“At the invitation of the Indonesian government, we are sending airborne assets to assist in the search for the missing submarine,” he said.
He added that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has plans to speak with his Indonesian counterpart Friday “to discuss how else the United States can be of assistance.”
Indonesia’s diesel-powered submarine KRI Nanggala-402 disappeared during a training exercise Wednesday with 53 people, more than the boat is built to carry, on board. It is unclear at this time what the exact status of the missing submarine is.
The Indonesian navy has said it believes that the submarine, a 1,400-ton vessel made by Germany in the late 1970s and refitted in 2012, may have sunk to a depth of roughly 2,000 feet, putting the vessel beyond the reach and possibly past the point where the hull can withstand the crushing pressure of the water around it.
But, on the chance that this is not the case and it has survived, the search is a race against time given that the vessel will run out of oxygen by early Saturday morning. The boat only had 72 hours of breathable air available.
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.
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.
“Since the onset of this crisis, U.S. airlines have relied on science, research and data to help guide decisions as they continuously reevaluate and update their processes and procedures,” a spokesperson for the trade organization Airlines for America, which represents the likes of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines, told Insider.
“Multiple scientific studies confirm that the layers of protection significantly reduce risk, and research continues to demonstrate that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is very low,” the organization said.
Delta is currently the last airline to still block middle seats but will stop doing so on May 1, the longest run of any US airline to block seats. The CDC’s study hasn’t deterred the airline either, which held firm on the policy shift when asked by CNBC on Thursday.
“Our experts tell us that with vaccination rates where they’re at and demand being as strong as it is it’s absolutely safe to sit in that middle seat,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said.
Airlines and at least one aviation expert agree that the CDC study is flawed in multiple aspects including that it was performed in 2017 using maskless mannequins – while wearing masks on an airplane is now mandated by federal law – and wasn’t conducted on an actual airplane, unlike more recent studies.
But science aside, blocking middle seats served a valuable purpose during the pandemic: inspiring peace of mind among travelers returning to flying after months of being grounded.
My experience with blocked middle seats
I’m a life-long flyer and returning to the skies in June 2020 was not an easy decision. Like many, I’d feared catching the novel coronavirus and had a brief moment of panic when I boarded my first flight amid the pandemic.
I was lucky to be flying Delta, however, as I’m sure my panic would have been worsened if I was on a packed plane.
I do realize that airlines need to be profitable in order for me to keep enjoying their services. Delta, after all, estimated that it lost up to $150 million in potential revenue from blocking seats in March.
But, not all of the country is vaccinated and even those that are still might not feel comfortable with being packed into a plane.
My hope is that airlines giving up on seat-block will double down on other efforts to drive home the fact that flying is safe. I’ve seen this on airlines like Delta and United but some have a way to come in their efforts.
The findings of studies promoting air travel as safe are predicated on airlines following their recommended precautions. But even the industry-funded study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health specifically gives recommendations that some airlines aren’t following or enforcing.
CEO Ed Bastian appeared on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” Thursday morning and criticized the report’s shortcoming when asked, saying: “Our experts tell us that with vaccination rates where they’re at and demand being as strong as it is it’s absolutely safe to sit in that middle seat.”
Guiding Delta’s decision, according to Bastian, are experts from the Mayo Clinic, Emory University, and Delta Chief Health Officer Dr. Henry Ting, formerly of the Mayo Clinic. The airline deferred to trade organization Airlines for America when asked for comment on the CDC report.
“Since the onset of this crisis, US airlines have relied on science, research, and data to help guide decisions as they continuously reevaluate and update their processes and procedures,” a spokesperson for the organization said in a statement to Insider. “Multiple scientific studies confirm that the layers of protection significantly reduce risk, and research continues to demonstrate that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is very low. “
Henry Harteveldt, an industry analyst and cofounder of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider that the CDC study and its release were flawed for multiple reasons, chiefly because it doesn’t take into account the new realities of travel. Researchers ran the trials in 2017 using maskless mannequins while masks are now mandatory in airplanes under federal law.
