Breeze Cuts Frequencies, Extends Block Times in Bid to Improve Its Fortunes


Today’s post is sponsored by Head to The Airchive for all sorts of avgeekiness including photos and content on airplanes, airlines, airports, timetables, route maps, and more. Today’s topic of discussion, Breeze, may not be covered yet but it will be coming. In the meantime, I do recommend reading this article on CNN written by The Airchive’s founder Chris Sloan about the now-abandoned terminal at New Orleans, one of Breeze’s first bases.

When Breeze launched in May, it started flying VERY quickly after it began selling tickets because it wanted to capture the summer rush. Now, it is changing things up as it tries to fix things operationally and commercially. I pulled apart the schedule to get a better understand of exactly what is changing.

Breeze is largely a four-day-a-week airline. It has no flights on Tuesday/Wednesday, and it has very few on Saturday. Those days were not impacted in these changes. The changes this week hit 13 of the 30 routes that were originally scheduled to fly Thursday/Friday/Sunday/Monday. Those 13 will now operate only 2 of those 4 days. Here’s how the network moves:

Breeze route map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.
Red: canceled Thu/Sun, will only operate Fri/Mon
Orange: canceled Fri/Mon, will only operate Thu/Sun
Green: continues to operate 4x weekly
Gray: unchanged markets that operate on an alternate schedule

This is quite the thinning out of the operation, but there’s more to it than that. Breeze is also extending the block times on nearly all its flights.

Thursday/Sunday Changes

Let’s start with Thursday/Sunday where 5 routes will not operate any longer. I’m pulling this chart in from this week’s Cranky Network Weekly to illustrate what I’m talking about.

Chart via Cranky Network Weekly

In the top half of the image, you see an example of an aircraft that has no route changes, but simply extends the block time on each flight by 5 minutes. With so many flights scheduled on an airplane each day, those 5 minute increments add up. That top aircraft starts the day at 7am as it did before, but it now won’t end until 10:55pm whereas before it was done at 9:50pm. It works the other way too. There is one aircraft that used to start the day off in New Orleans at 7am. It now starts at 6am so it can still finish at 10:55pm as planned.

The bottom half of the chart shows how Breeze has consolidated airplanes. The new schedule has it down from scheduling 11 airplanes down to 10. One aircraft now has canceled the morning roundtrip to Richmond (cxl #1), creating a morning spare in Charleston. It then also canceled the evening roundtrip from Charleston to Columbus (cxl #2) so that it could absorb the Pittsburgh – Hartford roundtrip that used to operate off a Norfolk-based airplane. That Norfolk-based airplane will no longer fly to Pittsburgh (cxl #3), and in fact, it’s no longer in the schedule at all.

There’s a New Orleans-based airplane that used to start the day flying to Tulsa, on to San Antonio, and then back before doing a Norfolk turn. Now it will still go to Tulsa but it now sits around for hours waiting to just come back to New Orleans instead of flying to San Antonio (cxl #4). It also has a longer sit in New Orleans before going to Norfolk.

Finally on Thursday/Sunday, one Charleston-based aircraft will not fly the morning roundtrip to Louisville (cxl #5). It will remain a spare in the morning until it flies in the afternoon.

Friday/Sunday Changes

On Friday and Sunday, the cuts are deeper, but overall we again just see Breeze reduce from scheduling 11 aircraft to 10. The schedule is just thinned out further with 8 routes going away. Let’s see if I can rattle these off:

