Car-sharing startup resumes operations at Salt Lake City airport

Vehicle owners looking to make a few bucks or score a free place to park near the airport can use the Avail app once again.

After hitting a major roadblock at the Salt Lake City International Airport, the Avail car-sharing app is back in business.

Avail views itself as a tech platform, facilitating car owners who are flying out of state to link up with incoming travelers who want to borrow a set of wheels. The airport, however, considered Avail a car rental company and wanted to charge it the same 10% of gross revenues fee it charges other off-site rental companies. When Avail declined to sign such a contract, the airport required its partnering parking lot, the Parking Spot, to stop working with the company in late May.

“This is the first time we’ve had a conflict like this in any airport we’ve pursued,” said Avail CEO Mike Osborn.

The move forced several abrupt canceled reservations during the busy Memorial Day travel season. But Avail resumed operations Thursday, after agreeing to pay the airport its 10% fee.

“All’s well that ends well,” Osborn said, adding it took only two brief meetings with airport officials to reach a deal. “We had great engagement that quickly showed we had the types of interests that aligned with their interests.”

The company will continue to partnering with the Parking Spot to store cars and with Allstate to provide insurance for vehicles that get rented.

In a brief statement, an airport spokesperson called its “unique” agreement a win-win for the airport and Avail, as well as car rental companies and travelers who want more choices.

“The SLC Airport embraces innovative business models that ensure fair competition at the airport,” the statement said. “... In essence, the agreement mirrors the off-airport car rental agreement, which provides a level playing field for all parties involved.”

Osborn had previously speculated that the airport was trying to shut down Avail because of the powerful car rental lobby, which provides a substantial amount of airports’ revenue.

“They’re in a difficult position,” Osborn said of the airport’s operators, “because they have a lot of stakeholders they need to keep satisfied.”

An Avail customer loaning out a car stands to make some spare cash if a traveler opts to rent it. But even if the vehicle sits unused, the owner still gets perks like a free place to park near the airport as well as complimentary cleaning and sanitization of the car. Those renting the vehicles have perks like lower rates and included liability insurance.

Despite turbulence at Salt Lake City new airport over the past few months, Avail reports about 45 cars are available for booking.

Josh Odom, who splits his time between Park City and San Antonio, owns one of those cars. He said he averaged around $100 a week loaning out his Nissan Pathfinder using Avail.

“We got an email notice pretty abruptly in May, right before Memorial Day weekend, telling us they canceled future reservations,” Odom said. “The car sat idle and dormant, which is crazy with the shortage in rental cars. I’d rather someone get use and value out of the car.”

Odom said he and his family opted to take a ride-hailing Uber to and from the airport in the meantime.

More than losing out on the extra cash, Odom said he mostly felt sorry for Avail’s idle employees.

“We had the car in the system for seven months and hadn’t had any issues with how people take care of it,” he said. “It’s been a good experience. I’ve had several friends who have checked their vehicles in and had equally great [feedback].”

An Avail spokesperson said the company was able to reassign its Salt Lake City workers during the shutdown.

Avail also operates at airports in Atlanta; Baltimore-Washington; Chicago; Dallas; Denver; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; and Nashville, Tenn.