JetBlue founder David Neeleman is back with his fifth airline startup, Breeze Airways, and a new promise: to “get you there in half the time, at half the price.”
Why he thinks he can pull that off is evident from the carrier’s first routes—all are short hops connecting cities that have little or no nonstop service, thus sparing fliers from having to change planes in out-of-the-way hubs.
The carrier will make its debut on May 27 with a flight from Tampa, Florida, to Charleston, South Carolina, two of the four “focus” cities from which most flights will operate. The others are New Orleans and Norfolk, Virginia.
Breeze’s route network
Most of the initial batch of routes—39 in all—will operate four times per week, according to a Breeze spokesperson.
- Charleston (starting May 27)
- Louisville, Kentucky (starting May 28)
- Tulsa, Oklahoma (starting June 4)
- Norfolk (starting June 10)
- Bentonville/Fayetteville, Arkansas (starting June 17)
- Akron/Canton, Ohio (starting June 26)
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (starting July 1)
- Columbus, Ohio (starting July 3)
- Huntsville, Alabama (starting July 22)
- Richmond, Virginia (starting July 22)
- Hartford, Connecticut (starting May 27)
- Tampa (starting May 27)
- Louisville (starting May 28)
- Norfolk (starting June 10)
- Akron/Canton (starting July 8)
- Columbus (starting July 8)
- New Orleans (starting July 8)
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (starting July 8)
- Richmond (starting July 8)
- Huntsville (starting July 15)
- Providence, Rhode Island (starting July 22)
- Charleston (starting June 10)
- Tampa (starting June 10)
- New Orleans (starting July 15)
- Columbus (starting July 22)
- Hartford (starting July 22)
- Pittsburgh (starting July 22)
- Providence (starting July 29)
From New Orleans:
- Charleston (starting July 8)
- Akron/Canton (starting July 15)
- Bentonville/Fayetteville (starting July 15)
- Huntsville (starting July 15)
- Louisville (starting July 15)
- Norfolk (starting July 15)
- Oklahoma (starting July 15)
- Richmond (starting July 15)
- Tulsa (starting July 15)
- Columbus (starting July 16)
A “Nice,” “Nicer” and “Nicest” fare structure
The other half of this formula are the low fares Neeleman says he can charge because his costs are well below his rivals’; an introductory fare of $39 one-way is in effect until June, and Neeleman has previously said that most tickets will cost under $100.
Initially, there will be two fare categories: “Nice,” similar to the industry’s basic economy product, and the higher priced “Nicer,” with a few more inches of legroom, assigned seating, and a free checked bag, which otherwise costs $20 each for those flying on the lowest fares. There will be no charge for changing or canceling flights, and the resulting flight credit will be valid for up to two years.
Flights are aboard single-class Embraer 190 and 195 aircraft, seating 108 or 118 passengers, respectively, configured in a two-by-two layout, eliminating the dreaded middle seat. Inflight service will consist of light snacks like Kind bars and Utz chips. There are no seatback TVs (a signature feature on JetBlue when it debuted in 2000) or Wi-Fi, although inflight entertainment including TV and games will be available for streaming to devices through inflight satellite provider Global Eagle.
But all that will change by the end of this year, when Breeze starts flying its brand-new Airbus A220 jets that will deliver the flagship product, with amenities like Wi-Fi connectivity, roomier seats, plus a true business-class section upfront, dubbed, naturally, “Nicest.” Neeleman has ordered 60 of these cutting-edge jets, which can carry anywhere from 118 to 145 passengers, to be delivered at the rate of one a month for the next five years, starting in October. The model, already in service on Delta and JetBlue, has gotten high marks among consumers for features like larger windows and two-by-three seating.
“JetBlue meets Allegiant”
In a recent interview, Neeleman summed up the carrier’s vibe as “JetBlue meets Allegiant”—a mash-up of the former’s style and tech-savvy approach and the latter’s meat-and-potatoes focus on small markets ignored by the big lines. To that end, he’s rolling out a “super app” that passengers can use to book and change flights and later this year to order inflight meals, reserve hotel rooms and rental cars, or arrange other travel-related services. You can download the app through the Apple app store or on Google Play.
“I prefer to say that we are a high-tech company that just happens to fly airplanes,” Neeleman told AFAR. “It’s going to be like using the Uber app or the Amazon app, and we’ll have a whole menu of things that you can access on the planes and on the ground.”
But he’s also aware of the dangers of overreliance on technology and will deploy a team of customer service agents, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the new line is headquartered. “You will be able to talk to us,” he promised.
Neeleman has been cagey about his long-term expansion plans, other than to point out that he’s identified between 500 and 700 routes where there is virtually no competition, many of which lost service well before the pandemic due to airline consolidation that left just four mega-carriers—American, Delta, Southwest, and United—to dominate domestic air travel.
“We’re going to be going into markets where 100 percent of the time you have to connect through a hub, which is not only more expensive, but a lot less convenient,” he said. On Breeze, he said, “It’ll take you an hour and a half instead of four hours to get there.” And with the A220s, which can fly up to nine hours without stopping, there’s no telling where he could go in the future.
He has hinted he would like to expand Breeze well beyond the U.S. mainland, connecting points in the Midwest to, say, Hawaii or the western edge of Europe, or from southern Florida to Brazil.
While Breeze is already generating buzz, it’s not the only new kid on the block. Another startup line, Avelo, began flying last month out of Burbank, California, with teaser fares of $19 to a slew of smaller airports in the West—and it plans to expand to the East Coast with flights out of New Haven, Connecticut, later this summer. That’s raising concerns that a crowded discount airline field could result in a “bloodbath,” says Henry Harteveldt, founder and analyst at Atmosphere Research. “No airline is going to give up a single micro-point of market share to another airline without a fight,” he says.