Breeze Officially Launches Its Quest to Find the Goldilocks Zone

Breeze

At long last, Breeze is here. The airline has been plotting a launch very publicly for many months, and after several certification delays, the day has arrived. Breeze is now officially an airline that can sell tickets. As is expected for a David Neeleman-run airline, this is no small launch. Over the last month, I’ve spoken with both CEO David Neeleman and Chief Commercial Officer Lukas Johnson to get a sense of how the airline got here and where it’s going.

The answer to that riddle is remarkably unclear in one important sense. This is effectively two airlines being launched under the Breeze name. They will share some attributes, but they will be very different in many ways. The second airline — the original plan which will use A220-300 aircraft to fly smaller, longer routes with a solid product — is still cloaked in secrecy. All we know is that the airplane will be nice and have all the bells and whistles from a business class product (called “Nicest”) to wifi, seatback entertainment, etc. The first A220 doesn’t arrive until October, so we’ll have to wait to hear more about that. With 80 of them on order — yes, 80 — this is going to likely dwarf the operation that we learned about today.

What’s on sale now is the Breeze that uses really, really cheap airplanes to fly sub-2 hour flights around the US with a low frills product. The idea for this airline came to be for several reasons. First and probably most importantly, David’s other airline Azul had a bunch of Embraer 195s it didn’t want anymore. So it wrote them down, and then David brought them on at Breeze for almost nothing. Breeze them contracted with NAC to lease slightly-smaller unwanted Embraer 190s for cheap as well.

When you combine cheap airplanes with Lukas’s background having run Allegiant’s network previously, you get how this idea blossomed. It’s not an easy road, however. Here’s the initial route map which will be flown by 13 aircraft, ramping up from the first flight on May 27 through July. (And yes, you read that right. It will start flying in 6 days which is not ideal from a booking window perspective, but despite the delays, they stuck with the launch date they wanted.)

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

I hope you’re not looking for a hub, because there isn’t one. This is a spider web of connectivity, though at least initially it’s centered around 4 primary bases: Charleston (SC), New Orleans, Norfolk, and Tampa.

I was expecting to see more in the northeast to start. Instead, the focus is largely rust belt to sun belt. Even what’s in the northeast was more than I had originally been told. There were tweaks since the initial discussion that added one of those two cities you see today.

But the route map only tells a small piece of this story. This is a part-time airline. The initial batch of routes will not operate on Tuesdays or Wednesdays at all and only a couple will fly on Saturday. They’ll just shut the airline down, something that is more doable when your fixed costs (airplanes) are that cheap. Just ask Allegiant.

Of the 39 routes being launched, 33 of them will only fly Thursday/Friday/Sunday/Monday. On Saturdays, only 4 flights will operate. Here are the six routes that don’t fit the regular pattern.

  • New Orleans – Akron/Canton: Thursday, Sunday
  • New Orleans – Columbus: Friday, Monday
  • Tampa – Akron/Canton: Saturday
  • Tampa – Columbus: Saturday
  • Tampa – Oklahoma City: Thursday, Saturday, Sunday
  • Tampa – Tulsa: Friday, Saturday, Monday

This may sound crazy, but this is actually pretty high frequency considering the routes being chosen. And this is where we get into the mythical quest for the Goldilocks zone.

Breeze has smaller airplanes than everyone else in the “low cost” game. The Embraer 190s have 108 seats while the Embraer 195s have 118. When I spoke with David, he kept talking about how Breeze will have the lowest trip costs of anyone, 25 percent lower than on an Airbus or Boeing narrowbody. The problem is that he’ll also have a lot fewer seats so, as Lukas admitted, their unit costs will be higher than competitors. So, Breeze needs to find the right route for this model to work.

If a route is too small, even Breeze’s smaller airplanes won’t work. But if a route is too big, well, then Allegiant, Frontier, Southwest, Spirit, or Sun Country will swoop in with lower unit costs and sell all those extra seats. Breeze can still hope to win with a frequency advantage. The smallest airplane Allegiant has holds 156 seats. Spirit has a handful with 145 but most are way bigger. And Frontier has nothing lower than 180. So, maybe Breeze can find markets that are big enough for the others, but the others will have to fly it a couple times a week while Breeze can do more. Maybe. Nobody ever said that the incumbents couldn’t fly stupid routes just to put pressure on the new airline.

