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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 27, 2019 3 weeks ago

An idea takes flight at local business incubator

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A mobile platform for last-minute air travel is cleared for takeoff.

The University of Tampa’s Spartan Incubator — a program that helps startups make the leap to full-grown businesses — has welcomed a record-setting 21 companies for the fall semester.

One of them is WanderSeat, a travel company that’s launching an airline ticketing platform designed for day-of-departure travel.

“What we came up with was a Hotel Tonight model,” says co-founder Logan Clemens, referring to an app that specializes in last-minute hotel stays, “but for commercial airlines.”

Clemens graduated from the University of South Florida in 2014 and then earned his MBA from UT before going to work for Southwest Airlines, where he worked in the discount carrier's revenue management department and came up with the concept for WanderSeat.

“The average book load factor, which means what percentage of a flight is being filled — the total seats — is right around 85% for domestic flights,” he tells Coffee Talk. “So 15% of all seats ‘spoil,’ and the airlines miss out on that revenue.”

Airlines that charge big premiums for last-minute bookings are doing it all wrong, Clemens says. They should be catering to younger travelers who tend not to plan trips months in advance, have less disposable income and are OK with just showing up at the airport without knowing where they might be headed.

Security hurdles are a concern, but airports — starting with Pittsburgh International Airport in 2017 — are increasingly making it possible for nonticketed visitors to access gate areas. Tampa International Airport has followed the trend with its TPA All Access program.

“If we’re able to put people on the terminal side [of the airport] without already having a boarding pass, then we create a new type of revenue stream,” Clemens says.

Once cleared by security, WanderSeat users would be able to view and book heavily discounted outbound flights — ideally less than $100, Clemens says — made available by participating airlines.

It’s an idea with wind beneath its wings, he says. “We’re already speaking with venture capital firms that are investing in the travel space.”

(This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Logan Clemens' name.) 

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