  1. Norfolk – Columbus will not operate. That airplane used to do an inside turn from Columbus to Hartford, but that flight is now moved to operate off a Charleston-based aircraft.
  2. Norfolk – Charleston will not operate either. The only remaining flight on this aircraft — a roundtrip from Norfolk to Hartford — will now be moved to a different airplane that used to only fly in the evenings from Norfolk to Pittsburgh, on to Hartford, and back. Those flights have been moved up to morning flights, to make room for the Norfolk-Hartford roundtrip at the end of the day. This removes one aircraft from the system.
  3. One aircraft used to fly New Orleans – Oklahoma City – San Antonio and back in the mornings. It will now not depart until 10:35am, leaving a morning spare, and will just go to Oklahoma City and come back.
  4. That same airplane used to use its afternoons to go New Orleans – Northwest Arkansas – San Antonio and back. Again, San Antonio is gone, but this time the airplane just sits around Northwest Arkansas for awhile.
  5. A Tampa-based airplane used to start the day off with a Huntsville roundtrip. That’s gone, and it will remain a spare until 12:30pm when it resumes its normal flying.
  6. A Charleston-based aircraft spent its afternoons going to Pittsburgh roundtrip and then Columbus roundtrip. The Pittsburgh roundtrip is gone. Instead the Columbus flight is moved up earlier, then the airplane goes on to Hartford (from point 1 above) and comes back.
  7. Another Charleston-based airplane used to start the day flying to Huntsville and then on to New Orleans and back before doing an evening Charleston – Providence roundtrip. Those Huntsville flights are gone (that’s route number 7 and 8 if you’re counting), leaving only the evening Providence roundtrip and remaining a spare the rest of the day.

What Does This Mean?

David Neeleman loves to grow quickly, so this is something of a surprise to see the airline take a step back. But is it for commercial or operational reasons? What exactly is going on here?

I reached out to the airline and was told this by spokesperson Gareth Edmondson-Jones:

… it’s also been a challenging summer with weather and delays and, as you recall, we had a very short sales window so while the flights are doing well, they are not full.  The decision was made to reduce the 4x frequencies to 2x to have a full time spare aircraft for those occurrences and give the airline more time to build sales.  

Alright, so what we have here is a mix of both. There are operational issues, and that was easy to see since the airline extended block times by 5 minutes nearly across the board. This new schedule also creates a whole lot more spare aircraft time. I don’t have current on-time performance or completion factor for the airline, but it must not have been good for them to make these changes and build in this much slack.

At the same time, having decided they were going to cut back operationally, they had to make a conscious decision about which routes to cut. That part must be a commercial decision. If we look at the map, it’s pretty clear what stands out. Huntsville and San Antonio are the big losers here with service being cut in half… all three of their routes from each city will operate 2x weekly instead of 4x. Columbus also took a hit, but not the same extent.

This looks a whole lot like an airline that rushed its start and overreached both operationally and commercially. It is now taking a breath and trying to regroup. Maybe this change will right the ship.

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36 comments on “Breeze Cuts Frequencies, Extends Block Times in Bid to Improve Its Fortunes

  1. Clock’s ticking on some of these routes. I must say some of their choices baffle me and make me wonder what their network planning team’s thinking is like. They must have known they’d have a tough go of it on some of these city pairs.

    Take San Antonio. Their nemesis is definitely called American there. Both in San Antonio itself and all the points they currently serve from that airport, AA is strong, with market share in the mid- to high-twenties or higher. DFW is a very good hub on these routes too since it’s right in the middle, so AA gives you multiple daily options with minimum waste of time. And once daily non-tops to Tulsa and Oklahoma City start from Austin in the fall, things are gonna get even worse for Breeze with leakage from the Northern part of the metro.

    And frankly, why did they pick so many routes that are contested? Something else I really don’t understand! Of the 2 start-ups, I feel Avelo has been much smarter in that respect.

    1. Good point, I thought 90% of their routes were going to be uncontested. They might want to consider going back to that model!

      1. The routes *were* uncontested. Existing airlines decided to sit on top of them after seeing Breeze launch routes.

        One difference with Breeze is that they’re hitting some routes (e.g. SAT-TUL/OKC) that Southwest serves on both ends, where Avelo is trying to hit markets so small that Southwest won’t bother…but attempting to fill 189 seats along the way. But Breeze also has some airports in the mix that are big enough to already have a fair amount of commercial air service, but not WN (e.g. XNA)…which at this point should give them some breathing room, as I think WN is done launching new dots on the map for now due to fleet constraints. But at that point the question is where to connect to that isn’t already served, but has enough demand to keep planes reasonably full.