For the pure leisure traveler, frequency may not matter as much, but Lukas says that visiting friends and relatives (VFR) traffic is a big part of the plan. And if you can cut your visit with your family just a little bit shorter, that might be a selling point for some. Lukas expects some small business travelers as well, when convenient. In short, if the schedule matters, Breeze can likely get a leg up on others by having more flights during the week.

It’s also possible Breeze could try to win on product, but this isn’t just a JetBlue clone in that department. The cheap seats are called “Nice” class and have 29 inches of seat pitch on the 190s with 31 inches on the 195s. Nice fares are fully unbundled. Carry-ons and checked bags aren’t included, there is no food/drink, and seat assignments are extra. There is also a frequent flier “BreezePoints” program which appears to be a cash-back style offer. You book this fare and you get 2% back to spend in the future.

The “Nicer” fare sits in extra legroom seats (starting at 33 inch seat pitch on the 190 and 34 inches on the 195). It also includes a carry on, checked bag, and an advanced seat assignment. You also get 4% back in BreezePoints and a drink and a snack.

These classes are kind of curious to me since I tend to fall in between. I may not care about a checked bag or legroom, but I do want a carry-on. I do know that I can pay $20 each way to get either a carry-on or a checked bag on that fare, and if I want a seat assignment that’ll start at $10, so the extras can add up quickly. (Families with kids, by the way, get seat assignments for free.) The spread between the fare classes will make or break this structure, but I obviously wasn’t privy to that detail in advance.

Since this is a David Neeleman airline, there will be fast growth, but we don’t know what that means yet. Lukas tells me future growth will be both from these existing bases where they see plenty of opportunity and in new bases around the country. They aren’t talking about any plans with the Embraer fleet, but they do say that they will keep growing. I couldn’t get Lukas to commit to the Embraers making their way out west or not. But the A220s will when they show up. Then again, that seems like a totally different airline from the bits and pieces I’ve gleaned.

I’ll admit that I struggle with this idea. A route that’s truly successful will likely be invaded by others, and that means there’s a fairly narrow band of routes that might work, at least for the Embraer airline. But hey, this is David Neeleman. His many successes have certainly earned him the benefit of the doubt once again, and after so many times proving people wrong, it’s really hard to consider betting against him. Let’s see if lightning can strike again or if his luck has finally run out.

28 comments on “Breeze Officially Launches Its Quest to Find the Goldilocks Zone

  1. This sounds crazy to me & this is coming from a JetBlue fan. So maybe I shouldn’t judge as David has already proven himself.

  2. Breeze’s problem is that they want it all ways. they want routes that are too small to attract serious competition, and airports where costs are low, but they also talk as if they’re the new Pan-Am.

    If they show imagination and courage in tweaking routes, airplane size and frequency to keep maximum capacity utilization, they’re in with a chance.

    But so far, they’ve been talking as if this is virgin territory that no-one has even looked at before – they have, and decided there was no profit to be made before striking elsewhere. 39 mostly part-time oft-rejected routes, weaving among hundreds of proven, successful routes seems a big gamble to me.

  3. This looks like a complete mess. The routes remind me of Via, just throw darts at a map on the wall and pick some.

    And the 220s seem like something for a completely different airline. Makes me think of United and Ted or something. Don’t see how it’s going to work.

  4. CF – Does this sound too complicated for a start-up airline? Especially when both “airlines” come online, it seems like A LOT of logistics.

    1. Jdjohn – It’s quite the spiderweb of a network, but David has never been afraid of doing things in a more complex way. I guess we’ll see.

  5. There are a lot of underserved routes out there, so the concept is sound. It’s the execution that’s hard to do. If anyone can pull it off, it’s Neeleman. With respect to the “two airline” model, I would imagine it takes shape in such a manner that the A220’s ply longer and potentially larger (but still thin) routes with the Embraer network nested within that. This is where you may see routes like Indianapolis-San Diego or Portland-Milwaukee or Louisville-SFO. The product will be similar, only no first class available on the Embraer routes.

    Yep, it’s a gamble – moreso on the A220 routes, which could be big flops if chosen wrong. But, this guy seems to know what he’s doing so we shall see.

