A flight crew’s routine trip from Denver to Raleigh, North Carolina and back ended in an overnight stay onboard their plane after diverting to Hayden, Colorado due to “severe weather.”
SkyWest Airlines was operating flight 5332 from Raleigh to Denver on behalf of United Express, the regional brand for United Airlines, on July 17 when the diversion occurred. Flight tracking data from Flightradar 24shows the aircraft making a series of turns and flying in a holding pattern before eventually heading to Hayden by way of Nebraska and Wyoming.
Jessica Taylor, the flight’s captain, described the ordeal on a LinkedIn following the flight.
“This has been a challenging week of flying,” Taylor wrote in a LinkedIn post. “After flying 8+ hours from Den-Rdu-Den (well Hayden after diverting) my crew and had to sleep on the airplane overnight …. Yes that’s right we slept on the floor of the airplane in Hayden.”
SkyWest didn’t confirm Taylor’s account but told Insider that hotel accommodations were not available in Hayden.
“Though we worked to make arrangements to get our customers to their destinations that evening, unfortunately the nearby area did not have hotel accommodations available under the circumstances,” SkyWest said in a statement to Insider. “We, along with our partners at United, apologized and United has reached out to customers to provide compensation for the inconvenience.”
Taylor’s aircraft, an Embraer E170 regional jet registered as N613UX, eventually departed for Denver the next afternoon and landed nearly 24 hours after it left Raleigh, according to Flightradar 24 data. Its next scheduled flight from Denver to Idaho Falls, Idaho was also canceled.
The round-trip journey between Denver and Raleigh is scheduled at just over eight hours from takeoff to landing back in Denver, including the layover in Raleigh. In Taylor’s case, the same crew operated both legs of the trip.
For Taylor, the incident was the first time that she had been forced to spend the night on board an airplane due to a lack of accommodations.
“This is a first for me in 15+ years of professionally flying,” Taylor wrote on LinkedIn. “I personally never thought I’d find myself sleeping on the floor of a plane as 38 year old airline captain.”
The Embraer E170 does have a first class cabin with recliner seats but the aircraft isn’t meant for overnight sleeping. United says that first class seats on the aircraft are 24 inches wide with 38 inches of pitch and six inches of recline.
Breeze Airways is America’s newest airline and is taking the US by storm with 39 new low-cost leisure routes across 16 cities. It’s the brainchild of iconic aviation entrepreneur David Neeleman of JetBlue Airways fame, as well as four other airlines in the US, Canada, and Brazil.
Leisure flying is Breeze’s bread and butter, and it just happens to be all the rage as pandemic-weary travelers seek to finally take a vacation or visit family and family.
Ultra-low-cost airlines are trying to capture the market with low fares, as a result, and Breeze is no different. Introductory fares are still being sold for as little as $39, and for that price, an airline would be forgiven for not offering as many amenities as say, well, JetBlue.
Here’s why I wasn’t impressed with the so-called tech company that’s doubling as an airline after just two flights.
No in-flight entertainment nor in-flight WiFi
Breeze, in its launch announcement, touted that its Embraer aircraft would have streaming in-flight entertainment through Global Eagle. Movies, television shows, games, and even a map would be available for flyers to enjoy.
But on launch day, the inaugural aircraft was deprived of any entertainment whatsoever. The airline’s Embraer E195 fleet, specifically, will not yet feature in-flight entertainment while the Embraer E190s that are scheduled to enter the fleet this summer will.
In-flight WiFi also won’t be available on any Breeze flights until the Airbus A220 arrives at the airline this fall and that’s the only aircraft on which the service will be available. Offering different products on different aircraft types can also confuse customers, according to travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt.
“There are a growing number of consumers who expect WiFi to be available everywhere they go, including airplanes,” Harteveldt said in a prior interview with Insider. “And if Breeze is hoping to attract millennial and Gen Z consumers as its customers, they’re going to be disappointed that there’s no WiFi on board the plane”
“The core component of a brand promise is consistency,” Harteveldt said in a prior interview with Insider.
Breeze believes that the flights are short enough where flyers won’t notice the difference but more ultra-low-cost carriers are moving towards offering in-flight entertainment on all flights. Spirit Airlines has finally unveiled in-flight WiFi on some of its planes while Sun Country Airlines offers a streaming service.
