By Vanni Gibertini
Breeze Airways Continues Rapid Expansion and Focus on Core Mission
After launching at the tail end of the worst crisis in the history of commercial aviation and becoming the fastest-growing carrier in the U.S., Breeze Airways shows no signs of slowing down. During the past weekend, the Salt Lake City, Utah-based start-up airline launched two more routes adding two more airports to its network of destinations.
On Feb. 18, Breeze officially arrived in the New York area commencing a new three-weekly service that will eventually become four-weekly between MacArthur Airport in Islip/Long Island, N.Y. and its focus city of Charleston, S.C. On the same day, Islip saw also the launch of a four-weekly service to Norfolk, V.A.
“Long Island MacArthur Airport is helping lead this region into a time of greater economic prosperity. As part of the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure package, I secured over $21.5 million for MacArthur Airport,” U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer said, who was instrumental over 20 years ago to the birth of another low-cost airline, JetBlue, and was also present at the inauguration. “Breeze Airways will increase convenient travel options for Long Islanders, and I congratulate Supervisor Angie Carpenter, Airport Commissioner Shelley LaRose-Arken and her team, County Executive Steve Bellone, Breeze Airways, and my friend David Neeleman, for bringing new service to and from MacArthur. This is an important development for Islip, Suffolk County, and all of Long Island.”
Airlinegeeks had the opportunity to try the Breeze Airways product on this inaugural service, which was duly celebrated by the MacArthur Airport Fire Squad with the traditional water cannon salute, and to visit the town of Charleston, S.C. that now sees Breeze fly non-stop to 14 destinations unserved by other carriers.
Waiting for the Airbus A220
The flight was operated by an Embraer 190 configured with 96 economy seats, one of the 10 aircraft of this type Breeze operates while it is waiting to introduce the first of the 80 Airbus A220-300 on order will feature a 36-seat premium cabin and 90 economy seats. The new aircraft will also bring a significant upgrade in terms of in-flight experience, as they will be equipped with Viasat internet connection.
The 13 Embraer aircraft that form Breeze’s present fleet offer passengers the BYOD or Bring Your Own Device in-flight entertainment system provided by Anuvu with a good choice of complimentary movies, TV shows and games. “We have not decided yet what we are going to do with our onboard internet connectivity – Breeze Airways’ CEO David Neeleman said, who made himself available to answer some of our questions in Charleston – the main purpose to have internet onboard for us is to improve customer experience. There are a couple of options, with the air-to-ground gogo inflight option [used by United and American] that are worse and more expensive than the Viasat option chosen by Delta, which charges $5 per flight, and JetBlue which provides it for free. We’ll see what we are going to do”.
The 2-2 configuration on the Embraer eliminates the hated middle seats that will return on the A220-300, but the leather upholstery and the comfortable seat pitch even for tall passengers are making the flight experience quite pleasant. Breeze puts a lot of emphasis on the word “nice” that is also used to define its fare classes: nice, nicer and eventually nicest when a premium cabin is introduced. Crewmembers are key to delivering a “nice” experience to all guests, as passengers are called on Breeze flights, just like it happens on WestJet, another of the airlines founded by serial entrepreneur David Neeleman.
It’s Nice To Be Nice
The focus on superior customer service is a bit more than a differentiation feature for Breeze: in fact, their business model is geared towards providing direct flights on city pairs that do not have non-stop services, so there would be no need to provide a superior service to a theoretically captive market. “At the end of the day we want to be nice because it’s the right thing to do – Neeleman said – I don’t think we are going to compete with other carriers for some time, we have room to grow on unserved routes and stimulate demand to generate enough traffic. Obviously, we may face competition at some point, and if that is going to happen, we will be able to defend ourselves. But if we can create a nice enough experience for our guests, I believe there is a big potential to stimulate demand”.
Breeze mainly targets leisure customers providing a convenient way to fly between destinations that would otherwise require tortuous itineraries and long layover at hub airports. “We are targeting people with second homes, those who live in one place but work out of another, parents wanting to visit their kids at college, grandparents visiting their grandchildren – continued Neeleman – we don’t anticipate getting a lot of business traffic. In order to do that you need to fly consistently on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and that’s not something we are willing to do. Also, it remains to be seen what business travel will be like after the profound changes introduced in the way business is conducted by the COVID pandemic. We’ll see if it is going to come back the way it was before”.
In-flight service on Breeze follows the mantra of the Ultra Low-Cost Carriers: every item is for purchase, including soft drinks, with the possibility to purchase some value bundles at discounted prices. The absence of seat-back monitors is balanced by a very useful device that allows to the position of personal devices on a dedicated mini-tray to make the fruition of contents more comfortable. There is a full power source every two seats, allowing for both USB charging and U.S./U.K. plugs to recharge laptops. When internet connectivity is introduced, working throughout the flight with a laptop will be possible given the comfortable seat pitch and the availability of power at the seat.
The flight from Islip to Charleston lasted approximately two hours, and a small celebration was prepared on arrival by the city of Charleston as well as by the Airport that saw the addition of two new destinations within less than 24 hours.
In fact, on Feb. 19, Breeze launched a new weekly service from Charleston, S.C. to West Palm Beach, Fla. At the end of the one-hour flight, CEO David Neeleman addressed the passengers while en route and CFO Trent Porter helped the crew collect the service items before landing. In addition, the Breeze Embraer 190 was saluted by the Fire Department water cannon and was christened with champagne by Neeleman and the dignitaries from both the city of Palm Beach, Fla. and the West Palm Beach International Airport. Charleston, S.C. is now the sixth destination served by Breeze from West Palm Beach, Fla.