys and info for their rental, and driven back to their terminals at departure. They can be charged $1,000 for smoking in the rentals and are additionally charged 35 cents per mile (which the owner receives) when they go above the 90-mile daily limit.

The service is “a halfway step to going fully into peer-to-peer sharing,” said Rujul Zaparde, who, along with fellow teens Kevin Petrovic and Shri Ganeshram, founded FlightCar. Inspired by the online home-sharing service Airbnb, the trio decided to skip college despite admissions to Harvard, Princeton, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and establish FlightCar, which launched in San Francisco in February. It has since expanded to Boston and Los Angeles.

At the end of May alone, the company had completed more than 1,000 rentals and listed 750 cars in the San Francisco market.

The business has not grown without headache, however. In May, the City of San Francisco sued FlightCar, arguing that it had broken the rules that require rental car companies to use the AirTrain to transport passengers to their terminals. It also alleged that the company had sidestepped the airport fees levied against rental car agencies that conduct business at the airport.

FlightCar has also been criticized by the insurance industry, which believes that the company occupies a grey area for personal liability cases. “Everything is insured up to a million dollars,” reassured Zaparde. “We’ll cover liabilities, any collision, theft, and damage. Even if there’s a small scratch on the car, it’s fully covered.”


Charges for leaving a car in airport parking lots (like this one at SeaTac in Seattle) can be crippling – and FlightCar is leading a consumer revolt. From Atomic Taco.

“The problem remains that once the car is used as a business, it’s not considered a typical auto policy. It’s now considered to be a commercial policy,” said Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute.

Even though the legalities of the so-called sharing economy have yet to be totally ironed out, at least some of FlightCar’s customers are happy. “I got a check a couple hours ago for $111,” said Walt French, a 65-year-old San Franciscan who has rented his Acura more than ten times through the company.

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About the Author ()

Cielo Lutino is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. She has written for such publications as the L Magazine and Portland Monthly, and her literary nonfiction has appeared in journals such as the Los Angeles Review and Cold Mountain Review.

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