New Haven, Connecticut, will soon have more going for it than just Yale University and pizza.
Avelo Airlines is choosing the Elm City as its East Coast base with flights from Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport scheduled to start later this year.
“Tweed New Haven has enormous potential, and our first East Coast base is great news for Avelo, New Haven, East Haven and other local communities,” Andrew Levy, Avelo’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.
New Haven is sandwiched between Hartford, Connecticut, and New York City, the two closest cities with service from ultra-low-cost carriers. While travelers living anywhere between those two cities were formerly forced to choose, Avelo is giving a third option that will be more convenient to many.
“Avelo’s purpose is to inspire travel and today we begin that process of making it easy, and convenient, and affordable with everyday low fares, for customers to be able to choose us,” Levy said when launching the airline’s first flight from Burbank to Santa Rosa, California.
“It is critically important for us to work with partners who share our ideals to maintain the convenience that people love about Tweed New Haven, while respecting the existing character of the local cities and their communities that we serve,” Sean Scanlon, executive director of Tweed New Haven Airport Authority, said in a statement.
Manhattan is also 80 miles away and Avelo’s low fares could attract New Yorkers for which the drive is under two hours, and train service is offered on Amtrak and the Metro-North Railroad. Travelers from Boston and Eastern Massachusetts may also be inclined to make the journey to New Haven, if the price and flights are right.
Avelo’s entrance is a shot in the arm for New Haven’s airport, which only sees scheduled service from American Airlines to Philadelphia on regional aircraft. But New Haven isn’t yet ready for Avelo and so the airline is investing $1.2 million into modernizing the airport with an extended runway and new terminal as part of a larger $100 million investment by Avports.
Staffing the New Haven base calls for around 100 new employees ranging from pilots and flight attendants to airport support staff. Avelo estimates its presence will create 11,000 jobs in the region.
Boeing 737-700 aircraft will be based in New Haven, the smaller variant of the Boeing 737-800 aircraft with which Avelo debuted operations in April, with Insider onboard the first flight. In line with the airline’s ultra-low-cost business model, the planes are basic with few onboard amenities, though in-flight WiFi may be offered by the time Avelo starts New Haven flights.
No routes have been announced but Avelo’s goal is to focus on leisure destinations and keep flights at around two hours. That puts most of the East Coast and parts of the Southeast including Florida well within range of New Haven.
“Our surprisingly low fares and refreshingly smooth travel experience are sure to be embraced by residents of Southern Connecticut,” said Levy.
Europe is once again just a flight away for many Americans.
US airlines were quick to adjust their route maps when coronavirus pandemic travel patterns shifted towards domestic destinations. And with Europe gradually opening up to American tourists, airlines are making similar adjustments to accommodate the international jet set.
Delta Air Lines announced its latest international route between New York and Dubrovnik, Croatia, scheduled to start on July 2. Flights will operate four-times-weekly with departures from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and return flights from Dubrovnik Airport on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
It’s Delta’s first and only route to the Southern European country, which has seen newfound interest from Americans as vaccinated travelers, as well as those presenting a negative COVID-19 test or proof of recovery, will be able to enter the country. Croatia is situated on the Adriatic Sea and boasts countless historical towns and villages on its over 1,000 miles of coastline.
United Airlines will also serve Croatia with flights between Newark and Dubrovnik launching on July 8. The three-times-weekly flights from Newark Liberty International Airport depart on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and return from Dubrovnik Airport on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays.
Both airlines will use Boeing 767-300ER wide-body aircraft on their respective routes to Dubrovnik.
Croatia also borders Montenegro, another European country open to vaccinated Americans, according to the US Embassy in Montenegro. Dubrovnik itself is only 25 miles from the border with Montenegro and US citizens need only present proof of recent vaccination or recovery, or a negative COVID-19 test less than 72 hours old, when entering.
Delta and United have been the most eager to serve the reopening European continent, and have also launched flights to Iceland and Greece, the two other mainstream European tourist countries opening to Americans.
Iceland will be served by United this summer from Newark, starting June 3, and Chicago, starting July 1. Delta serves the Land of Fire and Ice via Reykjavik from New York and begins flights from Boston and Minneapolis on May 20 and May 27, respectively.
Greece, also welcoming vaccinated Americans or those with a negative COVID-19 test, is also served by the two airlines.
United will fly to Athens from Washington, DC starting July 1 and resume its Newark-Athens route on June 3. Delta will similarly resume its New York-Athens route on May 28 and launch a new route between Athens and Atlanta starting July 2.
American Airlines has been less nimble than its competitors on Europe’s reopening, focusing instead on the Americas. Some additions east of the Prime Meridian have been the New York-Athens route starting on June 3, Miami-Tel Aviv route starting on June 4, and New York-Tel Aviv route that launched on May 6.
