By Joey Gerardi
Trip Report: Avelo Airlines Kalamazoo Inaugural Flight
Houston, Texas-based Avelo Airlines has had quite a history, they were originally founded in 1987 as Casino Express Airlines, in 2005 as Xtra Airways, and finally in April of 2021 under its current name Avelo Airlines. Under the leadership of CEO Andrew Levy, they have expanded past their original route network along the west coast and have a substantial network in the eastern portion of the United States.
They opened a second base in New Haven, Conn., and the third base in Orlando, with a fourth, planned in Ft Meyers but has been postponed due to hurricane damage. With its newly opened Orlando base, the airline has expanded into many new destinations, one of which is Kalamazoo, Mich., the topic of this article.
Flights between Kalamazoo and Orlando Intl. will operate twice a week, Mondays and Fridays, with flights arriving at the small Michigan airport late in the evenings around 8 P.M. with a departure back to Florida occurring around 9 P.M. However, during the carrier’s first two weeks in Kalamazoo, the departures are scheduled to occur at 4 P.M., giving those on the inaugural some wonderful daylight scenery en route to Florida.
This Avelo Air flight to Kalamazoo is also Avelo’s first scheduled nonstop flight to anywhere in the state of Michigan, with Lansing, Mich. starting later the same day and having roughly the same schedule. These are also the first scheduled flights to Florida from Kalamazoo since 2012 when DirectAir went bankrupt, the carrier who previously operated this sector.
The week prior to the flight I got a reminder email from the airline, which isn’t unheard of in the industry, making sure passengers actually take their flight as some people forget especially if they book them many months prior. As Avelo is an Ultra Low-Cost Carrier or ‘ULCC’ for short, they also charge for items like seat selection, and carry-on bags, among other things. So in addition to the reminder, they also prompted me to add customization to my trip, as I was only traveling with a backpack and had already selected my seat I skipped this option.
The day before the flight I decided to check in online 24 hours prior to the flight and got a concerning message.
‘Please see an Avelo Airlines check-in agent’, I got worried as to what this could mean, but I tried to check in about 5-hours later and I managed to get a mobile boarding pass which I then put into my wallet on my phone. It must be a temporary glitch on the airline’s website preventing me from checking in, had I not tried to check-in again hours later or not been a seasoned traveler it might cause a bit of panic.
During my second check-in attempt, I was able to add my TSA PreCheck number to my reservation, as Avelo has joined the PreCheck program since they started operations in April of 2021. While PreCheck won’t be a big deal at the smaller airport like Kalamazoo, it will surely help at the larger airports they fly to like Orlando.
During check-in, they also gave you one last chance to add-on services such as carry-on bags, during the online check-in process they gave you the option to change to any seat you wanted to at no additional charge. That itself was an interesting feature given during booking, seats in the front and back of the cabin had a $47 price difference, but if you wait until check-in they are all free. I choose seat 25A, which cost $15 but I could’ve moved myself up to 1A, a $59 seat, at no additional cost, something to keep in mind when flying the carrier.
I decided to keep myself in 25A, that way I could get shots of the rear of the wing and the flaps. In addition, when flying south at sunset the sun will be on the right side of the plane, meaning I would save myself and my camera from being blinded by the excessive sunlight. Once the flight departure moves back to 9 P.M. the sun will already be down so either side is fine.
On the day of my flight, I got to the airport way earlier than I needed to so I could experience the first day of the airline to the fullest, arriving over three hours before the departure time.
Normally Avelo flights will come in and leave within the hour, but on the first day of operations the ground time for the aircraft was over 2.5-hours, this gave the ground crew and agents time to learn and train on the aircraft and the computer systems as well as time to work on any bugs the system might have at a new location. This was because the day of the inaugural was the first time most of them have ever worked for an actual live Avelo flight outside of some training, and they all did a good job of it working the system with no major issues.
Once I walked in there was already a feeling of excitement from the airport and airline employees as preparations were underway for the party the airport was putting on. I went up to the Avelo desk which had a group of people around it, mostly employees of the airline or the company handling their ground handling in Kalamazoo. Boarding passes are free to print at the counter, but they wouldn’t do it until two hours before the flight so I had some time to walk around. The Avelo counter in Kalamazoo is located between American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, where United Airlines used to be located before they pulled out of Kalamazoo in January of 2022.
