Avelo Launches Scheduled Flights April 28 From Its Burbank Base

Avelo

It’s not often a new airline with adequate funding and a real business plan launches in the US, but today is one of those days. The long-awaited Avelo Airlines, founded by former Allegiant President Andrew Levy, is officially a thing as of today. Tickets go on sale this morning at 10 8am PT and the first flight on the all-737-800 airline will take off from its Burbank base to Santa Rosa on April 28. So what exactly is Avelo’s plan? I spoke with Andrew himself to learn all about it.

This airline has been a long time coming. Andrew started working on it back in 2014 after he left Allegiant. He took a break with his unexpected move to become CFO at United, but when that ended nearly three years ago, he put his efforts back into what is now Avelo.

So what is Avelo’s story? This quote from our conversation really summed it up nicely for me.

We’re not curing cancer. This is about getting people from point a to point b safely, reliably, and inexpensively.

Avelo will be a short-haul operator which, to Andrew, means an average stage length of about 600 miles or 2 hours, and it will build a product to cater to that. There are some unique touches, but Avelo isn’t trying to reinvent the low-cost model. It is just trying to evolve and improve upon it. That, however, doesn’t make for a profitable airline. You need a unique niche. Before we get into that, let’s start with the basics.

How The Heck Do You Say That?

I know when I first saw the name, I was entirely unclear on how exactly to pronounce it. I’m happy to report that I have the answer, straight from the horse’s mouth (along with me repeating it).

It is uh-VEH-low. Or, to help you remember, think of it as not two velos but rather just one. A velo.

I asked if there was special meaning behind the name, but there’s not. They just had to come up with a name that wasn’t traditional — he wanted no geographies — and was trademarkable. They liked this one and now they’re backing into a cooler origin story. Andrew’s favorite so far is that ave means “bird” and velo means “swift,” so it’s a swift bird.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s move on to the really important stuff.

“We Think the Airports Matter”

Andrew explained to me that the airports they choose make the biggest difference in the experience. Multiple times in the press release, I saw the rather silly-sounding “smooth and convenient” mentioned as being a unique service point. While Andrew did say that they are working on ways to cut down on all the little points of friction — like having so-called “linebusters” working any queue to help expedite people with smartphones — he admitted that “the airport is the single most important part of that.”

For its first base, Avelo chose Burbank. Andrew is very excited about this, and he thinks there’s nothing quite like Burbank that is so convenient to such a huge population where the airline could walk right in. He suggested Love Field as a similar type of airport, but he also added that there is no room there.

Burbank wasn’t supposed to be at the top of the list. Andrew figured it would be a spoke from another base, but when the pandemic cutbacks began, Avelo saw opportunity to get into Burbank and went for it. The first three airplanes will be based at the airport, and the initial schedule will have flights to 11 cities.

Avelo initial route map generated by Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

I see these as falling into different buckets. For example, Phoenix is actually Phoenix/Mesa (AZA). That along with Ogden — the former with 1x daily and the latter with 6x weekly service — act as an alternate airport for the nearest big city. Considering Avelo wants to have bases in secondary airports, these might fit the bill in the future.

Then there are the bigger leisure destinations like Bozeman or Santa Rosa. These have service from Los Angeles today, but they don’t have anything from Burbank. People who were going to fly from LAX might reconsider, and more will think about a trip with these low fares.

Lastly you have ones like Eureka and Redding which are used to getting tiny regional jets with expensive fares from legacy airlines and not much else. With 3x to 4x weekly, these markets could open up, but it is something of a stretch.

Andrew explained that they only want to fly into markets with no direct competition which is easy when you’re going from Burbank. But if you start comparing to LAX, there is a lot of overlap including many routes with his former employer, Allegiant.

A Different Kind of Allegiant?

Considering Andrew’s background, it’s hard not to compare this to Allegiant right off the bat. The low frequency, low fixed cost model is definitely a page out of Allegiant’s book, but there are some differences.

The airports they choose will not overlap. I think of Allegiant choosing a place like Las Vegas or LAX, a huge primary airport, while Avelo will choose a secondary airport. But Allegiant also has big bases in St Petersburg, Orlando/Sanford, and Phoenix/Mesa, so wouldn’t that overlap? These Burbank routes don’t seem all that far from something Allegiant would do.

