I just used FlightCar for the first time last week and I have to say the experience was more than underwhelming.
We choose to use flight car primarily for its novelty; of course the notion of saving eighty bucks or so in a week played into the decision, but primarily the idea of this peer-to-peer rental seemed interesting.
Admittedly the initial part of the experience went well. The online booking was quick and went without a hitch. The fulfillment once we got to Austin though was notoriously poor.
The vehicle provided upon arrival to the hotel where the vehicles were held was a 2003 Audi A4. Now one would expect a 12 year old Audi to be as reliable as a rat given meth even without it being used as a rental, so the fact that it was approved to be used in the service was quite astounding to me.
The issues with the vehicle were not only surprising but even downright unsafe. The engine constantly overheated and the hazard lights would not turn on once the button was pressed (and once on would not turn off). The overheating of the engine meant that we could not use the air conditioning (keep in mind we were in Austin in June where the weather is roughly the same temperature as the sun), but more importantly the issues with the hazard lights made signalling on the highway impossible.
On Monday (June 8th), we decided to give FlightCar a call and ask how we should approach the situation. The agent on the line simply told us to return to the pick-up location and that a vehicle would be ready for us to swap out with; she then abruptly hung up the phone before we could ask any other questions. While this inconveniently disrupted our plan for the day we decided that we did not want to take any chances with this vehicle. Once we drove out half an hour to the hotel that hosted FlightCar we stepped into the hotel to find that the FlightCar agent was offsite and had not been alerted that we would be coming in. It took another 35 minutes for the agent to arrive; this threw off our plans even further. This whole experience was exacerbated by the very rude/disinterested behavior of the agent once he finally arrived.
After a few minutes we were provided with a new vehicle, but as turned the key in the ignition we noticed a tire pressure sign light up. We stepped out to look for the agent but he had already driven off of the premises by that point.
We continued driving as we were already behind schedule and thought it would be best to get it checked out the next day. The next day we noticed that the front right tire was noticeably under inflated. We stopped to get it inflated at a service shop and found that the other three tires were well over inflated.
Ultimately the issue that has arisen is that FlightCar is unreliable for any practical matter. Yes it is a novel idea, but when one has to rely on FlightCar it failed to deliver. Personally I am frustrated with the lack of quality control and poor customer service.
But the bigger issue is one that applies to all startups, it is the issue of reliability. All too often startups focus on features and experience and forget about reliability. They need to go back and rethink customer service. Yes twitter works, but that is not a replacement for having skilled customer service employees manning the phone lines. There is a reason why so many huge companies still use excel; that reason is reliability.
That is the reason why Uber has succeeded. It beats the reliability of traditional taxi services. In FlightCar’s case it fails to do so. For a startup to take over the existing gorilla it needs to be marginally better not just cheaper.
I make this observation public for two reasons. One is the hope that it may be of some use, but more importantly for me to remember in my next venture.
P.S. I sent part of this email to flightcar and was told to expect a response in 48 hours….two weeks later I have yet to hear back.