While Greece is opening its doors to all vaccinated or COVID-19-negative Americans, however, Israel is being more restrictive with its opening and is only slated to welcome vaccinated group tours on May 23 but not individual tourists yet.
South America has been American’s main focus with new flights to cities in Chile, Colombia, and Brazil starting this year. American has not yet relaunched flights to Iceland or Croatia, despite serving both countries prior to the pandemic.
But American could soon shift to Europe as more countries welcome US citizens. For now, airlines can rejoice that European route launches are once again common after more than a year.
The Federal Aviation Administration continues to sound the alarm about a surge in unruly passengers aboard flights, even as the number of people flying remains far below pre-pandemic levels.
The agency received some 1,300 unruly-passenger reports from airlines since February and identified potential violations in roughly 260 cases, an FAA spokesperson told Insider on Tuesday. The FAA has initiated around 20 enforcement cases and is preparing more.
In recent years, the agency has typically brought between 100 and 150 enforcement cases against passengers, it said.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson slammed the significant increase in disruptive and violent behavior in an interview with NBC News on Monday.
“It is not permissible and we will not tolerate interfering with a flight crew and the performance of their safety duties. Period,” Dickson said.
Flight attendants have also noticed an increase in the number and severity of incidents, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, told the outlet. She said flight attendants have been assaulted, pushed, and choked, and there have been instances of passengers spitting or urinating.
“The physical and verbal abuse that flight attendants have been taking has been way off the charts,” Nelson told NBC.
In March, the FAA extended a “zero-tolerance” policy, which it first enacted in January after noticing a “disturbing increase” in instances of passengers being hostile toward crew members or refusing to wear masks.
The new rules authorize the agency to skip warnings and hand down stricter penalties to passengers who assault, threaten, or otherwise interfere with cabin crew members. Punishments include fines of up to $35,000 or imprisonment.
In April, the FAA proposed a $31,750 fine against a JetBlue passenger who allegedly got drunk off of alcohol he snuck onto the plane and assaulted a flight attendant. In March, the agency proposed a $20,000 fine against a passenger who allegedly would not put on her mask, shouted obscenities, and shoved a flight attendant.
According to data from the Transportation Security Administration, the number of daily air travelers has been increasing steadily over the last several months, hitting an average of 1.7 million in the past week. Still, the numbers are well below 2019 figures by about 37%.
Avelo Airlines made its debut on April 28 after breaking from cover earlier in the month. The ultra-low-cost airline aims to take advantage of the boom in leisure travelers that have been eager to fly again.
A total of 11 routes are being launched from Burbank. The initial slate of destinations includes Santa Rosa, California; Pasco, Washington; Bozeman, Montana; Phoenix, Arizona; Ogden, Utah; Grand Junction, Colorado; Medford, Oregon; Eugene, Oregon; Bend, Oregon; Eureka, California; and Redding, California.
At the helm of Avelo is Andrew Levy, an experienced aviation veteran with most recent experience as the cofounder of Allegiant Air and former chief financial officer of United Airlines.
I flew on Avelo from Burbank to Santa Rosa in the world-famous Sonoma County on the airline’s first day of flights. Here’s what it was like.
Arriving at Avelo’s new home base at Hollywood Burbank Airport just north of Los Angeles, I felt transported back in time. The single-level terminal is reminiscent of the early days of aviation.
Being able to use more convenient airports like Burbank is a big draw for customers to Avelo. Only a handful of airlines serve this airport, even though it boasts an ease of access that wildly surpasses Los Angeles International.
“We’re built to offer low fares, but at the same time we’re going to offer a great level of convenience by utilizing Burbank, which we think is probably the best secondary airport in the country,” Levy told Insider in a prior interview.
Avelo’s ticketing counter was not hard to find in the small terminal and its airport staff was out in force for the inaugural flight. Boarding passes can’t be printed from self-serve kiosks as Avelo doesn’t yet have that functionality.
I had checked in the night before and could have printed a boarding pass but I still needed to check my bag. Luckily, there’s was no line as we were the first and only flight of the day.
As was the case for most passengers, I only paid $19 for the ticket. But all I got for $19 was the ticket as bags and reserved seat assignments did not come included.
Avelo is an ultra-low-cost so bringing any bag larger than a backpack will incur a fee. Carry-ons cost $35 but checked bags only cost $10, some of the cheapest pricing in the industry for bags meant to encourage more checked bags.
But my total ticket price came out to only $29 as I checked my bag for $10.
Ticket in hand, I headed to the gate for the first departure. Any gate is a short walk when departing from Burbank.
Two of Avelo’s flagship aircraft, the Boeing 737-800, were parked at the terminal. Avelo currently has plans for six aircraft and 400 crew members by the end of 2021.