Harteveldt and airlines instead point to more recent studies, including one by the US Department of Defense where masked mannequins were tested onboard a United Airlines wide-body aircraft. Airlines similarly tout a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study that declares the risk of air travel to be “below that of other routine activities during the pandemic, such as grocery shopping or eating out” when precautions are taken.
Both support the claims by airlines that flying is safe thanks to measures like mask-wearing and the use of high-efficiency particulate air filters, or HEPA filters, regardless of whether seats are blocked. Harteveldt noted, however, that the Harvard study was funded by the airline industry while the DOD study was not.
Delta was an early and ardent adopter of the seat-blocking policy and kept seats blocked the longest of any major US airline, most of which started filling planes in late 2020. The policy cost Delta up to $150 million in potential revenue in March but even still, the month was successful as the airline saw positive daily cash flow thanks to a surge in travelers.
“Thanks to the incredible efforts of our people, we achieved positive daily cash generation in the month of March, a remarkable accomplishment considering our middle seat block and the low level of demand for business and international travel,” Bastian said in an earnings statement, adding that he expects the airline to be profitable once more in September.
All major US airlines, confident in measures like mask-wearing and the use of high-efficiency particular air filters, or HEPA filters, are moving away from the practice with no signs of reverting back to it while others never adopted it and are not likely to. Delta Air Lines is the last hold out with its policy slated to end on May 1.
But the reasoning goes well beyond the desire of airlines to turn a profit by filling planes.
“Multiple scientific studies confirm that the layers of protection significantly reduce risk, and research continues to demonstrate that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is very low,” Airlines for America, the trade organization representing many of the country’s major airlines including Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines, said in a statement to Insider.
Airlines are already walking a fine line to prevent an onboard outbreak while trying to get flyers to come back. If an outbreak were to occur, the industry could go right back to where it was in March 2020 with mass cancellations and billions of dollars being lost.
Masks have been required onboard commercial airline flights for almost a year now and any major outbreak would have been well noted and investigated. The 2017 study also doesn’t take into account the measures being taken by airlines, one industry expert says.
“This is months-old data that overlooks a lot of changes in the real world policies and practices that the air transport industry has implemented since the study was first conducted,” Henry Harteveldt, industry analyst and co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group, said of the just-released CDC report. Researchers ran the tests in a laboratory setting using mannequins that were not wearing face masks.
Harteveldt noted that each stud likely isn’t perfect, as the Harvard study was industry-funded. And while the DOD study is more dependable, it only used wide-body aircraft for its testing, a factor that Harteveldt says isn’t a major limiting issue considering the filtration systems are comparable on narrow-body aircraft.
Reverting back to the days of blocking middle seats would also wreak havoc on airlines that have begun selling tickets on planes to capacity for the summer.
“If you were to tell a passenger now, ‘oh, we have to rebook your vacation because we’re blocking middle seats,’ I think you’d have a lot of upset travelers,” Harteveldt said, noting airlines would like demand compensation from the government if it became law.
Travelers have indicated time and time again that they’re willing to fly on any airline if the price is right, regardless of the seat block. American Airlines and United Airlines had no trouble filling some flights in the first summer of the pandemic when flights were sold to capacity, as Insider found on multiple flights in June 2020.
“The consumers went where they could get the flights and fares that they could afford,” Harteveldt said. “And this was before vaccines were available and before wearing a mask was a federal mandate.”
Delta Air Lines is set to end its middle-seat block on May 1, at which point none of the 11 major US airlines will offer the policy. Airlines are also not alone as Amtrak and Megabus have also announced definitive ends to their seat blocking policies, as well.
Canadian tourists are once again stimulating the economies of American border cities and bringing back the “Buffalo shuffle” despite the border between the two countries remaining closed to non-essential travel.
Transportation companies in Buffalo, New York, are experiencing a long-awaited boom in business by catering to Canadians heading north, CBC is reporting, and the reason is a loophole that allows them to avoid mandatory COVID-19 hotel quarantines when arriving back home.
Recently enacted travel restrictions in Canada require that residents returning by air quarantine in a hotel at their expense, up to $2,000 (Canadian), according to CBC. Canadians traveling across the land border, however, need only submit to a home quarantine while undergoing extensive testing for the coronavirus, in addition to providing a recent negative test to border guards.
