Skybus Expands, Then Contracts, Then Expands . . .

It’s been awhile since I’ve checked in on Skybus, but I figured their announcement that they’re finally opening a new base (in Greensboro) meant it was time to check-in.

There’s actually been a lot going on with the airline’s route network recently. First, on September 20, they announced they’d start flying to Chattanooga, Milwaukee, Gulfport/Biloxi, and Punta Gorda. Since most people probably don’t know where most of those cities are, this definitely keeps with their plan of serving places others don’t go very often. (Ok, Milwaukee is an exception.)

In fact, Skybus will have the only commercial service at Punta Gorda, which is outside Ft Myers in Florida. I mean, since when does Ft Myers need a reliever airport!?! Surely it’s because Punta Gorda is cheaper. (Of course it is, and don’t call me Shirley.)

The announcement on Sept 25 was more interesting to me. That’s when they said they’d fly their first non-Columbus routes – Portsmouth (New Hampshire) to both St Augustine and Punta Gorda (Florida). Looks like they’re getting hooked on the Florida snowbird gravy train, and I can’t say I blame them. There’s a lot of money to be had there, especially during the winter.

07_10_24 skybusrv

Then last week it came out that the airline was going to start cutting back on some of its long hauls. Bellingham and San Diego are disappearing while Burbank gets cut in half to only one daily flight. Sounds like the long hauls aren’t carrying their weight right now. It could be lack of demand for those routes in general or it could be lack of demand for the tight, no-frills product that the airline offers over long periods of time. I’d bet it’s a combination of both. So what are they doing with the planes that used to fly those routes?

Well, this week we got the big news that they were going to open a new base. Like Ryanair, they have “bases” meaning that they base a certain number of aircraft and crews in their largest operations. To date, Columbus has been the only base, but now we have . . . Greensboro.

Airline dorks (and Greensboro/High Point/Winston-Salem residents) will remember that airport as the home of many failed airline experiments. The grandest attempt was Continental’s old low fare division, CALite, which opened up a Greensboro hub in the mid 90’s, back when every airline thought that a low fare division was a good idea. (United still hasn’t figured out that it isn’t.) I actually remember flying through there once connecting from Baltimore to Atlanta on an old 737-100. So what makes Skybus think they can succeed?

What I’m sure the airline sees is an airport that doesn’t have much service at this point and is less than 100 miles away from both Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham. If the fares are low enough, they’re banking that they can fill the planes. Besides, Greensboro is also one of the destinations they already fly from Columbus, so they have an idea of what demand is like. It must doing well for them.

So what routes are they flying from Greensboro?

Besides Columbus, we once again have the Florida gravy train. St Augustine, Punta Gorda, and Ft Lauderdale all get flights, and I bet they’ll do well for them. They’re also serving Gulfport/Biloxi, another town that I bet will do well as the gambling mecca of the south. (I don’t think mecca is the right word for the place.)

After that it gets interesting. Portsmouth (New Hampshire) and Chicopee (Massachusetts) both get flights. I’m not convinced that those are going to generate much traffic at all, but I suppose we’ll find out soon enough. Then again, I have to think those will look like blockbusters compared to the last route they announced . . . Burbank.

Now, I’m surprised that they can even make this flight happen. Burbank has a short runway and that’s a long haul, so I have to think that an A319 with 156 seats is going to have some weight restrictions. But then again, they probably won’t be able to fill enough seats to worry about that. Delta can’t even support a daily flight from Los Angeles to Raleigh/Durham (it’s down to 5x weekly). I would be amazed if Skybus can find enough demand to fill half this plane.

So this is a lot of change for the young airline. On one hand, it’s good to see that they aren’t wedded to routes that simply aren’t performing. This capacity shift tells me that they probably are seeing success on some routes and they are realigning to better serve those markets.

It’s not entirely surprising to see the longer hauls not working out as well as they’d hoped. I mean, it’s a tougher sell to get people to stuff themselves into those tight seats for that long of a flight. And those routes have less demand overall anyway, so it was a long shot to begin with. It may mean we’ll see less of them out here on the west coast until they decide to open a base for short haul flying out this way, but until then . . . there’s always Florida.