Breeze’s Airbus A220 fleet will also come standard with in-flight entertainment.
No digital wallet functionality
Mobile boarding passes have largely made paper boarding passes obsolete when flying domestically. Most airlines, including Breeze, offer mobile boarding passes through their mobile applications when checking in for a flight.
Breeze, however, does not yet offer Apple Wallet, Samsung Pay, or Google Wallet functionality, meaning flyers have to go into the Breeze app each time to pull up their wallet. While normally not an inconvenience, I found that the Breeze app would sometimes log me out and I’d have to log back in to access the boarding pass.
It slowed down my time going through the security checkpoint and during boarding because I had to log back into my Breeze account. The solution also isn’t as simple as getting a boarding pass from the check-in counter as the airline charges $3 for a boarding pass, and self-serve kiosks weren’t available on the first day.
Once that functionality is available, however, it will be a huge time-saver for flyers and it is on the way. Flyers can also currently print their own boarding passes for free if they have access to a printer.
No in-app messaging feature
Breeze might be the first airline not to have a phone number for customers to call. Flyers can only contact the airline through text communications, whether it be through Facebook Messenger, email, or a phone number that doesn’t accept phone calls.
If customers try calling, a recorded message will direct them to Breeze’s messaging platforms and even send the caller a text message to shift the conversation there.
But one feature that Breeze doesn’t have is in-app messaging, a staple of major airlines like JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines.
I tried messaging Breeze to add my known traveler number to my reservation and found the agents, known as the “guest empowerment team,” were helpful. The issue took about 20 minutes from start to finish but it wasn’t like I was waiting on hold so time was not a factor.
However, the problem could come when older individuals or flyers with disabilities try to use the texting service. Breeze does allow the latter to leave a message and request for an agent to get back to them but it’s unclear how long that takes.
Breeze is also targeting a certain segment of Americans with its low fares that might not be as technologically savvy, which could alienate them.
“A concern that I have is that the target Breeze customer may be less likely to own a smartphone, they may be less likely to own tablets, they may be less likely to use technology in their personal and work lives,” Harteveldt said.
Another problem may arise when delays and cancellations strike. Flyers want immediate assistance and reassurance but will be at the whim of a messaging service instead of being able to speak directly to another human.
No self-serve kiosks
Self-serve check-in kiosks have become standard in the airline industry and all major US airlines use them to expedite check-in and avoid long lines. However, Breeze self-serve kiosks were not available at Tampa International Airport, one of the airline’s four bases, on the day of the inaugural flight.
Most of the functions of a check-in kiosk could be done on the app, admittedly, but flyers wanting a paper boarding pass would have to go to the counter to get one. Breeze didn’t charge for boarding passes on the first flight but having an agent print a boarding pass normally costs $3.
Printing a boarding pass at a self-serve kiosk would also solve the problem of the app not working always properly or not having digital wallet functionality.
Breeze didn’t respond to a request for comment when asked about the estimated arrival date for self-serve kiosks at all of its airports.
No buy-on-board service
Ultra-low-cost airlines thrive on selling extras to flyers, and two big sellers are snacks and drinks. Some airlines, like Spirit Airlines, won’t even give flyers cups of water.
Breeze plans to sell snacks and drinks but the service has not yet been rolled at, and that’s actually a good thing for flyers looking to save money. The in-flight service currently consists of complimentary bottles of water, Utz chips, and miniature Kind bars.
A more robust offering will come later this year as the pandemic wanes further.
What Breeze got right in tech
For all of its faults, the Breeze app is incredibly easy to use whether it be to book a flight or assign a seat. The only issue that I had is that I wasn’t able to check in on the app, an experience echoed by other flyers, but it worked perfectly other than that.
The real tech company that happens to fly airplanes will come this fall when the Airbus A220 enters the fleet. It’s one of the newest aircraft flying anywhere in the world complete with technological advancements that make it cheap to operate, fuel-efficient, and quiet.
Breeze will fly the aircraft on longer domestic routes and plans to open up destinations in Hawaii and even Europe with the A220 in the coming years. A premium cabin is also being planned for the aircraft to offer another type of experience for passengers willing to pay up.
Hopefully, Breeze will have its other tech issues sorted by the time of its arrival.