Buffalo is one outpost that’s seen an uptick in Canadian visitors, but not directly from Canada. Visitors from the north have been arriving by air from parts of the US and making the last stretch of their journey home by land, crossing the world’s longest border by car.
One transportation company, Buffalo Limousine, told CBC that it transports an average of 50 Canadians per day and business has increased by 50%. The pandemic nearly decimated the company, along with countless businesses that relied on Canadian customers.
A Buffalo Limousine trip from Buffalo-Niagara International Airport across the border to Fort Erie, Ontario costs around $120 one-way for the 17-mile trip, CBC said.
Public transportation options before the pandemic included Megabus Canada and Amtrak, which took passengers from Buffalo to Toronto with stops along the way. Both have stopped cross-border services during the pandemic, according to their websites.
Ironically, US border restrictions prevent Canadians that aren’t also American citizens from entering by land so flying is the only option for many to enter the Land of the Free. A winter visitor to the US, for example, would have to fly from Canada to the US and then fly to a border town like Buffalo to drive back in to avoid quarantine.
The rules have created another niche industry in Canada that supplies short, cross-border flights so Canadians can take advantage of the loophole. CBC reported in February that many Canadians continued to flock to the US even after their government had enacted stricter travel restrictions, and one company even started offering international helicopter flights.
Great Lakes Helicopters operates 28-mile flights from St. Catharines, Ontario, near Niagara Falls to Buffalo, which costs $1,500 (Canadian) plus tax, according to its website. Canadians can even drive to St. Catharines and have the company ship their cars across the border – cross-border trucking has not stopped during the pandemic – for between $700 and $1,600 (Canadian), depending on the size of the car.
But temporarily gone are the days of Canadians driving across the border to an airport like Buffalo-Niagara International, Ogdensburg International, or Bellingham International, to avoid paying the high taxes levied on international flights from Canada to the US. Major airlines have largely pulled out of border airports during the pandemic, as a result of the border closure.
Allegiant Air packed up from Ogdensburg, New York, billed as an alternative to Canada’s capital of Ottawa just 60 miles to the north, according to 7 News. Plattsburgh International Airport in New York, an alternate to nearby Montreal, and Niagara Falls International Airport, an alternate to nearby Toronto, also saw some flights disappear during the pandemic, according to the Press-Republican and the Buffalo News.
But Southwest Airlines is preparing for the eventual easing of border restrictions and announced service to Bellingham, Washington, slated to launch sometime in 2021. Bellingham is just south of Vancouver and could attract British Columbia residents seeking to head to points south on the cheap.
The US is vastly outperforming Canada in vaccinations per 100 people, according to the New York Times, and the mutual decision to keep the border closed will ultimately depend on how comfortable Ottawa is in allowing cross-border travel along its southern frontier once more.
It’s lights, cameras, action for America’s newest airline that’s planning its Hollywood debut later this month.
Avelo Airlines plans to launch flights on April 28 from Hollywood Burbank Airport near Los Angeles, giving travelers yet another option when planning pandemic getaways. The new ultra-low-cost airline is focused on cheap leisure flights and will fly to popular destinations in the American West from before expanding across the country.
“Avelo is a different and better kind of airline, built from scratch to offer an affordable, convenient and caring travel experience,” chief executive Andrew Levy said in a press release.
The initial slate of 11 routes from Burbank include flights to:
Santa Rosa, California from April 28;
Pasco, Washington from April 29;
Bozeman, Montana from April 30;
Phoenix, Arizona from May 3;
Ogden, Utah from May 4;
Colorado from May 9; Medford,
Oregon from May 9;
Eugene, Oregon from May 12;
Bend, Oregon from May 13;
Eureka, California from May 19; and
Redding, California from May 20.
Burbank, just north of downtown Los Angeles, offers a convenient alternative to Los Angeles International Airport that the company hopes will help spur bookings and encourage flyers to travel.
“A big part of our business model is not just offering every day, great fares,” Levy told Insider. “We’re a low-cost carrier. 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.”
