Avatar Airlines is Back and It Wants Your Money

Family Airlines

Of all the posts I’ve written on this site, none has quite caught your attention like the 2009 post on Family Airlines. With more than 300 comments, we just couldn’t stop talking about it. Family changed its name to Avatar awhile ago, but it was the same airline on the inside. I hadn’t heard anything about this plan for awhile… until this week. On Monday, Avatar announced it was trying to raise money on Indiegogo. [Update: they’ve been kicked off Indiegogo but are doing this on their own now.] This is the gift that keeps on giving…

Avatar Airlines Indiegogo

Avatar’s model hasn’t changed, and it goes against pretty much everything going on in the industry today. The airline wants to pick up some old 747-400s, fill them up with fares “50% or lower than current carriers,” and fly them back and forth across the country making a couple stops each way.

Sounds great, right? But, wait. It gets better. There will be no bag fees for the first two checked bags. Oh, and wifi will be free. If you’re wondering how this airline could possibly make any money, you’re not alone.

The basic premise is hugely flawed. The airline is going to work its airplanes hard, flying them a ton. Each 747 will have 539 coach seats and 42 “Office” class seats. The general plan is to work unit costs down as low as possible by spreading them out over a ton of people all day long. But there’s a huge problem here.

The airline’s first route will be a milk run: LA to Vegas to New York to Miami and back. One airplane will start the morning in LA and head east while the other starts in Miami and heads west. They’ll get to the other side and then turn around. This is a hilariously bad plan.

How many of those 581 seats do you think will be filled going from LA to Vegas early in the morning on a Wednesday? Not a lot. You can do the same thing throughout the network and find plenty of holes. Airlines that focus on low costs thrive on scarcity. Allegiant flies to small cities and creates demand with low fares. But it has only around 150 seats to fill and it flies only a few times a week on many routes. If the demand isn’t there during certain days of the week or different seasons, it just sits an airplane.

Avatar won’t have that. It will have far too many seats and will bleed out all too quickly unless it can start charging a lot more for those seats. So far its grand plan is to do all kinds of promotional stuff with advertisers to generate revenue. It’s just not going to happen for a small airline that nobody cares about.

Maybe travel agents can help generate demand? Nope. Avatar is actually going to charge travel agents for the right to book on the airline. But what that gets is the ability to reserve seats and not provide a name until 48 hours prior to departure. What the heck…

The route map only starts to look goofier as the airline grows. Take a look at the Indiegogo presentation. The airline will just keep running more airplanes on similar routes (Orlando instead of Miami, for instance). By year two, they run out of ideas. They want to fly a 747 from Vegas to Albuquerque and on to Orlando. This is amazing.

And how are the people of Avatar going to make all this happen? Well they aren’t, because they’ve been trying to do the same thing for years and nobody buys this plan. But now they’re hoping to tap into the kindness of the ignorant public. Do you want to help Avatar reach its $5 million goal?

At last check, there were 2 donors who had chipped in $5 each. The airline is almost there. It says it wants the money to market its $300 million equity offering. Though I find myself wondering if they’ll end up having to use the money to pay DOT fines instead.

Avatar isn’t an airline at this point, but it’s offering perks to people who pay, and that sounds like they’re selling a product. That’s not allowed. For example, if you donate $3,000 you become a Founders Club member. That includes access to early boarding, lounges, and upgrades when the airline is flying. Does that sound similar to when California Pacific People Express got in trouble for selling frequent flier program membership before it started flying? Sounds like Avatar is walking quite the fine line here.

Some of the other things you can get are downright awesome.

  • For $2,000 you can be Executive Vice President for a day. I’d pick any day I’d be able to get the airline shut down so that investors don’t lose any more money than they already had.
  • For $9,750 you can be a Captain for a weekend in Miami. Fortunately, this doesn’t actually allow you to fly an airplane. You just get ground and simulator training.
  • For $5,000, you can have the privilege of interviewing to be a Captain with the airline. This doesn’t mean you get the job. It just means you can interview. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
  • For only $375, you can interview to be a flight attendant. I’m not sure these guys realize that there’s more of a pilot shortage than a flight attendant shortage.