Breeze Airways is finally making its debut on May 27 just in time for Memorial Day weekend and the start of what will likely be a busy summer season.
An initial slate of 39 routes across 16 cities will launch between May 27 and July 29, boasting fares are as low as $39. The hub-skipping routes allow passengers to fly directly to and from leisure destinations without having to change planes.
Most of the routes also don’t feature direct competition, giving Breeze a leg up in drawing passengers and stimulating demand. But not all industry experts were sold on the airline after its launch announcement last week.
Henry Harteveldt, an industry analyst and the cofounder of Atmosphere Research Group, has been “disappointed” with what he’s seen so far.
Harteveldt has worked for some of the US’ leading airlines, both current and former, like American Airlines and Trans World Airlines, and also served as the marketing director for Donald Trump’s startup airline, Trump Shuttle.
Here’s why he’s not impressed with Breeze.
Breeze’s route network opens itself up to competition
“The primary concern I have about Breeze is the airports it’s serving,” Harteveldt said. “The cities are all good cities, but the airports have no protection around them.”
Breeze chose the cities of Tampa, Florida; Charleston, South Carolina; Norfolk, Virginia, and New Orleans as its four main bases, which all see existing service from many of the country’s largest airlines. Harteveldt says that there’s nothing stopping a major player like American or Southwest Airlines from matching some of Breeze’s routes or lowering fares to those cities in order to compete.
“No airline is going to give up a micro point of market share to a competitor, whether it’s an established airline or a startup, without a fight,” Harteveldt said.
Harteveldt compared Breeze’s initial route network to fellow startup Avelo Airlines, which relies on smaller alternative airports as the backbone of its route network. Hollywood Burbank Airport and Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport, for example, are Avelo’s main bases and offer some protection from carriers since there’s a limit to how many flights and airlines the airports can handle.
Breeze spokesperson Gareth Edmonson-Jones says that competing with the airline might be more difficult for the major players. Smaller Embraer E190 and E195 fleet of aircraft are being used initially, with no more than 118 seats on the larger model, allowing Breeze to be more competitive on routes with traditionally low demand.
Breeze wants to be a “seriously nice” airline, but is there such thing?
Ultra-low-cost airlines like Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines have gained negative reputations for customer service, despite efforts to remedy, and both Breeze and Avelo have worked to promote niceness and friendliness in response. But Harteveldt isn’t convinced that an airline can be “seriously nice,” as Breeze puts it.
“‘Seriously nice’ is a corporate attribute, but it’s not a marketing position,” Harteveldt said. “It’s not something you can hang a brand on.”
Harteveldt points to Breeze’s tech-focused approach that does away with call centers and requires passengers to use a mobile application or computer to communicate with the airline. Companies like Uber and Lyft rely on device-based communications but it’s never been tried before in airlines.
“A concern that I have is that the target Breeze customer may be less likely to own a smartphone, they may be less likely to own tablets, they may be less likely to use technology in their personal and work lives,” Harteveldt said. “A nice airline doesn’t push people to technology.”
One incident involving a Breeze employee can also threaten a “nice” airline’s reputation, Harteveldt says.
“Nonstop routes and low fares are way nicer than flying through hubs at high fares,” Edmondson-Jones said.
A higher fee structure than competitors
Another reason Harteveldt isn’t sold on Breeze’s seriously nice attitude is because of the airline’s high fee structure.
While baggage fees are lower than most competitors at only $20 for either checked or carry-on luggage, there are caveats. It will cost $50 to pay to check a bag at the airport instead of doing so online, for example, and another $50 if a Breeze airport staff does it.
Printing a boarding pass will also incur a $3 fee that goes up to $9 if an agent has to assist. Seat assignments also start at $10, although families with children under 12 can choose their seats for free.
“Breeze has basically outlined a list of ways where customers are going to think they’re not a very nice airline,” Harteveldt said. “Charge me $3 to print a boarding pass, charge me $50 to check a bag in with an agent. What’s nice about any of that?”
Rival Avelo’s fee structure is more lenient, says Harteveldt, although the two don’t directly compete yet.
Rushing to start before Memorial Day
Breeze started selling tickets for its flights just six days before the first flight was scheduled to depart. The delay was due to the airline not having its air operator’s certificate, or AOC.
