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Get Ready for ‘Airbnb: Airline Edition’ (Legacy Airlines Are Already Spooked)

‘We’ve seriously considered a lot of things around aviation,’ says founder Brian Chesky.

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BY Bill Murphy Jr. - 28 Feb 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Could the "air" in "Airbnb" soon stand for something else? Maybe sooner than a lot of aviation industry leaders might hope.

Here's the background. A year ago, Airbnb founder Brian Chesky took to Twitter to ask his 275,000 followers a simple question:

If you could design the "perfect flying experience," how would it look?

The results were really interesting. People came up with all kinds of ideas.

Supersonic planes. Drive energy costs down by ultimately creating electric planes. Check your baggage in the city before you head to the airport.

In the end, Chesky wrote in a later post, most people's wish lists came down to three things: "get me there faster, cheaper, [with a] better experience."

Sound simple, even common sense, right?

But a look around the airline industry suggests they're close to the opposite of what big airlines are offering.

One explanation: legacy airlines are public companies that have to serve the short-term financial interests of shareholders. That in turn means squeezing as much profit out of each passenger as possible.

Airbnb, at least for now, is still a private company.

Earlier this month, Chesky said they'll make decisions about going public "on our own timetable." Perhaps sooner on the timetable, however -- getting into the airline business.

"We've seriously considered a lot of things around aviation and we've spent a lot of time exploring different concepts," Chesky told the Sunday Times of London recently. "We definitely want to make sure, though, that we can get into the end-to-end trip business."

We're now a decade into the AirBnb era. The company launched after Chesky and his cofounder Joe Gebbia bought a bunch of air mattresses and rented our space in their San Francisco apartment to conference-goers during the Industrial Design Conference.

It's now a $31 billion tech company that has disrupted the hotel industry like nothing before it, even causing cities around the world to rewrite their laws--either to accommodate it (no pun intended) or restrict it and protect their legacy hotels.

And while it still seems like a startup, that $31 billion valuation puts it on a par with the biggest U.S. carriers. Delta Airlines is at about $38 billion; American Airlines has a market cap of about $26 billion.

As FlyerTalk's Jeff Edwards put it, the idea of Airbnb Airways, or whatever they could wind up calling it, "has not escaped the notice of aviation industry leaders," even at the drawing board stage:

"Airbnb's simple-to-use tools for allowing users to book or rent overnight accommodations have already proven to be a serious challenge to the hotel industry. Whatever Airbnb's plans are for the aviation industry, recent history tells us that the company will likely enter the market in an unexpected and highly disruptive way.

In 2016, the company hinted that it might soon allow users to book flights through its site, though without a competitive advantage over sites such as Expedia, the idea never really took off. It seems that the leadership at Airbnb have now set their sights on more ambitious plans for making a foray into the world of air travel.

Smart area to explore, or a completely different business that would threaten the company? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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