    2. “Contested”?

      Sure, let’s take SAT.

      It’s on the north side of town, so if you’re talking about “Northern part of the metro”, those are the folks who’d go to SAT…they aren’t gonna leak to AUS to pick up a nonstop when one exists in SAT at a comparable-or-better price. Now, I will say that SAT is usually more expensive than AUS for everything except Mexico, but Breeze isn’t pricing its routes like that. Their base fare is comparable SAT-XNA to G4 AUS-XNA, and their premium fare is comparable to what AA will charge in Y on AUS-OKC/TUL. If I had to pick between the two for these particular routes, I’d take Breeze, and I’ve now flown both.

      This is doubly true for flights as short as Breeze is running; SAT-XNA is 70-75 minutes in the air (flew XNA-SAT yesterday). A non-connecting itinerary takes less than half the time of a connecting one, with no risk of being snarled in Doesn’t Function Wet. This isn’t enough to make someone drive down from Austin (no, SAT and AUS do *not* act like coterminals in most cases), but the route needs to stand on its own anyway.

      As for “contested” routes, when MX announced these routes they didn’t have competition on any of them. There have been competitive adds since then, particularly in cases where WN already served both points on the map, but those responses are turf defense more than anything else I’m sure; the route didn’t suddenly become viable for 143+ passengers on a daily schedule. WN will lose more money on a given route than Breeze will when both compete.

      Funny you mention Avelo BTW. Cranky posted that Avelo did significant changes of their own to their schedule recently, as AS etc. hopped in to compete. Thing with Avelo is, they have 189 seats to fill rather than 108, so their job is harder than Breeze’s IMO on a per-route basis (Breeze may have a harder go of it due to more routes).

        1. You mean you’ve never flown out of “Always Thunder & Lightning” during the summer? :-)

          Or, “Often Really Delayed”? Or, “Sometimes Fogged Out”? Or, “It’s Always Humid”? Or, “Mostly Snow & Precipitation” during the winter? Or received a package that was transported on the “Delayed, Hijacked, & Lost” cargo airline?

          Sorry, hard to stop once I get going.

      1. Those were 2 different points, hence them being separated by “and”.

        About the amount of competition in Breeze’s network, several airports (TPA, PIT, CMH on top of my head) have a MAJORITY of routes facing competition, sometimes by more than one carrier. So much so for their stated goal of adding connectivity to underserved markets. Avelo, by comparison, wasn’t facing ANY direct competition on any route at time of announcement, and only one attracted retaliation (STS).

        As for San Antonio, “they aren’t gonna leak to AUS to pick up a nonstop when one exists in SAT at a comparable-or-better price”? AA will offer a daily flight out of Austin compared to 2 weekly with Breeze out of SAT. You bet there’ll be leakage from places like San Marcos or even New Braunfels, and from people who value convenience over price. AA also will give multiple daily options through DFW out of SAT itself. And given the strength of AA loyalty in the market, bear in mind a disproportionately high number of folks won’t even consider Breeze, whatever the price or frequency. Same story at the other end, where AA is a top 2 carrier with a large market share in OKC, TUL, and XNA.

      2. Maybe not in San Antonio, but in other markets there was already competition. Take my hometown of Louisville. MX announced Louisville to Tampa, Charleston, and New Orleans. Louisville-Tampa has been served for over 20 years nonstop on Southwest. Allegiant started seasonal service to Charleston this summer, and had been selling the route for several months before Breeze came in and announced the route one week before it started. Allegiant has also served SDF-New Orleans for several seasons, but not in the summer because New Orleans is terrible in the summer. Alas, all the routes in Louisville either had or were going to have service.

  2. I read that article on CNN weeks ago but didn’t realize it was from the Airchive guy. Very cool.

    I’ve flown into the new MSY and it is gorgeous. However every local I talked to (probably at least half a dozen) bemoaned its cost and said the old airport was fine. Funny the difference in perspective, locals vs avgeeks!