  6. David Neeleman has consistently proven he can stimulate travel. I believe he will succeed…..again…..in the long run.

  7. Considering I’ve dinged Cranky in the past for not paying enough attention to the Southeast – particularly my home CHS – I feel obligated to comment on this one, even though there’s… oddly not that much to talk about considering they just nearly doubled CHS’s non-stop destinations. My initial take away is that Breeze is taking on the world, at least in the CHS market:

    – New Orleans is kinda a missing Southwest destination for us right now. We’ve got HOU, DAL, BNA, and STL, but getting between CHS and MSY is kinda a black hole. There’s decent demand between the two but its a little too long to drive for a weekend trip (which there’s a decent market for) and every major carrier requires a connection / has annoyingly high fares. I think this will work especially given the Th/Fr/Su/Mo schedule but not sure its enough to sustain an airline.

    – SDF / CAK / CMH / PIT appear to be in direct competition with Allegiant, but while Allegiant pretty much exclusively caters to rust-belters wanting a beach weekend and/or shipping out on a Carnival cruise, Breeze’s times seem to be more geared toward Charleston originating traffic VFR back in the rust-belt (ask any Charlestonian and they’ll tell you how many transplants we’ve gotten from these cities recently). In fact, they might be able to fill planes pretty well in both directions if they approach the 2 markets correctly – obviously it probably helps the VFR market that Breeze will be using the name-brand airport in each of these cities too. RIC has a lot of VFR from here too.

    – PVD & BDL I actually like the most of all. Everyone and their brother flies from CHS-NYC & BOS, but the rest of New England is kinda a black hole for us (expensive & requires a connection) even though there’s a good bit of both VFR & tourist traffic. I bet they can pick up a good chunk of the market that doesn’t want to drive to one of the big cities… which brings me to my favorite part of all of this… these two actually feel like a very small skrimish with, wait for it… Avelo.

    – Huntsville & Norfolk are kinda my headscratchers here. They’re not that far of a drive, not a ton of VFR or tourists (except maybe HSV –> CHS beach seekers). If two routes don’t survive the summer, my guess is its these (although fun fact: a ton of airlines used to serve CHS-ORF prior to 1995 when both cities had large Navy bases… the more you know). Tampa kinda falls in this category too, but I’m slightly less skeptical because Florida can just be an eternal source of demand that defies logic.

    Thanks for coming to my Ted talk, and thanks for giving CHS some space on the blog, Cranky!

    1. One more thought on the pricing – after poking around their booking page this morning, it looks like most “nicer” fares are $45 above the “nice” fares. A carry-on and a seat assignment are $30 as add-ons to “nice”, so basically for $15 more than that you get double the points, more leg room, a checked bag, early boarding, snacks/drinks, etc. Definitely worth it to just get the “nicer”, IMO.

    2. Regarding CHS-ORF, CHS still has the NAVWAR presence at the Joint Base, so that will likely drive a fair amount of traffic up to ORF. Government travelers won’t be able to take advantage of the flight unless Breeze decides to get into GSA’s City Pair program, however contractors could potentially take advantage of it.

      With both CHS and ORF functioning as focus cities, the route could also be needed to reposition aircraft.

  8. You are forgetting one of the big big differences. Even with the cheapest fare there are no cancellation or change fees. And you have 24 months to use the banked dollars from a cancelled flight. Can cancel up to 15 minutes before a flight. THAT IS HUGE. The legacy airlines that may have tried some of these routes in years past with regional jets had ridiculous change / cancel fees. And now with airlines starting to reinstate cancel / change fees to basic economy it could be a reason for people to look at Breeze.

    1. Taking a page from Avelo, which has the same policy… (Avelo, of course, took the same page from Southwest…).

    2. Tom – No cancel/change fees would have been huge a year ago. But now only ULCCs have those fees, excluding Avelo. It’s just not the differentiator it used to be.

  9. I’m excited to see if this works. Also happy to see my former home airport PIT get some love. I would also be curious to see if airports like YNG, ERI, and CRW get added in the future.

    1. Those were the kinds of airports I expected to see along with TOL, ABE, FNT, not PIT and CMH. Their route map is filled with WN stations, not Allegiant stations. I’m very surprised.

  10. Is there an opportunity for a “fly to the most Breeze airports in the day without touching the same one” run?

  11. 29 inches of seat pitch doesn’t sound that “Nice” to me, and I’m not that tall.