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9 Responses to Skybus Expands, Then Contracts, Then Expands . . .

  1. Roger Poulard says:

    I don’t think its as much of a function of capacity as it is of plane usage. They only have 5 planes and will only have 9 by the end of the Spring. If you can have a flight carry five or six loads of passengers instead of three, wouldn’t you concentrate on shorthaul products until you have more capacity?

  2. Smail says:

    With Jet Blue’s recent announcement that they’re leaving the Columbus market, I have to wonder if that’s the first identifier of a forthcoming “Skybus effect”?

  3. CF says:

    If that was going to be their strategy, you would think they would have started out that way. I would be surprised if we ever saw Bellingham on the route map again.

    Also, if that was their strategy, why would they start up Burbank to Greensboro?

    I also don’t think JetBlue’s departure has anything to do with a Skybus effect. They don’t fly anywhere near NYC so I can’t imagine there was an impact.

  4. Jason says:

    The transcontinental flights were hits. They saw load factors of nearly 80% so the assumption that the demand wasn’t there and that people didn’t want to “subject” themselves to such a long flight are way off. The cost of fuel has risen to a point where the flight isn’t profiting. Even mighty southwest airlines has cut some of its long-hauls. Also, no one thought CMH-BUR would work and yet it does. DL flies CMH-LAX only 4 times a week, so that has no bearing on how SX will perform on the route.

  5. CF says:

    Do you work for the airline, Jason? If so, then I will believe you when you say they were hits. Otherwise, I remain highly skeptical.

    High load factors do not make for a successful flight. You could fill that thing with $10 fares and you’ll bleed money. Yes, Southwest has cut long hauls but that’s not their strength. The flights didn’t do well, so they cut them. That’s what I’m guessing happened with Skybus as well.

    I know DL flies CMH-LAX only 4 times a week, but at least Skybus flies to CMH. If I saw Skybus flying BUR-RDU, then maybe I’d think it would have a somewhat better chance. But we’re talking about alternate airports on both ends, and that’s my biggest concern (besides the aircraft range issues).

  6. Jason says:

    I do not work for them, no. I am going by what their spokeperson has said and by reviewing the prices for flights on days throughout the time those routes have been active. Only the first 10 seats are 10 dollars and they go up from there. There have been stretches where the lowest fare to both BLI and SAN as well as OAK and BUR were 120 dollars one-way. There is no certain way to know if they truly were hits but they appeared to be. The good thing, is they weren’t making enough profit, so they were cut. The fact that they are making changes is a good sign. They aren’t the idiots that about 90% of the airline industry thinks they are. As for the range, I would think (or hope) that they determined that before announcing the route. It actually may be a little shorter than CMH-BUR. Not sure though. If you compare SX flights to the west coast compared to places like MCI and MKE, then they were indeed more popular, but just too much fuel needed. It will interesting to see what happens to them. I live in Columbus and hope they do well.

  7. Darkwater says:

    Prior to CALite, didn’t New York Air make Greensboro a focus city when it made its push towards the South back in the mid-80’s? Texas Air sure liked GSO.

    Also, aren’t airports like St Augustine and Chicopee tertiary, not secondary? Daytona Beach barely has any service and JAX needs a relief airport about as much as Ft Meyers does.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Actually, Greensboro airport has done really good recently. Their airport is one of the nicest I have seen and I’m an international flyer. But I too HATE skybus!

  9. Dolores says:

    I am very upset about Skybus I thought finally they had a plane that went straight throught to NC without stopping all over before getting to destination. 1hr and 45 min to get there. WOW with out having to pay outradgous price i would take a flight that would take me 6 hours or more to get to Charlotte. huh . Oh well hopefully something will break. Between our son and myself we had 6 round trips booked with SkyBus ! PLEASE COME BACK !Our son and his wife is having a baby in October amd was so excited that we can get to them really quick when she is delivering our first grandchild. please please come back.

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