    1. If you think locals believe MSY was fine & the new terminal costs too much, talk to NYers about the new LGA & it’s costs even though they hate the old terminals as much as outsiders do.

      1. I’ve never met a New Yorker who cares (or even knows) about the cost of the new LGA terminals. I personally think the Port Authority is ludicrously wasteful in their spending, but everyone I know just loves the new buildings. The main complaints are about the traffic from the construction, not the cost.

        1. New Yorkers are so sick of the sheer awfulness of LGA that they’re just thankful to see the awfulness go and hang the cost.

          But as soon as the shininess and the novelty of being able to buy an overpriced Shake Shack burger* wear off, the PANYNJ will let the shiny buildings go to crap. And it’s a PITA to get to on public transportation…and I’ll bet you an overpriced Shake Shack burger that the AirTrain LGA either never gets built or takes decades to build.

          Let’s face it, LGA will always suck in one way or another, it’s only that JFK and EWR suck too and at least LGA is close.

          I’m still convinced NYC needs a new airport…don’t think of it as “Staten Island”, think of it as “a wasteland that can become the world’s greatest airport!” :-)

          1. I’m convinced that the local politics in NYC are such that LGA won’t have a direct/easy subway connection for many decades, perhaps because the taxi lobby (now “Uber lobby”) is too powerful, or because of the expense & NIMBY arguments against adding a few miles of track.

            I tried to get to LGA using public transit 7 or 8 years ago (using an “express” bus in Manhattan), and it was a royal pain and a “never again” experience (paid for a taxi on the way home) in terms of time, headache, and sketchiness.

            In contrast, places like SFO and ORD have train stations at the airport that whisk people downtown frequently & often more quickly than a taxi/car/Uber could (given traffic on the roads). Some of those airport stations even charge a substantial “airport premium” compared to journeys that start/end at nearby stations on the same line, which I personally have no problem with paying, especially if it supports more frequent express service from the airport to downtown

  3. A few observations from living in Charleston and flying out of CHS several times since Breeze’s launch:

    – Their marketing is shockingly weak. For a new airline, in a city they’re trying to make a focus city (something that has never been done here and should be a BFD), I’m stunned at how little awareness there is that this airline exists. You can walk through both concourses of the terminal and never see Breeze’s name anywhere (I noticed one of the scrolling digital ads for the airport had video of Neeleman at the ribbon cutting, but only the most serious AvGeeks would have recognized what it was about). They’re currently sharing gate space with our cats & dogs, so they don’t even get signage at check-in desks, etc. Really amazing to me that you can drive to the airport, park, and walk to any gate without seeing a single billboard, banner ad, column wrap, etc.

    – Doesn’t shock me at all that HSV and ORF got the axe. There are strong VFR & tourist markets in New England and the Rust Belt from here, but that Huntsville route especially felt like a major reach. Very curious what motivated that in the first place (connecting two cities with an aerospace industry, maybe??).

    – I’ve got Breeze CHS-MSY tickets in November to catch a Saints game. Will I get my money back if they’re not flying then?

    1. Same here in Tampa – I haven’t been to the airport lately (my budget still hasn’t recovered from the pandemic), but I haven’t seen any significant local marketing presence. None of my friends, family, or co-workers have even heard of them (and being a avgeek, I’ve asked).

    2. At SAT they do have signage indicating where to drop off, but that’s due to the double-terminal design I believe.

      Otherwise, I didn’t see advertising either at XNA or at SAT.

      With that said, press is a lot cheaper than visual ads, and Allegiant/Frontier don’t advertise heavily either. My guess is that Breeze is leaning on press, plus showing up in Google Flights, to get people on planes. Whether that works is TBD.

      I will say that in-airport advertising is probably not what they want to do though, as in almost every case Breeze won’t be going where someone wants to go (because those routes already have point-to-point service from someone else). And frequent travelers will figure out about Breeze’s existence on their own if they aren’t loyal to a specific airline.

      1. I’d argue the opposite (although I think its an interesting debate). In-airport and general awareness advertising (billboards on the interstate, ads in the paper, facebook placements, etc.) matter more for an airline like MX who is trying to stimulate demand and serving secondary airports/markets.

