Breeze Airways, Mr. Neeleman’s fifth airline startup, said Friday it will focus on nonstop flights between midsize cities—routes where rival airlines are largely absent—starting at the end of the month.
The upstart airline is flying into an increasingly crowded marketplace. Avelo Airlines, another new carrier operating in the Western U.S., has already attracted competition from other airlines on some routes. Established airlines, flush with cash from investors and government aid, have indicated they don’t plan to cede market share to new entrants as they have in previous rocky periods.
In past downturns, “the big airlines would push back from the table and leave the scraps for all the startups,”
chief executive of United Airlines Holdings Inc., said at a Bloomberg Live event earlier this week. “I can tell you at United Airlines, we’re going to do the opposite.”
Mr. Neeleman had hoped Breeze would begin flying in 2020 until the pandemic decimated demand for air travel and forced him to delay his plans and seek outside investments.
The airline’s network, focused on flights from Tampa, Charleston, New Orleans, and Norfolk, Va., will add additional destinations in the coming months, with plans to fly 39 nonstop routes between 16 cities. Breeze’s launch fares will start at $39 each way, though such initial fares often rise over time. There will be no penalty for changes, but the airline will charge for picking assigned seats and bags, like many other budget carriers.
Mr. Neeleman said pullbacks by major airlines over years of consolidation left customers with few options. Despite big airlines’ recent focus on domestic leisure flying, he is skeptical that they will be able to compete with Breeze, which will fly smaller planes that can be operated cheaply.
“I don’t see any airlines that have lowered their costs. I’ve seen them take on a lot of debt,” he said in an interview earlier this year.
Breeze is Mr. Neeleman’s first U.S. airline venture since he was ousted as JetBlue’s CEO in 2007 following a major operational snafu. He went on to found Brazil’s Azul Linhas Aereas Brasileiras SA. Previously he started WestJet Airlines Ltd. in Canada and Morris Air, which he later sold to
Southwest Airlines Co.
Lukas Johnson, a former
Allegiant Travel Co.
executive who now serves as Breeze’s chief commercial officer, said he believes Breeze’s plan to connect midsize cities where other airlines don’t offer nonstop flights still makes sense, despite the pandemic.
Mr. Neeleman had expected to fund the new airline largely on his own, but a planned sale of his interest in TAP Air Portugal fell through and he had to accept a lower offer from the Portuguese government.
Instead, Breeze raised $83 million from investors, including some who have helped fund his previous airlines, in addition to the $17 million Mr. Neeleman invested and $1 million from a government loan program for businesses struggling to keep workers employed during the pandemic.
The airline had planned to hire college students earning degrees online as flight attendants. But the tuition reimbursement program, which drew criticism from flight attendant unions, didn’t produce enough applicants, a spokesman said. The airline said it still plans to go forward with that program but now plans to hire traditional flight attendants too.
Competitive Travel Market
Read more articles on airlines, selected by the editors
Write to Alison Sider at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8