The paint job is an eye-catching purple, white, and yellow that made these 15-year-old aircraft look brand new.
Avelo is the only airline flying daily non-stop flights between Burbank and California Wine Country. That is, until June 1 when Alaska Airlines starts flights on the same route.
Flights to Santa Rosa depart in the morning and return in the late afternoon, enough time for a Sonoma County wine tasting if Southern Californians want to take a cheap day trip up north.
This was the first flight of a brand new airline so inaugural festivities were in order. “Avelo’s purpose is to inspire travel and today we begin that process of making it easy, and convenient, and affordable with everyday low fares, for customers to be able to choose us,” Levy said.
And with the cutting of the ribbon, it was time for boarding to begin.
Avelo boards in groups, with six in total, and hasn’t adopted the pandemic practice of back-to-front boarding. The first three groups are priority boarding and the final three are general boarding.
One of the perks of flying into and out of Burbank airport is ramps are used instead of jetways. It allows for great views of the aircraft.
Parked next to our plane was a nearly-identical backup aircraft, ready for just in case something went wrong.
Levy was stationed at the foot of the ramp to personally welcome each flyer on board.
Many onboard were aviation enthusiasts excited to make history by flying on a brand new airline.
Avelo’s Boeing 737 aircraft seats a whopping 189 passengers in an all-economy configuration. Seat assignments start at only $4 but legroom depends on seat location and greater legroom seats can be bought for a premium.
Seats closest to the front offer the most legroom, between 31 and 38 inches, and they’ll usually cost upwards of $20 to reserve.
Seats towards the back only feature 29 inches of pitch, below average for full-service US airlines but common among ultra-low-cost carriers. But extra legroom or not, all seats are “slimline” with minimal padding and few amenities of which to speak.
Adjustable headrests, for example, are non-existent.
Seats do have, however, a decent size tray table with a cup holder and most do recline.
Those wanting more room to stretch out should book the exit rows in rows 20 and 21, or the first row of seats.
A mere 29 inches of pitch might not bode well for taller flyers, as aviation’s Johnny Jet found from his middle seat in row 15, but this flight was only around an hour where it was bearable for those aboard.
I didn’t choose a seat assignment at booking to save money and was auto-assigned a window seat in row 14 at check-in. It offered the standard 29 inches of pitch but I was just glad I wasn’t given a middle seat.
Seat-backs are noticeable bare with only safety cards in the pockets. There are no seat-back screens or any in-flight entertainment, for that matter, though WiFi is on the way, Levy told Insider in a prior interview.
Levy welcomed us aboard the historic first flight of his airline as we prepared to depart for Santa Rosa. The pandemic luckily hadn’t killed the airline but instead bolstered its proposition of cheap flights to travel-hungry Americans.
Soon enough, we were ready to head out and pushed back earlier than scheduled.
Levy sat in the very front row for the flight.
We then blasted out of Burbank on Runway 15, the mighty Boeing 737 handling the short runway well and quickly turned to the north.
We said goodbye to Burbank airport, to where this aircraft and many of its passengers would return later in the day.
The views of San Fernando Valley provided the only in-flight entertainment for many as we turned to follow the coast to Santa Rosa.
Flight attendants, smiling from ear-to-ear, then began the in-flight service. Ultra-low-cost airlines aren’t typically known for free snacks and drinks but Avelo’s initial pandemic offering includes what it calls a “convenience package.”
Inside the complimentary kits I found a bottle of water, a package of shortbread cookies, and a Purell wipe. It wasn’t much but anything is better than nothing and the flight was only an hour long.
And shortly after, flight attendants passed around sparkling cider for an in-flight toast to Avelo.
Finding the right people to work as flight attendants and pilots was of high importance to Avelo in order to stand out among ultra-low-cost airlines.
And it showed, all of Avelo’s in-flight crew were happy, smiling, and genuinely friendly.
After a short speech by Levy, passengers raised their glasses to toast the airline.
The rest of the flight continued smoothly as we sailed over California. So far, the consensus was that the aircraft wasn’t bad for an hour flight.
New York to Los Angeles, as Spirit Airlines is planning to do in June, might be a stretch considering the lack of amenities and legroom. But Avelo is looking for a route network where flights are less than two hours.
It wasn’t before long before it was time to descend into Santa Rosa, and those on the left side of the aircraft facing forward were greeted to the best view of the Bay Area. San Francisco International Airport was the first landmark…
Followed by San Francisco itself.
California Wine Country soon came into view as we gradually descended into Santa Rosa’s Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport.
Like Burbank, only a handful of airlines serve Santa Rosa. And those that do only fly regional aircraft like the Embraer E175 and Bombardier Dash 8 Q400.
