Who the F*&@ is Vision Airlines?

Everybody know what time it is? That’s right kids, it’s time to figure out who the f*&@ Vision Airlines is! You might have heard of the airline in previous incarnations, but things have changed a lot. And since Vision has just announced it’s starting commercial flights from Atlanta to Louisville and has designs on Allegiant-style flying, I thought it would be an appropriate time to dig in.

Vision Airlines Derby

When I arrived in Atlanta last month, I was surprised to see Vision listed on the baggage claim board. See, I hadn’t heard the name in years, and the last time I heard about those guys, they were doing Grand Canyon charters from their base in Vegas. Could this be the same airline? Yep. It is, but it’s doing things differently these days than when it started in 1994.

Most recently, Vision was in the news for something completely different from what you’d expect. It was the airline that carried Russian spies over to Europe for the big spy swap this past summer. Yep, Vision had gotten into the charter game and won that contract. But that’s just one part of a lot of different businesses that Vision has been dipping its toes into. According to the website, here’s what they’ve been working on.

  • Casino Charters to bring desperate gamblers from their homes to casinos.
  • Sports Charters to carry teams and sometimes fans to games.
  • Vacation Charters usually meant to bring pasty white tourists to warm, sunny spots, usually for travel agencies that put packages together.
  • Capacity Substitution for airlines that need a little extra capacity, possibly to augment existing fleets during busy times or to step in for an airplane that’s out of service for a temporary time.
  • Wet Leasing which seems like capacity substitution except for longer periods of time (like a season instead of a week) and probably more integrated with the contractor brand.
  • Bus Travel through its Vision Coach subsidiary.
  • Grand Canyon tours still live on through the Vision Holidays subsidiary.
  • Scheduled Charter service, the newest part of the business.

In other words, it’s an airline with no focus at all but apparently a lot of ideas of things it thinks it could be doing. So to fulfill that dream of doing everything, Vision has a motley fleet. To the best of my knowledge, there are four 767-200s in the fleet, including the seventh off the line which was built for United way back in 1982. There is also one 737-300, three 737-400s, and one 737-800. Most of these seem to have been obtained from lessors after the previous airlines failed, and many were in storage for quite some time. They probably got great rates on these airplanes.

But that’s only part of the story. Vision is also the last airline in the US buzzing around with Dornier 228s and 328s turboprops that I know of (at least in the lower 48). The 228s are primarily for the Grand Canyon business, but the 328 is what’s being used for the first scheduled charter service.

That’s right. Beginning on December 13, the Dornier 328 will go into service twice daily between Louisville and Atlanta. You can book it yourself at visionairlines.com or via the phone at 877-FLY-A-JET. (Yes, it’s hilariously misleading since this route is actually flown by a prop.) Is there a need for this? Well, Delta flies that route nine times a day but nobody else does, so Vision thinks there’s a market for low fare service. One of the airline execs is from Louisville, so he thinks he knows that there’s huge demand for low fare service. He also thinks, according to an interview with Today in the Sky that he can snag corporate customers from companies like UPS and Home Depot.

Meers thinks Vision can siphon of some of those corporate customers since its fares will be lower than what Delta is currently charging.

If he really thinks he can get those guys to send their business away from Delta, he’s got a rude awakening ahead. UPS and Home Depot need Delta for a lot more than just flights to Louisville, and Delta will make that very clear.

I wish I could ask about this and a lot more, but I’m unable to get a call back. I’ve left messages at the airline’s headquarters and have yet to receive a response. I’ve also emailed their contracted PR person Bryan Glazer who said “You can use the news release. I sent an e-mail to my client asking if he’ll speak with you. standby.” I’m still standing by and haven’t heard anything. Glazer, you might recall, was also the spokesperson for Jet America when it failed to launch. I think that in itself explains this quote from him in Today in the Sky.

Unlike other start-ups, Vision Airlines has been in business for 16 years; it is a financially solid company.

Heh, kind of funny. So for now, I have to go with what’s public. But would I really be writing about this airline if it was just content flying from Louisville to Atlanta? Nope. It now has its sights set on a new Allegiant-style business as well.

. . . the carrier expects to announce a “fairly significant” growth plan that will add up to a dozen new cities, with various point-to-point routes among them. Vision does not plan to operate a hub-and-spoke operation focused on connecting passengers.

When pressed on where the carrier might fly, Meeks says “it’s reasonable to assume it will be to typical Florida leisure destinations,” though he didn’t rule out other “underserved” markets in the region.

Wait, is this actually the reincarnation of Jet America under another name? I suppose we’ll find out if we see any flight going to Toledo or Melbourne. I actually think there is an opportunity for more Allegiant or Spirit-style service in this country, but will Vision and its strategy of trying everything on the map be the one that make it work? I doubt it. But if I can get a call back from them, I’ll be happy to let them change my mind.

[Original Photo via Flickr user boboroshi/CC 2.0]

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