Avelo, for its part, doesn’t seem interested in competing with Allegiant head-to-head. It sees plenty of opportunity in this secondary city model while Allegiant has moved much of its growth to mid-size cities like Austin, Pittsburgh, and Des Moines. Those aren’t places where we’re likely to see Avelo. The question, will this shift Allegiant’s plans?

Avelo is also going to spend a lot more time and effort on solid operational performance. This is a key difference versus the Allegiant model that existed when Andrew was there and the MD-80s were flying around. But today, Allegiant doesn’t have those same issues so it’s not likely to be a real differentiator.

Minor Points of Difference

What else is different about Avelo? Probably what stood out to me most is the checked bag fee. It is only $10 for the first checked bag, but if you want to carry on anything more than a personal item that fits under the seat, you have to pay $35. That’s a huge spread, and it seems to leave money on the table, so I asked Andrew to explain the strategy.

We really want people to check their bags…. We want to clear out the cabin, make the boarding and deplaning process really smooth and quick. The second part is we want to offer great value to our customers; checked bags have become extremely expensive.

There’s that “smooth” word again. It does give you some sense of how the airline is viewing its offering.

It will have a base experience with 29 inch seat pitch in slimline seats, so a fairly standard ULCC option. Advanced seat assignments will cost extra. There will also be upwards of a third of the seats on the airplane, however, with greater pitch ranging from 31 to 38 inches. That will simply cost more to book at the time you choose a seat, similar to what Frontier does.

For now, each passenger will be given a little bag with a sanitizer wipe, a bottle of water, and a snack. Andrew says the free bottle of water will stay, but the rest may or may not continue beyond the pandemic. It won’t be available at launch, but the plan is to have sodas/coffee/liquor and shelf-stable snacks available for purchase onboard.

Another differentiator is hoped to be a short term one. There is no wifi. I had assumed this was because of the short stage length, but no. Andrew says that Avelo just wants to wait to leapfrog the existing generation. It sounds like Avelo is hoping for wifi next year sometime, but there aren’t any details to be shared on that.

“The Race Goes to the Tortoise”

Possibly the biggest difference — especially in comparison to fellow start-up Breeze which is expected to announce a much more aggressive launch plan soon — is the pace. Avelo is in no hurry to grow quickly. It wants to do things right before it starts expanding faster.

Right now, Avelo has three 189-seat 737-800s and will have another three delivered this quarter. That’s all it has committed to so far, but it can get more when it wants, undoubtedly. Though the plan isn’t final, he says that a second base could be announced this quarter for service beginning as early as summer. They’re still working on that.

For now, the airline will focus on getting a solid, reliable operation off the ground. Tickets are available starting this morning at aveloair.com, and they will also be found on Google Flights. They won’t, however, be sold through any third party agencies. If you’re in the target audience, you’ll probably see ads popping up online as they try to generate awareness in markets that haven’t had nonstop service before.

Here are the full market rollout details:

This will not be an easy start-up for the airline. If it makes a market work, then will others move in? It’s hard to say, and we really don’t know what’s next after Burbank so we can’t really say there’s a “type” of market that Avelo is targeting.. Avelo is different enough from many airlines to likely not cause them to even blink, but there are some that will be watching with great interest.

33 comments on “Avelo Launches Scheduled Flights April 28 From Its Burbank Base

  1. On the one hand 189 seats to Arcata seems crazy. On the other, no other airline is going to add these routes to drive them out, so… it just might work.

    1. Can a 737-800 even get INTO Arcata/Eureka? Friends who flew the Brasilia for SkyWest said its not the best approach or runway for the props… can’t imagine trying to plant a 737 in there regularly.

      1. Should be. I’ve never flown into KACV but it looks like runway 14/32 is 6000′ long which should be enough. MDW’s runways are around that length; if you’ve ever flown into MDW, you know that the Avelo pilots are going to slam on the brakes pretty hard after touching down. The field elevation is only 222 feet (lower than MDW) so the denser air will help too.

        1. Don’t forget Burbank itself. Runway 8/26, which is usually the one you land on, is only 5,800 feet.

  2. Interesting to think about potential hubs / airports for Avelo to use in other parts of the country, especially small/alternative airports near major cities…

    For example, perhaps Rockford or Gary in the Chicago area (though I believe Allegiant serves the former, or at least did), and Worcester or even Bedford in New England.

    Not sure it would be worth the risk of ticking off Delta, but traffic in the ATL area is bad enough that routes out of a smaller airport in the greater ATL metro area (especially one on the other side of the city/metro area from ATL) could be a fun concept.

