Remember the good old days when all kinds of crazy people with money to burn started up airlines for just for the fun of it? Most of them failed miserably, but over the last few years, we’ve seen very few even try. Maybe it’s the sky-high cost of fuel. Or maybe it’s the impossibly slow certification process. Heck, maybe it’s just that people realized that while it may be sexy to own an airline, it’s also more often than not an unprofitable venture. But fear not, there are still some hearty souls out there willing to give it a shot. Please welcome Florida Express Jet. It’s time for another installment in our long-running series of… who the f*&@ is that?
The name says it all. This airline has been designed to shuttle people around the state of Florida. Wouldn’t it be better to just get some of those air-powered boats to skim over the swamps you Floridians all live in? Sure, but people forget about the other part of Florida, that long skinny panhandle that’s not actually underwater. And that is a focus of this operation when flights start on March 20.
How is this happening so quickly? These guys didn’t need to worry about certification issues because they aren’t flying their own airplanes. Instead, they’ve hired Swift Air, a charter airline, to do the flying for them. Initial flights involve three cities. The airplane leaves Ft Lauderdale at 7 each morning, goes to Orlando, then Tallahassee and comes back at 1220p. Then there’s round two going at 2p and returning back to Ft Lauderdale at 725p. On Saturday, the afternoon rotation doesn’t operate and on Sunday, the morning one doesn’t go. By the end of this year, the plan is to have Jacksonville, Key West, Miami, and Tampa join the network. That will obviously require more airplanes.
You can probably already tell how this initial schedule is a problem. The morning flights up to Tallahassee and the evening returns are good for business travelers. But the rest of the flights are going to be tougher. Then again, this airline doesn’t seem to really be targeting business travelers but anyone who is price-sensitive. It has a fixed price scheme where you can have one of the 138 coach seats for a flat $69 nonstop. If you fly from Ft Lauderdale to Tallahassee via Orlando, it’s $99 for any coach seat. Don’t like coach? For $20 more you can get “A Better Coach.” They’re selling that on the website, but I can’t find anything suggesting what’s better about it. Not “better” enough? There is a 12 seat Business Class cabin that will cost you a mere $30 more per leg.
Those are some extremely low fares so they have to be making this up on fees, right? Eh, not so much. It will cost you $25 to check a bag, but according to this article, you’ll apparently get wifi, snacks, and drinks for free onboard. Oh and there won’t be change fees. You can also assign any seat in your cabin without charge. Oh boy.
I will say, I get where this idea comes from. It’s always struck me as somewhat remarkable that the capital of the state of Florida is so disconnected from the rest of the state. It’s more than 200 miles from Orlando and about 400 miles from South Florida, yet there is very little air service. I get that Tallahassee is small, but anytime you have state politics involved, there is going to be more travel than you would expect from a city of that size, especially when the big population centers in the state are hundreds of miles away.
Silver Airways has already looked at this opportunity and put some Saab 340 turboprops on these routes. They run two a day to Tampa and one to Orlando from Tallahassee. All of those continue on to Ft Lauderdale. So what’s so bad about that? Though I’m not in Florida, I’m sure the usual issues are a) “ewwww, propellers? lame-o” and b) “you guys charge so much, you suck.” A one way from Tallahassee to Orlando is at $139 right now. That’s not all that much but it is a lot more than Florida Express Jet will charge, and of course it’s revenue-managed so Silver can charge even higher than that.
That’s just Tallahassee. What about the Orlando to Ft Lauderdale route? That’s one that Southwest dropped a few years ago because it didn’t work. Guess who flies it today? Silver, yes, but Spirit has 2 a day in there as well. I just do not see how Florida Express Jet will compete with that.
I’ll be amazed if this works. Don’t get me wrong, I hope it does, but I simply don’t see how this model is going to make any money. Let’s just watch and see. If anyone has a chance to fly them when they start, please do chime in below.