Avelo’s arrival was welcomed by the county, especially because it would bring more tourists to the region on the heels of the pandemic.
As the seatbelt sign turned off, Levy was the first to rise. The first passenger flight of his new airline was complete, and it was a success.
Avelo touched down in Santa Rosa on time and with happy passengers.
Sun Country has long been Minneapolis’ hometown airline but these latest route additions are a sign the airline is setting itself up to be the Midwest’s hometown airline. Smaller towns across the region lack non-stop flights to leisure destinations but now cities like Rochester, Minnesota, and Green Bay, Wisconsin will see more direct links to the sunnier locales.
Florida and Arizona destinations are among the new routes but the expansion will also see Sun Country fly deeper into the Caribbean with new flights to Turks and Caicos and Grand Cayman. As Sun Country is now a low-cost airline, flyers can expect cheap fares and extra fees for amenities like advanced seat assignments and carry-on baggage.
Most of Sun Country’s competition on the Minneapolis-originating routes will be from Delta Air Lines, which maintains a hub in the city acquired in a merger with Northwest Airlines. But routes from Minneapolis comprise less than half of the expansion, with Sun Country facing no direct competition on other routes.
Here’s where Sun Country Airlines is flying in the next year.
Between Minneapolis and Phoenix
Flights between Minneapolis and Phoenix via Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport launch on November 24 with four-times-weekly weekender service on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The route to Phoenix’s secondary airport complements its existing route to the larger Sky Harbor International Airport.
No other airlines directly operate the route but Sun Country will have competition from Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Spirit Airlines that operate the route from Sky Harbor International.
Between Minneapolis and Bozeman, Montana
Flights between Minneapolis and Bozeman, Montana continue on December 16 with twice-weekly weekender service on Thursdays and Sundays. Bozeman has been growing in popularity during the pandemic as a year-round socially distant destination.
Delta will be Sun Country’s sole competition on the route.
Between Minneapolis and St. Petersburg, Florida
Flights between Minneapolis and St. Petersburg, Florida launch on November 25 with four-times-weekly service on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays. St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport is a smaller alternative to Tampa International Airport, just across the Old Tampa Bay, complementing Sun Country’s existing route to the city.
No other airlines directly operate the route but Delta, Spirit, Southwest, and Frontier Airlines fly non-stop to nearby Tampa.
Between Minneapolis and Punta Gorda, Florida
Flights between Minneapolis and Punta Gorda, Florida launch on December 10 with twice-weekly weekender service on Mondays and Sundays.
No other airlines directly operate the route.
Between Minneapolis and George Town, Grand Cayman
Flights between Minneapolis and Grand Cayman launch on December 18 with twice-weekly service on Mondays and Fridays.
Delta will be Sun Country’s sole competition on the route.
Between Minneapolis and Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
Flights between Minneapolis and Providenciales, Turks and Caicos launch on December 18 with once-weekly service on Saturdays only.
No other airlines directly operate the route
Between Duluth, Minnesota and Fort Myers, Florida
Flights between Duluth, Minnesota and Fort Myers, Florida launch on December 17 with twice-weekly weekender service on Mondays and Fridays.
No other airlines directly operate the route
Between Duluth, Minnesota and Phoenix
Flights between Duluth and Phoenix launch on December 17 with twice-weekly weekender service on Mondays and Fridays.
No other airlines directly operate the route
Between Green Bay, Wisconsin and Fort Myers, Florida
Flights between Green Bay, Wisconsin and Fort Myers, Florida launch on December 16 with twice-weekly weekender service on Thursdays and Sundays.
No other airlines directly operate the route.
Between Green Bay, Wisconsin and Phoenix
Flights between Green Bay and Phoenix launch on December 17 with twice-weekly weekender service on Mondays and Fridays.
No other airlines directly operate the route.
Between Madison, Wisconsin and Phoenix
Flights between Madison, Wisconsin and Phoenix launch on December 16 with twice-weekly weekender service on Thursdays and Sundays.
American will be Sun Country’s only competition on the route.
Between Milwaukee and Minneapolis
Flights between Milwaukee and Minneapolis launch on August 26 with twice-weekly weekender service on Thursdays and Sundays. The route will help connect Milwaukeeans to Sun Country’s greater route network.
Delta will be Sun Country’s only competition on the route.
Between Milwaukee and Cancun, Mexico
Flights between Milwaukee and Cancun, Mexico launch on December 18 with once-weekly service on Saturdays only.
No other airlines directly operate the route.
Between Milwaukee and Las Vegas
Flights between Milwaukee and Las Vegas launch on August 26 with twice-weekly weekender service on Thursdays and Sundays.
Frontier, Southwest, and Spirit will be Sun Country’s competition on the route.