    1. Allegiant has actually built out a pretty respectable operation in RFD (3-5 flights per day). Not only does it cater to folks in the NW suburbs of Chicago, but Rockford itself has a material population (200K) and you have Madison just down the road.

      As for Avelo, they definitely seem to have the operational expertise which could lead to a solid launch. I would imagine they were able to purchase those 737-800 VERY inexpensively given the pandemic. I’d be curious to learn what their CASM is. Can’t be much more than Allegiant.

      1. Thanks for the insights.

        I’m not sure how much opportunity there is for “true” (earth shattering) innovation or change in the airline industry these days, at least with the regulations as they are, but kudos to Avelo for trying some new destinations and routes and seeing what works.

        Agree that their low CASM is likely very low, but 189 seats seems like a lot, even with sub-daily frequency. We’ll see… Avelo will definitely be a fun airline to watch, and I wish them the best of luck.

  3. There has long been heavy demand in northern UT and western CO for a cheap and convenient way to get to southern California. This is how Morris Air (eventually absorbed by WN) became a success – cheap leisure based flights to California cities (mainly in the Southland). In this case, rather than using the increasingly hectic SLC, Avelo is opting for Ogden. That’s a really convenient airport for anyone north of Farmington or maybe Kaysville, that undoubtedly has cheap (perhaps free) parking and a relaxed vibe. That alone will seem like a upgrade to the average traveler, as will the similar convenience of BUR versus LAX. Of course it depends on where in the LA area you need to be, but a lot of people are traveling “to the area” (in which case BUR is fine) and those headed downtown, to the San Fernando or San Gabriel Valleys will love this versus LAX. The same can probably be said of the Phoenix/Mesa airport being awesomely convenient if you’re in the East Valley (and a lot of people are).

    As for those other smaller cities, I think what’s important here is going to be that Avelo supplies the market with a full-sized jet to a convenient airport within a popular market at a competitive price. No tiny RJ, no big-ticket price tag, no dealing with a big hub airport. The lack of first class doesn’t matter to most when you’re talking about a 90 minute flight. But walking in to Ogden and out of BUR with ease will make a good impression on many. I can see the sense of this idea.

    1. The San Gabriel Valley is pretty wide. I’d say that as a rule, the 605 is the line of demarcation. West of there, sure. LAX or Burbank. East of it and ONT makes more sense. YMMV

      1. That’s probably about right. And ONT is a pretty easy airport too that if you’re far enough east you would use (especially given traffic issues to BUR). I’ll admit that my comment was pretty general, but you’re still looking at a pretty huge catchment area population for which BUR is the closest airport.

        Southern California is actually quite fortunate in that there are several very convenient airport choices that can be used to avoid LAX and they’re generally really easy. On our last trip (pre-COVID), we flew MDW-SNA and it was great. SNA was really easy to use. Drive right up, walk right in. Yet, it’s like a big airport when compared with LGB or BUR – those are friendlier still.

  4. I have 2 thoughts.

    “We really want people to check their bags…. We want to clear out the cabin, make the boarding and deplaning process really smooth and quick.”
    As someone who hates waiting for people to get their 3-4 carry-ons down at the end of a flight, I’m happy with this.

    I’m surprised they went with OGD and not PVU (or both) considering Allegiant has had more success there.

    1. That was part of Spirit’s justification for the carry on bag fee. Checked bag fees meant more people trying to carry on more bags, which meant boarding took longer and eventually the bins fill and those last minute gate checked bags took more time. Making the first checked bag cheaper than the carry on pushed people to check more bags and sped up boarding and deplaning times.

      1. And the contrast boarding domestic flights in Australia, where checked bag fees don’t encourage people to carry everything on board, is striking. Virgin Australia and Qantas could each routinely board a full 737-800-sized aircraft in 15 minutes flat when I lived there (2011-2014). Often takes 40+ in the US.

  5. It’s too bad Avelo didn’t launch from Long Beach. Maybe it will add service from there and Ontario in the future. I like smaller airports that aren’t a major obstacle to flying. Getting around in big airports can be a real chore. A business model that focuses on smaller, “smoother” airports might just work.

    1. DesertGhost – I wish! Long Beach has no slots so that won’t be coming anytime soon. But if Southwest gives up on LGB at some point…

  6. Good for them for giving it a try, but big airplanes and low fares could make it difficult.

  7. This seems kind of crazy, but they’ve got people who know what they’re doing running the ship so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Bought a ticket for the GJT inaugural, because… Well, why not?

