What if there were an AirBNB for cars? FlightCar is a startup that aims to connect lonely cars in long-term airport parking with travelers in need of short-term wheels. This seems like a great idea….except, like many “sharing economy” businesses, it’s a great idea until something goes wrong. Just ask reader Evan.
Car owners who leave their vehicles behind with FlightCar don’t just get free parking and a car wash. They also can make money if someone rents their car, receiving a check based on the number of miles the vehicle was driven. Neat. Obviously, part of renting your car to strangers is that you shouldn’t leave the backseat filled with Trader Joe’s tote bags and water bottles, and you should also remove your expensive sunglasses from the center console. What if you do leave some items behind, though? That’s what happened to Evan.
He left his vehicle with FlightCar in San Francisco. He did leave a few things in the glove box: the car’s manual, the registration, and a charging cable. Out of those things, car owners must leave behind the registration, can choose whether to leave behind the manual, and shouldn’t leave behind a charging cable. Fine. When he returned, he found the glovebox empty. Where was his stuff?
“Search the entire FlightCar office – they have stuff for 30+ other cars, but not mine,” he writes. He notes that an employee tells him that hey, things were a lot worse in the office last week. Not helpful. The location’s assistant manager told him to e-mail the company, which Evan did. That was on July 7.
On July 8, he called the company simultaneously on two different phones, while also tweeting them. If this sounds like overkill, remember that the company still had the registration to his car. He received a few different pieces of advice, which included that he should send a list of missing items for reimbursement. Okay.
Later that afternoon, the local office contacted him with good news: they had found his stuff! (We now know where it was–more on that in a bit.) He gave them his work address to mail it to, and he has received the manual back.
“God forbid you have damage or accident with FlightCar – what then?” he wrote at the time. “On hold for another 2 days while they hire an intern?”
We got in touch with one of the company’s founders, Kevin Petrovic. He explained to us that FlightCar’s goal is not to hold on to your owner’s manual and then not answer the phone, but that they had some recent staff turnover and were short-handed at the time of Evan’s trip.
How things are supposed to work is that staff take everything out of the car and store it in a numbered box. They make a copy of the registration with the owner’s personal information redacted for renters to carry with them in the car.
Say Evan’s car was #23 parked with them at the time: it would be stashed in the office in a box with the number 23. Makes sense.
“We’re usually pretty good at storing the owner’s items and returning them to the car,” Petrovic told Consumerist, noting that they have problems with stored items from cars less than 1% of the time. The system apparently went awry in this case. Petrovic explained, “For some reason, we had two boxes with the same number on them.”
Mixups in the office happen all the time, as anyone who has ever worked in an office knows, and startup growing pains happen too. We just feel bad for Evan, who was frustrated. What if he forgot how to put his windshield wipers on intermittent mode?
While Evan had two different phone calls going, the local office discovered that they had two boxes with the same number on them for some reason. Evan’s stuff was in that other box #23.
“I love these startup ideas, but there’s such a gap when things go wrong – hope that they can improve and iterate on these experiences and be better,” he wrote to us.
As of today, Evan has his owner’s manual back, and he knows that it’s his own copy. The rest of the items that had been in the back are still missing. It’s not like he left his diamond-encrusted tire pressure gauge in there, but he would still like to have his phone charging cable and non-diamond-encrusted tire pressure gauge back.
Update: FlightCar still hasn’t found the rest of Evan’s stuff, but has offered him $100 as compensation for the items and this whole episode.
“At the end of the day,” he reflected in an e-mail to Consumerist this afternoon, “hours lost, some property still missing, and an experience learned the hard way to save a few bucks on parking.”