In short, this Indigogo campaign is just awesome. I’m tempted to give $25 just to get the t-shirt. (I really want the model but there’s no way I’m paying $1,250 for that.) If anyone out there is giving more than $25, let’s hear why. I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

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55 comments on “Avatar Airlines is Back and It Wants Your Money

  1. I was tempted to give $1,250 for the model, but the additional $25 for international shipping is just too much to bear…

  2. I get the feeling their route map has less to do with market demand and profitability than the inability to use Adobe Photoshop. That explains Albuquerque. They ran out of the ability to draw lines on their trial version so they just plunked stars on cities that happened to fall on the lines they already drew.

    Way to diversify in year 2 by complimenting NYC (JFK presumably) routes with Newark service to the exact same cities.

  3. Avatar must have awesome vision insurance as it sure sounds like everyone there is being treated for severe glaucoma with lots of the same, excellent medication.

  4. Good lord. If they just said they were going to copy the Air America model and run heroin all over I would say that is more legitimate. Their fundraising website is an awesome montage of stolen clip art.

  5. I’d like to take them seriously, but that video on indie looks like it was made in the late 90s…

    1. It probably was. Remember that Avatar/Family has been “planning” to start using this same model since about that time.

  6. I didn’t see anything about clowns or jugglers though. They won’t get a dime from me until I am guaranteed clown entertainment!

  7. And don’t miss their fly free club — for a low flat fee you’re entitled to any empty seat on any flight for free (and there will be many empty seats)…

  8. Glad that ABQ is getting some love. The tourism from Breaking Bad will reach epic levels with daily 747 service.

    1. I think you have hit upon an actual working business model for them. Can you say “flying meth lab”?

      1. Oooh, you do realize that the ACA now makes remakes of Breaking Bad as interesting as the Canadian version? (You know, the single episode series where Walter White finds out he has cancer, and gets treatment paid for by the society/government that he’s been a member of since he was born, then goes on with his life?)

        Although this does bring up ABQ to ABQ flights that are with a foreign flagged plane.. You could make a lotta meth while that thing was flying!

  9. They said fly to these places, they didn’t say land in these places did they? If they do a low fly by they can open a door and push people out with parachutes. Will save on landing fees, and aren’t people willing to do anything for a low far anyway. :-)

  10. I checked the Avatar web page source code for creation date, but couldn’t find one. It HAS to have been created just before April 1st. The name should be Dream-On Airlines. Get it? DOA? snicker snicker. Except there won’t be an arrival, just a quick departure. No way will this outfit ever get an operating certificate!

  11. Real all the comments posted here and it appears they are posted by arm chair quarterbacks with little or any knowledge of the industry and its business.

  12. Gawd, years and years ago I was driving thru Santa Barbara, and went by the airport. A 747 was sitting on one side of the field in the markings of Family Airlines. The markings were somewhat goofy looking with a kid on the tail wearing a billed hat at an angle. Just goes to show, bad ideas never die.

  13. Who exactly are the geniuses “in charge” here? Teenage boys with more dreams than experience, it seems.

  14. Thanks for sharing, this is the most hilarious thing I’ve seen in a while. Makes me wish I was back in route planning and had access to some software where I could model out what a train wreck this would ultimately be.

    In other news…”Office Class”? Even though I do work on the plane, pretty sure I don’t want to subliminally be told I’m in the office.

  15. They’re back!

    As a veteran of the 2009 comment thread — I’m looking forward to this iteration.

  16. Love it! You can’t keep a good scam down.

    What these clowns know about the industry could fill a thimble and still have room.

    I think they need to capitalize on Island Air’s cutbacks and offer a Palmdale to Molokai to Lanai trip, because…they have lots of seats, and they can sell them cheap because uh…Please Donate!

    Avatar/Family Airlines is the Washington Generals of the airline biz. But, they are entertaining.

