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Top 5 Terrible Airline Concepts That Actually Flew

In our final installment of Top 5 week, we’ll look at Top 5 Terrible Airline Concepts that actually flew.  And I think I’m going to do Top 5 Fridays going forward.  What do you care, really?

Vanguard Airlines. The pitch:  $29 fares to Kansas City.  To.  Kansas. City.  Yes, they had significant flights to other cities (Chicago-Midway), but it all came down to $29 fares to Kansas City.  That people stopped flying altogether after 9/11 certainly didn’t help either.

Hooters Air. The pitch:  Guys like chicken wings and girls in tight shirts in our restaurants, so they’ll be thrilled when they board our planes and find neither.  Oh, and you can only go to Myrtle Beach.

ExpressJet. The pitch:  Screw you, Continental, we’ll fly on our own.  To Raleigh.  And El Paso.  Oh wait – people don’t want to fly from Ontario, California, to El Paso?  Oops!

Trump Shuttle. The pitch:  Trump.  Shuttle.  Mired with debt from day 1, they never had a chance.  Turns out running an airline is more difficult than slapping your name on a plane.  (Who knew?)

Roots Air. The pitch:  People love our Gap-like clothes, so they’ll love flying from Toronto to Vancouver on a plane with our name on it.  Lasted one month before Air Canada stepped in and took over.

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  1. Not sure ExpressJet is top 5 material. Yes, I thought they would probably fail. But they MIGHT have had a chance had Jet A not zoomed to 4 bucks during their launch summer. For an RJ airline — where fuel was probably more than half their expense — that was the kiss of death.

    While I didn’t know them personally, the folks running ExpressJet had been schooled in the Continental school of airline management (it had been a subsidiary, before CO realized they could make big bucks spinning it off to suckers (I mean investors) on Wall Street. So they weren’t idiots. Unfortunately for them, after the spinoff, it made financial sense for CO to also sell them down the river.

    So, no doubt, having extra planes on hand (always the kiss of death for an airline — extra planes lying around!) ExpressJet looked at routes where, in theory, there was enough demand for an RJ or two’s worth of daily passengers. People will pay a premium to go nonstop. Heck, I booked a trip for a grateful family member to fly them nonstop from Tucson to Sacramento — you can imagine how many hours that saved.

    The problem, of course, is that flying around 50 pax is expensive on a unit cost basis. And flying them with $4.00 jet fuel is insane. So they never had a chance.

    Would it have worked with $2 jet fuel in a non-recession? Probably not. But I don’t really know. Too bad they never had that opportunity.

  2. You are even more aware than I am – just because there’s no nonstop service between two cities doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to launch (remember Continental Lite? Didn’t they fly between Greenville/Spartasburg and Dayton?)

  3. While CO Lite flew also flew “obscure” routes — and tried to establish a hub in Greensboro, NC — there is a big difference between the two business strategies. CO Lite was premised on the theory that “if we fly it, they will come.” Not a completely crazy strategy — Southwest traditionally stimulates a lot of new traffic in their markets — but they have to be markets with pent-up demand.

    ExpressJet didn’t really plan to stimulate demand. They wanted EXISTING flyers who were connecting at hubs and flying out of neighboring (less convenient airports). In this day and age, avoiding the hubs saves lots of time and (often) misery. The concept would be great if RJs had the same unit cost as 737s, but they don’t. So once you got insanely high fuel prices — which would have eventually bankrupted ALL the airlines — ExpressJet didn’t have a prayer in the world given that fuel costs are such a significant portion of RJ expense.

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