    We could use more competition, although so far I don’t see any routes from Tampa I’m interested in. It’ll be interesting to see where they go from here,

  12. Well, color me disappointed that they’re not touching PWM (Portland, Maine) or BGR (Bangor, Maine – where it would have almost no competition). It would be exciting to see how these might work to cities like PIT (airport shopping, anybody?), CLE (the heart of rock n roll). or IND (leaf peepers, come one, come all). Routes touching either of these airports wouldn’t need high frequency to succeed, because it is probably VFR that will be the driver due to the Maine Diaspora.

    It’s nice to dream that someday we will be able to go anywhere other than the hub cities.

    1. Well, you can connect to other places in those hub cities, being that they’re…well, hubs.

      All silly remarks aside. though, you have a fair point. But they’re starting with 13 aircraft and there’s only so many cities you can serve with 13 planes, even on a LTD basis.

      And Allegiant already flies to Orlando, St. Pete-Clearwater, and (seasonally) Ft. Lauderdale, so Bangorians (?) can escape the cold and the snow and the rampaging elk (or is it moose? Or does Maine have both? Is there a difference?)

      More silly remarks aside, I do hope Breeze starts flights to Maine, it’s a beautiful place and I’d like to visit at some point in the summer when I get tired of Tampa’s ridiculous humidity and just want to go to the airport and go somewhere and not sweat for a few days.

  13. A few observations:

    Breeze’s route map is reminiscent of Southwest’s of the 1980s. So it’s not like that part of the business model is unproven.

    Allegiant and some of the legacies have shown that routes don’t necessarily have to be flown at the same levels every day of the week to be successful.

    One advantage of starting with a fairly large route network is that entrenched competitors are less likely to dump “stupid” capacity on all of the routes.

    I’m guessing both the business plan and route network will be modified over time. Finding the right market niche, the “Holy Grail”, the “Goldilocks Zone” is an ongoing process with all businesses.

    One of the important factors in unit costs is the cost of acquiring the units.

    It seems that the A220 is the darling of the aviation enthusiast community, but the E-Jet is also a pretty decent aircraft. It’s not quite as awful as the word “cheap” suggests. Since Mr. Neeleman knows the E-Jets from personal experience, he must feel they can do the job safely and economically.

    It’ll be interesting to see how all of this evolves.

  14. The two top destination requests for XNA when surveyed have been TPA and MSY. If Allegiant can fly VPS 4x weekly in the summer…..
    SAT was the wildcard especially with Allegiant’s AUS service. I can see more Florida routes for XNA, FLL and MCO come to mind.

    I expect Memphis being linked up to some of those bases in the next big round especially with A223s to the west coast.

  15. I really expected to see more tertiary and underutilized airports, especially in the Embraer phase of the startup like Avelo is doing in New Haven.

    Many possibilities came to mind, particularly (and selfishly) St Augustine/UST which reportedly had high load factors with much larger planes from Frontier and SkyBus (remember them?!), and other airports like this. After all, Allegiant opened up Punta Gorda, Orlando/Sanford and St Petersburg to name a few.

    This seems, well, uninspired. My first thought was that CHS and ORF look like the East coast versions of ONT when ExpressJet tried to make a solo go of it which, I believe, was a relatively spectacular failure.

    I’m suddenly more interested in Avelo after reading this which surprises the hell out of me.

  16. I would not be again Neeleman, but the term “wants to have it all” seems appropriate here. This airlines feels like a tweener.

  17. Great website, it doesn’t even give correct info.

    MSY-OKC 0700am 0845am / look at flight details and it shows 0500am 0645am

    OKC-MSY 105pm 240pm / look at flight details and it shows 1105am 1240pm

    Seems it will be a mystery which times are correct.
    Guess they have a few bugs to work out still.

  18. Might do a quick weekend trip to XNA to try out Breeze’s product once the route opens. Allegiant there from AUS, then Breeze back into SAT. Will be my first time flying both airlines, and my first time you hung SAT since either 2011 or 2012.

    Flight pricing looks comparable to Allegiant, but I’d rather fly on an E90 than a 319.

  19. There’s going to be embedded seatback IFE on the Airbus A220-300s?

    If so, that’s big change/“reveal” from published reports seen to date that quoted David Neeleman as saying that unlike JetBlue, Breeze will NOT have embedded seatback IFE – but in the future the airline WILL offer entertainment options via streaming to one’s own personal device.

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