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.
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.