I then went up to look at the very lonely departure board at the airport, prior to the pandemic the airport saw at least 12-daily flights from three different airlines. Now, outside of Avelo’s twice weekly flights, the airport now only sees four flights a day on two airlines; two on Delta to Detroit, and two on American to Chicago O’Hare, each of which is on small 50-seat regional jets. Kalamazoo definitely fits Avelo’s target market, small underserved airports that have lost service.
Upstairs near the security checkpoint, the party set up was underway with the airport director and his team setting up balloons, decorations, and putting goodies out for the passengers. Items ranged from playing cards to drawstring bags, all of which had the airport logo on them, and of course, being an AvGeek I helped myself to some of the items.
While set up was happening, around 12 people with instruments showed up who turned out to be members of the Vicksburg High School band. The airport invited them to come in and play for the inaugural party as well as when the first passengers were coming off the flight. It wasn’t long before band music filled the entirety of the small terminal, from the counters and rental car counters to the greeting area upstairs near security.
By this time, the inbound aircraft was about ten minutes out, so I went outside to the ramp with an airport employee to get pictures of the water cannon salute. When we got outside there was something interesting waiting on the taxiway, two Western Michigan University or ‘WMU’ Cirrus SR20’s sitting on the taxiway. WMU is a large university located in Kalamazoo that has a flight school, and it turned out that two of their aircraft would be leading in the first Avelo arrival.
It wasn’t long before the plane landed, N7837A, 2003 built Boeing 737-700 that belonged to Aeromexico and Southwest before coming to Avelo in June of 2022. The aircraft got a traditional water cannon salute upon taxiing in, led by the two Cirrus SR20’s mentioned above.
After the aircraft taxied in, I headed inside to see the festivities when the first passengers came off. Since I went outside, DiscoverKalamazoo had set up a table for the arriving passengers. They handed out magnets and Kazoos to people coming off of the Avelo flight. They had also cut the two large cakes that they got for the party, both of which were impressive and I managed to get a picture of them before they were cut.
The first passengers off the Avelo flight came out and the band started playing and the party began. Everyone was talking with each other and hanging out, eating cake, getting pictures, or just sitting. This was a nice environment and probably one of the biggest inaugural celebrations that I have had the pleasure of partaking in. Of course, I got the AvGeeky photo in front of the balloons and signs which a fellow passenger was happy to take for me.
Shortly after that the crew off the Avelo flight came to join the party, they also got a photo in front of the decorations along with some of the airport staff members.
Once the band had stopped playing I headed downstairs to the check-in area to get my printed boarding pass, which looked similar to the mobile boarding pass except the paper pass was in black and white. The PreCheck logo was located at the top next to the airline logo.
At this point, I decided to head through security which didn’t take more than five minutes, as it’s a small airport and I have TSA PreCheck. The gate they use in Kalamazoo is gate 5, the closest gate to the security checkpoint. The gate area isn’t the largest, but the seating area combined with nearby gate 4 has plenty of seats for passengers even if there is a full plane.
By this time they had moved all of the balloons and most of the decorations to the gate area and a couple of small speeches started. First by the airport director, followed by Avelo’s head of marketing, and finally, someone who sat on the Kalamazoo airport board. Right after that was a ribbon cutting, and luckily I was able to snag a part of the ribbon, which was a real treat.
Boarding started 30-minutes before the departure time, and all 94 passengers got on, a good number considering its the first flight and its the middle of the week. The airport director mentioned that the second flight, which would occur two days later, was almost full. Another unique feature of these small airports, I could see my car in the parking lot from my seat on the plane while we were at the gate.
We then pushed back from the gate two minutes ahead of schedule at 4:38 P.M. My seat, 25A had two windows due to the alignment of the seats. Passengers on the left side of the plane got a perfect view of the terminal below as we took to the skies out of Kalamazoo.
