The last time a new airline took off in the United States, US Airways and Continental Airlines were still flying, and bag fees weren’t a thing.
It was 2007 and the airline was Virgin America.
Fast forward to 2021: Virgin America is gone, acquired by Alaska Airlines in 2016, US Airways and Continental, too, after their respective mergers with American and United.
Andrew Levy, a former top executive at Allegiant and United, says the changes have given travelers fewer options.
“We went down to a very few number of airlines in the marketplace,” he said. “I think choice is always good.”
Enter Avelo Airlines, the startup airline Levy started thinking about in 2015 and launched Wednesday in Southern California. The first flight: Hollywood Burbank Airport in Burbank to Santa Rosa, California, a gateway to northern California wine country.
Avelo, a blend of the Spanish word for bird (ave) and the Latin word for swift (velo), aims to be a “softer, gentler, kinder,” budget airline, Levy said.
The airline is zeroing in on small airports and routes without competition, or at least routes that didn’t have competition when the airline announced its first flights. Alaska Airlines has since added Burbank-Santa Rosa.
As with his former airline, Allegiant, and fellow discounters Frontier and Spirit, Avelo is offering cheap fares and charging extra for seat assignments and carry-on and checked bags.
“You pay for the things that you value,” he said.
Avelo’s launch was delayed by about six months because of the pandemic. The airline’s investors never expressed it, but Levy admits there were likely doubts about the wisdom of starting an airline when travel was decimated.
“I’m sure that there were people that thought, ‘Man, this is not a good idea anymore,”’ he said. “We raised money at a time that was a totally different backdrop. …Everybody’s making money. It’s been 10 straight years of consistent profitability.”
The pandemic had an upside though: Airport space opened up, and airplanes and parts were significantly cheaper. Levy estimates Avelo paid one-third the pre-pandemic rate for its two most-recent planes, a savings of millions of dollars.
“That’s why I feel really good about this,” he said.
Avelo Airlines: 5 things travelers need to know
►It’s starting small, and on the West Coast. Avelo currently has three Boeing 737-800s and 11 nonstop routes from Hollywood Burbank Airport in metropolitan Los Angeles to small airports in the Western US, including Bozeman, Montana; Eugene, Oregon; and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in suburban Phoenix. It plans to have eight planes by the end of the year.
►Tickets are only sold through the airline. Book on the airline’s website. Those who need to call the reservations center, though, won’t be charged a booking fee as they are by many other airlines.
►Checked bag fees are $10, at least initially, and cheaper than carry-on bag fees. The going rate at major airlines is $30 to $35 for the first checked bag.
►There is no in-flight Wi-Fi because the initial flights are under two hours. The airline is waiting for new technology before it decides whether to offer it on future flights, Levy said.
►Food and drink service is limited because of the pandemic. Travelers will receive a bottle of water and a snack. Buy-on-board food (all packaged) and drinks will be added in the future.