An airport stuck in time, the one-story terminal building at Burbank resembles a scene from the 1950s. Passengers are required to board aircraft directly from the tarmac since there are no jetways. .
The Boeing 737-800, a tried and true narrow-body aircraft that can seat 189 people in the airline’s all-economy configuration, will be Avelo’s flagship aircraft. The plane is a staple of other well-known low-cost carriers like Southwest Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, and Ryanair thanks to its low operating costs and high availability on the market.
In true ultra-low-cost fashion, flyers won’t find seat-back entertainment screens – though WiFi may be coming within the next year. Avelo says it’s working with potential suppliers for the service.
In-flight snacks and drinks service won’t be offered in the airline’s initial run, either, due to the pandemic. Customers will instead receive a “convenience package” with hand sanitizer, a bottle of water, and a small snack.
The bulk of the aircraft’s seating are “slimline” seats, the term for thinner seats on airplanes, with only 29 inches of pitch across the 129 seats. The remaining 60 seats, however, will range in pitch from 31 to 38 inches, and reserving one will cost at least $18.
Fares as low as $19 are being offered on all of the airline’s initial routes from April into mid-June for some destinations, except for flights around Memorial Day Weekend. They’re just introductory fares but low ticket prices are part of Avelo’s overall strategy to stimulate demand in underserved markets and become a go-to for cheap flights.
“Quite honestly, I’d love to be able to do, over many years, what Southwest has done,” Levy said. “Where when people hear ‘Avelo,’ they just associate us with low fares.”
Offering low fares, however, means that Avelo will have to fill its planes as close to the brim as possible in order to turn a profit. “We’re looking to sell the flights very full, we’re defining full as 80-85%,” Levy said.
And unlike competitors, Avelo doesn’t have a robust system of extra fees to fall back on. Advanced seat assignments start at $5 and checking a bag will only cost $10, with the latter meant to open more space in the cabin during boarding and deplaning. There’s also no fee to make a flight change or make a reservation over the phone.
These extra charges, known as ancillary fees, have become the backbone of ultra-low-cost airlines’ strategy as they don’t incur taxes.
Keeping calm during a crippling pandemic for airlines
“I think probably during the pandemic, maybe the hardest thing was just to keep everybody calm and to recognize that there’s a lot of good that’s going to come from the end of the business cycle,” Levy said.
The industry veteran was actually optimistic instead of pessimistic when the pandemic hit the US in March 2020. Leveling the playing field for airlines made it easier for a new entrant to compete with established players.
“I think all of our investors realize that this will have been a pretty strong opportunity for us to get into markets we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get into, take advantage of materially lower costs for things like airplanes, office leases, IT contracts, parts agreements, etc.,” Levy said.
Avelo currently has three planes and more than 200 crew members but plans to have six Boeing 737s and 400 crew members by the end of the year.
JetBlue is firmly on the road back to normal as the pandemic enters its second year.
Flights are being filled to capacity as the airline stopped blocking seats in January following the Christmas travel rush. Middle seats had been blocked until October 15, 2020, around the time Southwest Airlines also announced an end to its policy.
But it didn’t stop there, JetBlue has been gradually moving away from pandemic-era safety measures like back-to-front boarding and has brought back fan favorites like soft drinks and more snacks in the in-flight service.
After flying JetBlue during the summer at the height of its safety efforts, I decided to take JetBlue home from Los Angeles to New York in March on one of its flagship routes. Here’s what flying JetBlue Airways is like in 2021.
Los Angeles is JetBlue’s new West Coast hub, having moved operations from nearby Long Beach during the pandemic.
JetBlue doesn’t have an entire terminal to itself as it does in New York here at LAX but it makes the space work.
Check-in kiosks were spaced and JetBlue even installed social distancing reminders on the floor.
Hand sanitizer stations were available next to the bag drop station.
And even the regular check-in line had multiple social distancing and face mask reminders from both the airline and the airport, in addition to plexiglass partitions at check-in counters. It was the most impressive setup I’d seen in the terminal.
JetBlue, like many US airlines, now requires customers to acknowledge a health declaration at check-in. I had to affirm that I didn’t have any COVID-19 symptoms, been exposed to the virus, or tested positive for the virus.