  8. The hard product here feels a lot like Sun Country, which also has 738s kitted out with multiple tiers of seating, starting from ULCC pitch, then bring up to standard, then E+. At 189 seats I’m guessing the 38″ pitch seats are the exit row, with a dozen or two 34″ seats and the balance being 31″. By contrast, the other three ULCCs are all-A320, with no standard-pitch seating option.

    The drastic discount on checked bags is great BTW. I’m not inclined to put my bag in the hold for a $5 discount, but $25? Sure, why not?

    The route model is different than Sun Country through, as Sun Country doesn’t go into secondary airports to my knowledge.

    This makes two interesting new airlines that I won’t be able to fly from AUS, thanks to Spirit havening a fair sized operation here, plus G4’s upcoming base, plus Frontier’s ever-varying slate of routes. Can’t cplain too much, but it’s interesting that we’re up to five ULCCs in the US.

    1. Ian – It’s actually way more scattered than that. Go through the purchase process on the website and you can see the seat map. It’s all over the place. Exit rows are the only ones with 38″ but there are 34″ and 31″ rows in various places.

  9. You should have had your map guy label Phoenix as “Phoenix/Mesa.”

    Since the map first appeared way up top, and then the story, it took me quite a while before figuring out Avelo was going into Willie, and not Sky Harbor.

    1. Well, I thought I first saw a route map way up top–but I guess I didn’t. But my desire for PHX to be dual-named on the map still goes.

  10. Are there that many SoCalers looking to head up into the North woods during the height of summer and fire season to justify that kind of lift? I would have thought that the NorCal/Oregon crowd would be more of an RV driving demo.

  11. Brett, are you going on the first flight? When I booked my ticket yesterday I noticed that the whole front half of the plane was greyed out. I assume some of those seats are for high-level employees and some are for journalists and bloggers like yourself.

    1. Dfw88 – Beats me. I wasn’t planning on it, but I don’t know if they’ll be inviting media. I might do it, but I bought two roundtrips myself yesterday for dad adventures with each of my kids, so I will definitely be flying the airline!

  12. Am I understanding this right – they’ll be initially servicing 11 destinations (on a LTD basis, but still…) with three planes?

    Admittedly they’re nice, new, shiny planes, not elderly F.28s, but to a former Fresnan this sounds an awful like like Air21 back in the day. One mechanical or weather delay and a big chunk of your schedule is out the window for the day.

    (Or if the plane is leased, will they have easy access to a back-up?)

    1. Cblock2 – This is actually a very light schedule. They have three morning roundtrips, 2 midday, and 2 late afternoon. So there is a lot of slack after the morning.

      1. This will solve the gate situation, for now. WIth United and JetBlue each down to a single flight and AA down significantly, there is space. However, if and when UA, AA and B6 resume pre-Covid schedules, the place will be like getting 10 pounds of rice in a 5 pound bag, even if B1 can take a 800.

  13. My home airport is ACV. Before COVID I traveled a lot for work and I know there still is a decent amount of business travel here. We also have a lot of So Cal folks that attend Humboldt State that may use this to travel to/from school. But, while these fares are much cheaper than United or the incoming American flight (PHX), I have a really hard time seeing them filling up 189 seats. I’ll admit there is a lot of buzz right now about this, but I will be surprised if they stay at ACV. I suppose with United’s current volume they could steal UA’s pax with cheap fares, and there will be return traffic from folks visiting the redwoods, but it’s still hard imagine them consistently pulling in the numbers needed to make the route profitable.

    It looks like ACV will get one flight per operating day and I think this will likely lead to cancelled flights and stranded pax. While people may hate paying United’s fares, they may want United’s rebooking options…slim as they may be. I think the cancellations will come because ACV experiences fog on a regular basis which already leads to plenty of cancellations. With a larger aircraft I can’t help but wonder if we see even more turnarounds/cancellations due to safety concerns related to weather and visibility.

    I admit. As a local I would really love to see this work, but ULCC or not, I think they will likely join the long list of carriers (PSA, Horizon, Delta, PenAir, and more) that have come and gone over the years.

  14. Looks like American just dropped a ton of narrow body capacity in the Burbank to crush them. No doubt Southwest will finish them off. Grand opening , grandclosing!

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