Between Milwaukee and Fort Myers, Florida
Flights between Milwaukee and Fort Myers launch on December 15 with twice-weekly weekender service on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Frontier, Southwest, and United Airlines will be Sun Country’s competition on the route.
Between Milwaukee and Phoenix
Flights between Milwaukee and Phoenix launch on December 16 with twice-weekly weekender service on Thursdays and Sundays.
American and Southwest will be Sun Country’s competition on the route.
Between Rochester, Minnesota and Fort Myers, Florida
Flights between Rochester, Minnesota and Fort Myers launch on February 3, 2022, with twice-weekly weekender service on Thursdays and Sundays.
No other airlines directly operate the route.
Between Rochester, Minnesota and Phoenix
Flights between Rochester and Phoenix launch on February 4, 2022, with twice-weekly weekender service on Mondays and Fridays.
A new United Airlines advertising campaign is directly targeting Southwest Airlines as the two compete for travelers in Denver.
The “Mile High Standards” campaign critiques Southwest for things like its on-time performance and open seating policy while boasting about United’s offerings like non-stop flights to Hawaii, as well as the airline’s long-time presence in Colorado’s capital city.
United is billing the strategy as “bold” and “unlike any you’ve ever seen from us before,” with its low-cost rival solely in the crosshairs. One example criticizes Southwest’s lack of direct flights to Hawaii and Cozumel from Denver.
Not all of United’s advertisements are directed towards Southwest with some aimed at highlighting the key role that Denver plays for the airline.
United in 2018 opened a flight training center in Denver that houses more than 30 flight simulators and trains around 10,000 pilots each year. United is also the only US airline offering intercontinental flights from Denver to cities like London; Frankfurt, Germany; and Tokyo, in normal times.
Rocky Mountain Rivalry
Denver has proved to be an important base for both Southwest and United during the pandemic. Travelers have flocked to the Mountain West thanks to pandemic-friendly activities like camping, hiking, and skiing.
United has invested additional resources to accommodate, including a luxury bus service from the airport to Breckenridge, Colorado that passengers can book just as they would a regular United flight. Operated by Landline, the bus departs from a terminal gate, and checked bags are transported directly from flyers’ incoming flights.
The announcement was peculiar given that no exact timing was given for the once-daily flight and international travel between the UK and US is currently extremely limited. United also seldom launches transatlantic routes that don’t pass through one of its hubs.
The West Coast of the US stretches more than 1,000 miles with no shortage of major cities from San Diego to Seattle.
All the major US airlines serve this important region of the country but two are battling for dominance, Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.
Alaska is based in Seattle, although its name suggests otherwise, and is a mid-tier US airline with the bulk of its operations on the West Coast.
Southwest, on the other hand, is the country’s largest low-cost carrier with a nationwide presence. And while the West Coast is an important region for the airline, it’s just one of many Southwest serves.
Both carriers have sought to grow market share on the West Coast during the pandemic. Southwest added Santa Barbara and Fresno to its California route network while Alaska has added routes from existing cities.
I flew on both airlines this year to see which one was truly the airline of the West Coast. Here’s what I found.
West Coast connectivity: Alaska serves 29 cities up and down the coast, including smaller cities like Everett, Washington; Santa Rosa, California; and Medford, Oregon.
Southwest serves 15 West Coast cities and plans to serve two more this summer. Bellingham, Washington flights will also open sometime this year.
Winner: Alaska Airlines. The airline’s connectivity between West Coast cities large and small cannot be beaten by Southwest’s existing network.
What comes with the ticket: Every Southwest ticket includes free seat selection anywhere on the plane after boarding, two checked bags, a carry-on bag, and all the onboard amenities.
Southwest has open seating so any open seat is available for passengers.
Alaska does allow free seat selection for economy but charges extra for seats close to the front and exit row seats.
Alaska, like many full-service carriers, has also embraced restrictive basic economy fares that replaced its cheapest fares. The product is generous with and limited advanced seat assignments and a free carry-on bag but flyers will have to pay more for better seats and checked bags.
Southwest doesn’t have change or cancel fees for any ticket.
Alaska has eliminated change fees but not for basic economy fares, known as “saver” fares.
Winner: Southwest Airlines. The flexibility and free extras offered by Southwest put it well and above Alaska. It’s worth noting, however, that even Alaska’s basic economy fares are more generous than many of its competitors.
Boarding: Alaska boards its aircraft in groups that are assigned based on seat location and fare class. First class boards first, followed by elite status holders, those sitting in “premium class.” Economy then boards back to front, for the most part, and basic economy flyers board dead last.
On Southwest, however, passengers are given a boarding number and group that’s determined by how early they check-in for the flight. Once on the plane, they can select any open seat.