“The biggest concern that I had about the launch announcement is the very short window of time the airline has chosen to give itself between announcing that his flights are open for sale and its first flight,” Harteveldt said. “They will give themselves very little time to build up a base of bookings.”
The result may be poorer bookings than if the airline pushed back its launch since travelers are starting to book trips further and further out. Harteveldt suggested instead that the airline delay flights by a few weeks to really get the kinks out before the first passenger is welcomed onboard, as well as build a customer base.
Breeze did delay some route launches until later in the summer, which may give it more time to sell tickets.
Flight attendants that are also college students
Breeze’s plan to use college students enrolled in online courses with Utah Valley University has drawn ire from big labor, and Harteveldt isn’t a fan either.
“If you are a full-time student, you’ve got a lot of responsibilities and if you are a full-time flight attendant, you’ve got a lot of responsibilities,” Harteveldt said. The program, he says, could have unintended consequences like flight attendants that expedite an in-flight service so they can have time to study.
“If you’re a fully trained flight attendant, you’re a fully trained flight attendant,” Edmondson-Jones said. “It’s not like if you’re 18 years old, you can’t be a flight attendant.”
Harteveldt also says that Breeze may have missed an opportunity to get great talent from the pool of flight attendants that were furloughed during the pandemic, as rival Avelo did.
Lack of onboard consistency
Breeze will have two types of aircraft flying its first slate of routes, the Embraer E190 and Embraer E195. Both are near identical, with the E195 slightly longer than the E190, but will feature different onboard products.
Standard legroom on the E195 will be 31 inches while the E190 will offer 29.
“The core component of a brand promise is consistency,” Harteveldt said. “From the outset, Breeze is going to be confusing customers which, by the way, is not a nice thing to do.”
Edmondson-Jones responded by saying that the difference in the Embraer aircraft sizes and where the aircraft’s doors are placed determined the legroom.
But the lack of consistency extends outside the aircraft. Breeze will be bringing on the Airbus A220-300 later this year and will operate two distinct fleet types.
All ultra-low-cost airlines in the US stick to one fleet type, whether it be all-Boeing 737 family or all-Airbus A320 family aircraft. A single-fleet operation keeps pilot training and maintenance costs down, as well as maximizes efficiency in a pilot pool.
“Breeze is creating unnecessary complexity for itself by having a more complex fleet,” Harteveldt said.
Tech-focused but not offered onboard WiFi on its jets
Neeleman touted Breeze as a “tech company that also happens to fly airplanes,” but it’s Embraer aircraft are noticeably low-tech. In-flight WiFi, for example, won’t be offered on the aircraft.
“There are a growing number of consumers who expect WiFi to be available everywhere they go, including airplanes,” Harteveldt said. “And if Breeze is hoping to attract millennial and Gen Z consumers as its customers, they’re going to be disappointed that there’s no WiFi onboard on the plane”
Breeze will offer streaming in-flight entertainment including television shows and a map feature. And the airline’s Airbus A220-300 fleet will offer WiFi as the aircraft will be performing longer flights.
But onboard WiFi goes beyond internet browsing and can have some cost-saving benefits for an airline. Harteveldt noted that WiFi can be used for fraud protection if the airline plans to offer in-flight purchasing, and it can be used for “smart aircraft” applications where the airline can monitor the performance of an aircraft’s systems in real-time.
What Harteveldt likes about the airline
“I like the fact that we have a new budget airline that’s entering the US that will inject fresh competition that will help compete with price and is hopefully going to provide very exciting jobs for a lot of people,” Harteveldt said. “More airline competition is needed in the US.”
Harteveldt is also a big fan of the Airbus A220-300 aircraft that Breeze will be flying later this year.
“The A220-300, in my opinion, is one of the best narrow-body airplanes that has been introduced because of the enormous utility it offers to its airline operators,” Harteveldt said, noting that the airline should’ve waited to start flights with the A220 over the Embraer jets.
The Airbus A220-300 will allow Breeze to fly to Hawaii, Europe, and even South America if the airline desires.
But in order to be an effective player in the airline industry, it has to survive and thrive, which Harteveldt says isn’t guaranteed, even for David Neeleman.
“Breeze absolutely will be able to attract some customers,” Harteveldt said “The question is, will they be differentiated enough to attract enough customers, and will they attract enough people to be profitable?”