  17. Don’t laugh too hard, too soon… As I write, they’re up to a dozen donors and a whopping $340.
    Clearly, Tuesday is HUMOR DAY around here and I love it. If/when I need C.C.’s professional services, please don’t use this airline to fill any gaps in my schedule…

  18. A Tower-Air esque operation would work in today’s day coupled with Allegiant’s model — however I’m just not sure they realize they need to start small and build up. Vegas will be full no matter where you go (except I agree w/ Brett on the LAX-LAS leg). Vegas to Chicago / Miami / New York you can fill that sucker – but will it be enough to pay the bills? National Airlines is proof of that.

    I think AVATAR would get a lot less flack here if they were saying “hey, we’re starting out with 3 747s – 2 scheduled, 1 for charter/back-up; gonna fly Vegas to XYZ and ABC, fares starting at $100, 1 free bag, but anything else costs extra”. This business plan is like reading a half abortion – you can’t be Ryanair AND JetBlue at the same time; you will confuse your customers.

    Family Airlines, Avatar, whatever its called – has a fighting chance if they just act smart. And of course change the name. But anyway, that’s just my opinion.

  19. Dang! That Indiegogo thing didn’t last very long! And they refunded my money and I never got the tee-shirt!
    My only notice was a short email from Indiegogo that my donation was refunded, no explanation at all.

    All I can guess is that someone complained and thought the perks violated some Indiegogo policy. They did not tell our CEO why they pulled it. Avatar Airlines did not yank the fund raising page from Indiegogo… it was yanked from us. We were hoping to raise some seed money to get back to work on the certification process.

    All the perks would happen ONLY if the airline got airborne — no promises for any of them as we all know they may never happen. Donators were well warned and our financial wizards ran it by the lawyers and they put plenty of disclaimers all over the page.

    As a pilot I objected to anything that requires an application fee. The pilot things on the gogo site were only to obtain a priority interview (if you met all the qualifications first). I didn’t like that either, but it was an offer the others insisted we place there. The simulator rides would have applied to anyone, pilot or not. Sim time is expensive, but there are many airline aficionados who would pay (donate in our case) huge amounts to get their hands on the controls in a simulator. I recall United Airlines had a program long ago where a Mileage Plus (frequent flyer) member could cash in hundreds of thousands of miles for an hour in a simulator. To my surprise, many of them did just that!
    And we had offers from business men of $10,000 and up if they could just ride the jumpseat in the cockpit for takeoff and landing. Of course, that never happened, the FAA would never allow it anyway, and since 9-11, you know darn well it will never happen.

    Oh well… if you haven’t been to our website http://www.avatarairlines.com recently, you will find plenty of explanations for all the things y’all have been worried about. Things like how we plan to put advertising everywhere you look (the overhead bins will look like a city bus, ads on the tray tables, the whole plane will be wrapped in some logo or ad for something if we can find branding sources). And how we can carry cargo because we WON’T be carrying center tank fuel (maximum Zero Fuel Weight will be our limiting factor). We can reach all of our destinations easily with standard wing tank fuel. We will never need the 22,000 pounds of fuel in the tail, either. But 581 passengers and their bags will certainly weigh a lot. We did some sharp pencil work years ago with the 747-300 but I think we may need to do that again for the -400. I sure wish we had some money so we could gather up a team and go to work on these things!

    We are currently advertising for some senior level management (as volunteers, no pay, they kinda come and go!). Not hiring any pilots nor flight attendants just yet. But if you are interested in putting this airline together, working on the certification process, please visit our web site and read all the pages first, then contact us.

      1. It’s just until they get off the ground. You know, getting in early so you can cash in later and all.

        …or that’s the delusion they’re selling, I guess.

      2. Everyone who works or ever has worked for Avatar Airlines is an unpaid volunteer. Managers and technicians and word-smiths and pilots and flight attendants and mechanics — no one has ever been paid a dime.

        Why? Because Avatar does not HAVE a dime!