Winner: Southwest Airlines. Alaska’s boarding process relegates basic economy passengers to the very last section while even the passenger with the cheapest ticket on Southwest has the opportunity to board earlier if they check-in at exactly 24 hours prior to departure.
Onboard amenities: Both airlines are in the process of modernizing their fleets but older aircraft remain. On Southwest, for example, I flew on the 737-700 fleet on my most recent trip and it was the furthest from modern.
But its updated aircraft have a great, modern look, as I found on flights from New York to Orlando in 2020.
Before the pandemic, however, Alaska sold meals and snack boxes while Southwest just stuck to drinks and small snacks.
Winner: Alaska Airlines.
West Coast feel: Alaska has its roots in the West Coast and that shows in its branding. The colors are vibrant, there is a focus on West Coast brands in the in-flight service, and the airline is based in Seattle.
Southwest has a generic appeal as it connects the US through bases across the country with no specific ties to the West Coast. There’s no West Coast feel.
Winner: Alaska Airlines: There’s an undeniable feeling when flying on Alaska that it’s more in tune with the West Coast vibe than Southwest.
National connectivity: Alaska is highly concentrated on the West Coast while Southwest has bases across the US.
Southwest doesn’t have the sprawling West Coast network that Alaska does but it does offer connections between most of the region’s major cities and connections to the rest of the country through its mid-continent bases in places like Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas, and Dallas.
Alaska only has hubs in the West Coast cities of Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland, requiring a stop in one of those cities before heading east. The airline does partner with airlines like American to offer mixed-airline itineraries but that could be difficult if the airlines are in two different terminals.
Winner: Southwest Airlines. Having more mid-continent bases allows for more convenient journeys with lower travel times for customers.
Business traveler amenities: Corporate travelers have different priorities than most leisure travelers and will often spend more for seats in premium cabins and access lounges.
Alaska has premium lounges in six airports, and partners with American and Qantas on lounge access for members. Southwest does not have any lounges.
Alaska’s jet aircraft also have first class cabins, the domain of the business traveling road warrior, while Southwest does not.
A special section of economy is also available on Alaska. Called “premium class,” seats in the section offer additional legroom and come with complimentary alcoholic beverages.
Alaska is also a member of the Oneworld airline alliance and Alaska’s elite status holders can use their benefits on other airlines like American and British Airways, and vice versa. Southwest is not a part of any airline alliance.
Southwest does have a special fare for business travelers, called “Business Select,” that includes extras like priority boarding and free alcoholic drinks (suspended during the pandemic).
And Southwest does have better connectivity outside of the West Coast. A business traveler in St. Louis looking to fly to New York couldn’t even choose Alaska if they wanted to.
Winner: Alaska Airlines. Business travelers have more premium amenities at their disposal on Alaska, if the choice is between Alaska and Southwest.
Airline of the West Coast: Alaska Airlines. Both airlines are incredibly similar but Alaska has more West Coast-oriented amenities to help it pull ahead of Southwest.
Las Vegas is home to one of American Express’ 14 Centurion Lounges, widely considered to be the gold standard of airport lounges because of their high-end offerings including complimentary and meticulous crafted food items and alcoholic beverages.
The lounge is located in the airport’s D gate concourse, home to United Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and JetBlue Airways, among others.
Passenger on any airline can access the lounge, however, if they have the American Express Platinum or Centurion card. American Express Delta Skymiles Reserve cardholders can also use the lounge when flying Delta or a Delta-marketed flight.
I had a six-hour layover in the airport so I headed straight to the lounge. Departing passengers are normally only allowed to enter within three hours of their flight but connecting passengers are exempt from that rule.
Here’s what it was like inside the Las Vegas Centurion Lounge.
I checked into the lounge using digital check-in via the American Express mobile application and was given a QR code to show the agent. I only had to show my boarding pass and identification as the agent saw my check-in on her end.
Within seconds, I was inside one of the most exclusive clubs in Las Vegas. Greeting me was this portrait of a dog resting on an American Express trunk accompanying two black armchairs, a staple of the Centurion Lounge that can be found in every location.
The lounge was moderately crowded and employees, as a result, were escorting guests to particular seats to help ensure distancing.
I was asked if I wanted to sit in one of the main seating areas….
Or the dining area. I chose the former to take advantage of the more comfortable seating.
I was traveling alone so I was given one of these cushioned cubbies, complete with my own table.
Capacity in the lounge is limited due to the pandemic so certain seating areas are blocked.
Along the wall where I was sitting, for example, every other cubby was blocked.
It created an extra degree of privacy and meant I had more room to store my bags, and another table to hold my laptop while I ate lunch.
Once I got settled, I headed over to the buffet to get something to eat. These lounges are known for having good eats with menus crafted from local chefs. Chef Kim Canteenwalla had designed this menu.