We quickly climbed up to our cruise altitude of 39,000 feet and began to make our way down to Orlando. As this is an Ultra Low-Cost Carrier or ULCC for short, you need to plan on bringing something to do for the over two-hour flight as there is no in-flight entertainment system, no WiFi, and once the flight departure switches to 9P.M., not even any daylight to see stuff out the window.
I spent most of my time during the flight either looking out of the window or watching my seatmate play games on her phone. At one point during the flight, the person in the aisle and me were watching the person in the middle play games, it was pretty entertaining and she seemed to enjoy the audience.
In terms of the seat, it was comfortable enough although I wouldn’t want to sit in it for more than a couple of hours. There was a button on the armrest for reclining but it was disabled on all of the seats. No outlets are expected, so if your device loses power quickly and you plan on using it the entire flight you’ll have to bring an external charger for it. Leg room was decent for a ULCC, and wasn’t much less than regular full-service airlines such as Delta, and this is even with a backpack at my feet.
Without the outlets, there was no bulky box under the seats which made more room for a slightly larger bag under the seat. The tray table was much larger than I expected and could fit a small laptop unlike the tables on other ULCC, which usually are only the size of a smartphone. The cabin was ‘Southwest-esq’, and the seat colors reminded me of a Southwest plane, although they probably added more seats since the plane now belongs to a ULCC.
As we went further south I realized something, they didn’t do service, at all for the entire flight. The same flight attendant walked to the front of the cabin and stayed there for around 30-minutes, then went to the back and stayed there for 30-minutes, and that pattern repeated throughout the entire flight. Being it’s a ULCC, I understand that they didn’t have snacks and drinks like a full-service airline, but I was surprised they didn’t try to sell passengers anything like similar ULCCs like Frontier or Allegiant. So it would also be a smart idea to have a refillable water bottle and some snacks packed in your bag if you think you’ll get hungry.
The closer we got to Florida, the further up the wing the shadow went meaning the sun was setting further. With this came some wonderfully colored skies, pink blues and yellows that made the sky look more like a painting than real life.
We then began our descent into Florida as the sun set further and the sky turned a dark purple. The pilots came on and told us about the weather in Orlando and the flight attendants came around to collect garbage.
As we got closer to the ground the lights began to turn on as we went into nighttime, the purple winglet went nicely with the gray clouds and the setting sun.
We touched down at Orlando Intl. at exactly 7 P.M., after two hours and 11-minutes of flying time from Kalamazoo.
After landing we then taxied to and parked at Southwest’s gate area, only fitting as the aircraft we were on was a former Southwest aircraft and has most likely been there in its past operator’s life.
The service was definitely convenient going from a small local airport to a major leisure destination like Orlando and it beats having to connect once or even twice at an intermediate hub for hours. Despite being a ULCC, I was surprised they didn’t have any service as I know people who have been on flights with the airline before and every person I’ve talked to said they gave out at least a small water bottle, especially on inaugural flights.
I am overjoyed with the massive celebration and party the Kalamazoo Airport put on before departure and for the arrival into Kalamazoo and they did a great job with its setup and execution. I am disappointed that the airline itself didn’t do anything on board as they have for past inaugural flights of theirs. Also, a little disappointed Orlando didn’t do anything for the first arrival, although for them it wasn’t a huge deal as it was just another city they served among the hundreds they already fly to. Everything celebration-wise in Kalamazoo was arranged and set up by the airport, nothing was the airline except for the short speech the marketing director gave before boarding and the short minute-long announcement the pilot made on board.
The lead-in by the two WMU Cirrus SR20’s was a unique touch as the university has such a huge influence in the Kalamazoo area. I’m glad the airline doesn’t charge for boarding pass printing as they are a nice memento for any AvGeek, especially anyone on an inaugural flight. Despite it being the first flight and the ground crew still training, everything went smoothly in Kalamazoo and the flight arrived early and departed on time.
Avelo Air was a new airline for me, and I would definitely fly on them again if I needed to as it was simple, easy, and it got me there. This was the second inaugural flight out of four that I will be on before the year is over, and I hope the others are as much fun as this one, and hopefully even more.
A video account of this trip report can be found below.