        The Indiegogo thing was an attempt to get some seed money so people could be paid (a pittance) to get some work done.

        A charity would be giving money away. Avatar is the other end of the deal — Avatar needs money to survive!

        1. Hrm, the usual in situations like this is for people to be awarded equity in the company, perhaps with a small salary.

          Given that Avatar has no money, I’m not quite sure it could be called a company.. I think its best called a comedy show…. A pretty lame one at that.

    1. Captain Dan – I’ll admit that I’m impressed you continue to work on this.
      I give you plenty of credit for being willing to engage here.

  20. Hate to say it but I would fly on this airline for one reason to see ABQ try and handle a 747. All the other cities get 747s not ABQ it has the runway for it heck even the taxiways I think if I remember correctly but no way the gates. If anything they would have to have it park on the old 17/35.

    1. Good old ABQ. / Kirtland AFB. Been there many times. Landed an RF-4C there in 1975 to pick up a VHF radio for the BD-5 I was building. The president of the Terra Radio company personally came out (probably to see the F-4) to bring the radio to me! I was impressed.

      As for parking a 747-400 at some of these not-often-used-by-747 airports, we will be begging for a gate with dual jetways if they have it or can build it. Otherwise, it looks like we’ll be parking on the ramp and boarding/deplaning via some very tall mobile air-stairs. Even the big airlines do that. I’ve had to park way out on a ramp (‘remote parking’) with a full load of passengers at HKG, NRT, LHR, SIN, even ORD and LAX when a gate was not available. It takes much longer to get the passengers off the plane, loaded onto buses, bused to the terminal, off the buses and into immigration/customs.

      Sorry to see ABQ closed runway 17/35 in summer of 2012, and yes we could park a 747 there. But I’m not sure we’ll need it. After all, ABQ is an international airport and they do expect an occasional 747 charter, wouldn’t you think? Their terminal has expanded over the years many times, and recall that TWA used to fly L-1011s in there, so they could handle a ‘wide-body’.
      At present, I see no gates with dual jetways but that could be modified if Avatar flew in there frequently.

      1. Hate to say it no 747s even on charter the only 747 is the Decommissioned BA 742 owned by the FAA. And there is not a need for 17/35 when 8-26 3-21 can handle the normal load so yeah park the 747 on the old runway bus people over to the old Northwest Gates on the east side.

  21. My favorite part of the Indiegogo campaign was that, after it was taken down but still had a link on the Avatar website, was that it showed a picture of a flying saucer next to the “Contribute to our Indiegogo Campaign” text at the bottom of the picture. I guess if the 747 doesn’t work out they can try and buy some saucers from Area 51 or something…

    1. Chuck: Thanks for visiting our web site… and so frequently, too!
      We cleaned it up yesterday, removed all the reference / links to Indiegogo. We’re thinking of setting up our own ‘donation / contribution’ site, either on our own or another domain — something they can’t take down unless we take it down.
      We saved all the text and videos and list of perks from the Indiegogo site, so we could rebuild it quickly on another web site.

      1. Dan – you seem like a fairly smart guy, how can you think this business plan has any hope of succeeding, ever? I have worked with people who were employed at the first attempt of Family Airlines to get off the ground…you know, before the founder was convicted of fraud and sent to federal prison. Your latest effort reminds me of the hype that Primaris Airlines was trying to generate for their operation…and while they didn’t make it very far, they did at least get a certificate and a plane to do charter flights in for a while. I don’t see Family…I mean Avatar, excuse me – even getting to that stage. Now, this comedy of errors is quite entertaining to watch…so yes, I am a fan of your web page. I just feel sorry for anyone who invests and thinks that this “dream” will ever take flight. I do agree, though, it would be fun to see a 747 fly into ABQ.

  22. Thanks, guys. This is the funniest, laugh-out-loud website I’ve seen in a long time. Flying meth labs? Volunteer CEO? Deplaning via stairway at Changi?

    Can we make a reality TV show of this?

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