The offering was quite extensive and better than what I’d seen in competing airline lounges even before the pandemic. Light options included a chopped bacon, lettuce, and tomato salad…
Butternut squash soup…
And mango cranberry couscous.
Hot items included kale pesto pasta…
And chimichurri fingerling potatoes.
And for desert, peach cobbler was on offer.
Healthier options included fruits like apples, pears, and bananas. Cookies and honey mustard pretzels were also on offer but not many snacks were available other than that.
All in all, it was some of the best airport food I’ve ever had. Every item was bursting with flavor and made for a great meal.
And of course, the full bar is another big selling feature of the lounge as drinks are complimentary.
The main bar was closed but this makeshift bar still did the trick. Most common cocktails can be ordered at the bar but American Express’ in-house mixologist, Jim Meehan, also crafts specialty drinks for each location.
One such drink was the “air mail,” a sparkling wine drink with rum, honey syrup, and lime juice.
Plexiglass partitions were also erected at the bar for social distancing.
After having lunch, I walked around the more than 13,000 square foot space. American Express just recently renovated the lounge and it showed.
The decor was very modern and very Las Vegas. It made me feel like I was in the heart of the Strip despite only being at the airport.
Large sections of the lounge were blocked off but other sections included a sprawling conference table and more private seating.
These lounges often lend themselves well to social distancing with high-walled chairs since privacy is a huge draw for discerning travelers.
There are even private phone rooms that are enclosed for maximum privacy.
I also discovered somewhat of a hidden room in the back of the lounge.
It didn’t have any windows but was well-lit and has its own television.
The lounge’s family room was, however, off-limits due to the pandemic.
Roped-off areas were opened once the lounge was sufficiently crowded. It wasn’t uncommon before the pandemic to see these lounges filled to the brim.
Departure information screens could also be found throughout the lounge so passengers could stay up to date on the status of their next flight.
Aviation enthusiasts will enjoy one of the seating areas near the window as a variety of aircraft can be spotted.
Hot beverages were also available with multi-beverage coffee machines capable of making anything from a standard cup of coffee to espresso, cappuccino, hot chocolate, and anything in between.
A selection of teas was also available with hot water.
Visiting this lounge made my six-hour layover go by in what felt like an instant.
The only downside is that it closes at 3 p.m., at which point the only other lounge available to passengers in the terminal is The Club LAS.
But for the few hours I got to spend in the lounge, I can say that it will become a staple on my future visits to Las Vegas.
The renovations and superior offering make it a jewel in the Centurion Lounge network.
The airline’s strategy is offering flyers cheap non-stop flights to leisure destinations, and that’s in demand now that Americans are raring to get back in the air following an extended pandemic. But while Frontier may fly the same type of aircraft as its full-service competitors like American Airlines and United Airlines, the onboard product couldn’t be any different.
As with any ultra-low-cost carrier, Frontier is built for savings and that’s reflected in every aspect of the flying experience. Seats, for example, are bare-bones with minimal padding, menial tray tables, and as little as 28 inches of legroom on some planes, according to SeatGuru. But that doesn’t mean flights can’t be enjoyable.
Frontier flies from my local airport on Long Island in New York and I’ve had many an opportunity to journey on the ultra-low-cost carrier by taking advantage of its rock-bottom pricing. In my years of flying the airline, I don’t think I’ve paid more than $30 for a round-trip flight when traversing the East Coast as far south as Miami and have had a good experience nearly every time.
Here’s what you need to know when flying Frontier in order to get the best experience.
Know what you’re paying for
Flyers should know that their $15 one-way ticket isn’t going to get them much more than a ticket to ride. Everything from an advanced seat assigned to the drinks onboard the aircraft is going to incur an extra fee.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you know what to pay for and what not to pay for. Personal items like a backpack can fly free of charge and so I avoid the baggage fees by skipping the carry-on and using a backpack for my items if the trip allows.
The seats onboard Frontier are also unlike anything passengers would find on a full-service airline. They’re thin “slimline” seats with no headrests, in-seat power, or even full-size tray tables. Legroom is also significantly reduced, which can make for an uncomfortable ride for taller passengers.
Ultimately, they’re not the most comfortable but I also know my limits when flying an airline like Frontier. I tend to get squirmish when flying Frontier after around three hours, especially if in a crowded row, so I wouldn’t generally book a flight longer than that.
Flyers wanting the extras can pay for them and those wanting seats comparable to a full-service carrier can book “stretch” seats in the first few rows of the cabin. They include full tray tables, extra legroom, and full recline capabilities.
Travelers with too high of expectations will ultimately be disappointed by Frontier but I’ve found that managing those expectations will result in a better experience.