I also had to agree to JetBlue’s face covering policy and affirm I didn’t have a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater.
I used the kiosk to print my boarding pass and was reminded about the touch-free option by using the JetBlue mobile application to do everything from check-in to get a mobile boarding pass. Customers checking a bag could also just scan their boarding pass and the bag tag would automatically print without having to touch the screen.
I booked JetBlue’s version of basic economy for this flight but I was luckily still assigned a window seat. Most of the middle seats went empty on the flight and I was glad to see JetBlue wasn’t randomly assigned seats as some other airlines are for basic economy flyers.
Ticket in hand, I headed to the gate and saw some of the same safety features. Plexiglass partitions were installed at the check-in counter and the airport had installed social distancing placards on the floor but that was about it.
Boarding soon began in JetBlue’s standard procedure based on groups. There was surprisingly no pre-boarding reminder to wear masks
Passengers boarding first included JetBlue elite status holders, those traveling in Mint business class, active duty military, families with small children, customers with disabilities, and travelers with “Even More Space” seats.
JetBlue gave up on back-to-front boarding in early March.
I got to my seat, 25A, and settled in for the overnight flight to New York.
Everything about the seat was clean and I didn’t have any worry there whatsoever.
Health and safety aside, I was immediately reminded why flying on JetBlue is one of the best ways to cross the country, especially when flying on this aircraft.
The Airbus A321 fleet, including the A321 and A321neo, are incredibly modern and comfortable. I’d flown across the US on four different airlines in two days but when I sat down on the JetBlue flight, it felt like home.
These aircraft feature one of JetBlue’s older in-flight entertainment products but they still offer touch-screen capabilities, high-definition displays, on-demand content, and a map screen.
It also helped that the airline offers 32 inches of legroom in economy on this aircraft.
The front of the aircraft naturally filled first thanks to the new boarding procedure but the aircraft was empty enough where the back started to fill before too many people were settled up front.
Even though it was an empty flight to New York, flight attendants asked passengers to go to their assigned seats first before moving around the cabin.
Flight attendants also reminded passengers of the safety features of the aircraft including its high-efficiency particular air filters, or HEPA filters, and reassuringly said that the aircraft was just cleaned and disinfected.
It was also made clear that wearing a mask was required by federal law.
We departed Los Angeles with around three-quarters of the plane full.
I lucked out and had the middle seat open but not every row was so lucky.
After departure, the entertainment screens showed a video outlining the health and safety features of the aircraft to reassure passengers. Airlines tend to do this at the gate but I was glad to see it on the aircraft right in front of passengers.
The “dos and don’ts” of flying on JetBlue were explained including wearing a face covering…
And don’t crowd the aisle. This one was interesting considering JetBlue had just removed back-to-front boarding and its middle seat block.
Even more messaging was available on the map channel.
This kind of messaging goes a long way to reassure flyers returning to the skies for the first time during the pandemic.
We quickly departed Los Angeles and turned eastbound towards New York. The in-flight service began shortly after takeoff.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that JetBlue had gotten rid of the plastic bag service and was serving actual soft drinks. I even got the full can.
Customers also had a choice of snacks including cookies, chips, Cheez-Its, or a granola bar. I went for the cookies.
The rest of the flight progressed smoothly as most passengers tried to get some sleep in on the five-hour flight.
New York soon came into view and the flight was approaching its natural end.
When we landed, there was a reminder to social distance when deplaning but most didn’t heed that warning. It’s only natural for flyers to get up as soon as the seat belt sign turns off.
Walking off the plane, I noticed JetBlue had installed its own safety placards in the jetway.
The terminal in New York was also way better equipped than in Los Angeles. JetBlue had installed its own hand sanitizers at the gate…
Automated boarding gates were available to reduce contact with the gate agents…
And seats in the gate area were even blocked off, in addition to social distancing placards lining the falls and plexiglass partitions installed at the gate.
Overall, JetBlue did a great job at ensuring passengers are safe in both of its hubs, even though it is shedding off some social distancing efforts as more flyers take to the skies. The flight felt closer to a normal experience but there was still a strong emphasis on health and safety at every turn.