Why I never pay for a seat and how to get a better one for free
I’ve taken 13 flights on Frontier and I’ve only been assigned a middle seat a total of one time. The science isn’t exactly clear on how Frontier randomly assigns leftover seats but my trick is checking in exactly 24 hours in advance and I’m typically given an aisle or window seat.
I prefer a window seat and so I always check with the gate agent to see if any have opened up if I’m assigned an aisle or middle. The gate staff are usually more than willing to help out and will often assign the closest open seat to the front.
Why I subscribe to Discount Den and how to get it for “free”
Discount Den is a paid membership product where customers get discounts on flights in exchange for a $59.99 annual fee. It’s separate from the MyFrontier loyalty program and perks can include discounts, free tickets for children, and buy one, get ones.
The savings are more pronounced on more expensive flights as the cheaper flights in Frontier’s network will only see a modest savings of only a few dollars. A $95 flight I booked from Islip, New York to Phoenix in June, however, was only $77 thanks to the program. The $18 savings was around a third of the annual fee so if I had two more flights with that amount of savings, I’d break even.
But I didn’t outright pay to join the program. I joined in January and discovered that I could use travel credit from a Frontier flight that I had canceled during the pandemic to pay for it, but only if I bought the membership while booking a flight.
Frontier sometimes offers signup bonuses when joining the program to make it an even better value. I signed up and was given a $50 voucher to fly on Frontier so the program basically paid for itself.
The only downside is that there are no perks when actually flying. I still have to pay for a seat, I don’t get to board any earlier, and I don’t receive any baggage allowance. But the discounts I get do help offset the cost of buying extras like a seat assignment or carry-on bag if I absolutely need them.
Frontier’s pandemic safety measures
Like most major US airlines, Frontier flyers must wear masks when flying and acknowledge a health declaration that basically says flyers haven’t contracted COVID-19 recently and haven’t been exposed to the virus. But that’s about where the similarities stop.
All travelers flying Frontier must submit to a temperature screening at boarding. If a flyer shows a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, they’ll be denied boarding.
On the plane, Frontier has not blocked middle seats and does not proactively notify of full flights. Customers are also on their own to social distance, either by asking the gate agent to move to an empty row or asking the flight attendant to be re-seated.
The in-flight service has also been suspended with no snacks or drinks, besides bottles of water, available for purchase. Bottles of water are available on request for $2.99 or flyers can bring their own drinks from the terminal.
Fully self-flying planes are moving closer and closer to becoming an everyday reality.
Xwing, a Bay Area aviation startup, just completed its first “gate-to-gate” autonomous flight with its flagship aircraft, a Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.
All pilots had to do was sit back and monitor while the plane started up, taxied out, took off, flew, landed, taxied back, and shut down all on its own.
The flight took place in February 2021 at Buchanan Field Airport in Concord, California just outside of San Francisco. A pilot was inside the aircraft but merely to watch over the systems, talk to air traffic control, and take over for the automated system if need be.
Another pair of eyes was keeping close watch from Xwing’s “mission control center,” to where data from the aircraft include speed, altitude, pitch, and location was continuously fed.
“Over the past year, our team has made significant advancements in extending and refining our AutoFlight system to seamlessly integrate ground taxiing, take-offs, landings, and flight operations, all supervised from our mission control center via redundant data links,” Marc Piette, chief executive officer and founder of Xwing, said in a statement.
The Grand Caravan is a tried and true aviation workhorse, with Xwing’s model powered by a turboprop Pratt & Whitney PT6A-114A engine offering 675 shaft horsepower.
And as many as 14 occupants can be carried by the plane.
The Grand Caravan has uses in both the passenger and cargo realm, with Xwing looking to serve the latter.
“As we work to bring our technology to market, I’m particularly looking forward to building out our commercialization strategy to bring consumers and logistics companies the most effective air cargo solutions available,” Jesse Kallman, Xwing’s vice president of commercialization and strategy, said in a statement.
Xwing has joined the worldwide COVID-19 airlift with cargo flights carrying 800 pounds of personal protective equipment to the Navajo Nation in Arizona, performed autonomously from takeoff to landing.
And major cargo carriers already rely on the Grand Caravan for flights. FedEx Express is one of many that uses the aircraft to reach remote communities.
Essential air service carriers, or those that are subsidized by the government to fly to underserved American communities, including Southern Airways Express and Air Choice One also use the Grand Caravan for some flights.
These flights could one day be operated autonomously thanks to Xwing’s technology.
Xwing estimates that cost savings could be in the 20-30% range for an aircraft operator including everything from pilot training and salaries to overnighting expenses.
Xwing just announced a total funding raise of $55 million and has been identified by venture capitalists such as Andrew Beebe of Obvious Ventures and Kirsten Bartok of AirFinance as one of the leaders in the autonomous aviation space. The company was operating in stealth until May 2020.