        Flyers looking for a New England summer getaway won’t stumble across Breeze in an OTA if they search CHS-BOS. They’ve gotta know to search CHS-PVD or BDL, which I’m sure are much less common searches and result in many fewer folks stumbling across your airline.

        Likewise, for traffic inbound to tourist destinations (CHS, MSY, etc.). The family of 4 in Akron has to know the cheap flight to the tourist destination exists for them to begin planning a vacation around it.

        I don’t mean to be too down on the airline though. Obviously its their first couple weeks and these are very normal growing pains (especially given the 1 week announcement-to-launch timeframe). I’m rooting for them and certainly not writing them off yet!

    3. > – I’ve got Breeze CHS-MSY tickets in November to catch a Saints game. Will I get my money back if they’re not flying then?

      If you don’t get it back from Breeze themselves I believe you’ll be able to fine a claim against the credit card company that you paid for the ticket with, and get your money back that way… Your CC may also offer other travel coverage as well.

    4. Flying from CHS to both RIC and ORF seemed ridiculous from the start. Maybe it was a steel cage death match, winner gets to keep their service, loser has to drive the whopping 87 miles between the two airports.

    5. I was reading a post on the other day from a guy who appears to work for Breeze. Apparently, there is 0 marketing budget beyond the incentives they received from some airports. OKC and SDF, for example, have relatively low bar subsidies available, generally for new airlines and/or unserved markets. The way this works is the cash is deposited with a pre-determined agency and spent locally, so there may have been some limited advertising in some markets, but that’s about it.

      1. Interesting that you bring that up. I live in SDF and have seen some 15 second Breeze ad buys during local news. Very basic: the name, destinations, price, website. I wondered who was paying for it given that it looks like it was put together by a high school media intern.

  4. It is unwise to discount Mr. Neeleman. Let’s see how the financials look. Removing/adding service is to be expected, especially given the sheer quantity of markets at start-up. They will pare the losers and focus on the winners. To do otherwise would be fiduciary malfeasance. My big question mark is the Allegiant-style “two days a week” service. Allegiant succeeds in part because it gains revenue from car rentals and accomodations. They are a TRAVEL company. So far, Breeze is an AIRLINE and the jury is still out on whether 2-day per week service is going to cut it. It will get even more interesting when the A-220s enter service. There is a lot of aviation venture capital closely monitoring Breeze’s model. Let’s see what happens.

    1. This is what I came here to say — how many airline founders have started four (four! Morris, Westjet, JetBlue and Azul) successful airlines? One — Neeleman. So Neeleman can get all the cash he needs for this. And his track record isn’t one-trick-pony, he went into big but underserved markets with Jetblue, put buses and ATRs into Brazil, and is trying a new strategy here. If he needs to sell more hotels and cars and pour some money into, he’ll figure that out and do it.

      1. I have grest respect and admiration for Mr. Neeleman, but I just took a look at my local market here in Tampa, and some of their routes have quite a bit of competition.

        Columbus has service to TPA on Southwest and to both PIE and SRQ on Allegiant year-round (out of Rickenbacker), plus seasonal service to TPA on Spirit. Louisville has year-round service to TPA on AA and WN, with NK starting just in time for snowbird season (11/18), and service to PIE year-round and SRQ seasonally on Allegiant. And four more snowbird markets have G4 service to PIE: XNA and Norfolk year-round, RIC and TUL seasonally.

        And that’s just counting non-stop service, the Big 4 also have vast connecting opportunities from TPA, and a solid number out of SRQ as well, especially with WN having ramped SRQ up significantly.

        If Breeze can’t really compete for business travelers because of their infrequent schedules and faces entrenched competition from Allegiant for the LTD/package market, I don’t see how they fit in, especially since IIRC they’re offering multiple classes, or at least will on the A220s?

  5. It is unwise to discount Mr. Neeleman. Let’s see how the financials look. Removing/adding service is to be expected, especially given the sheer quantity of markets at start-up. They will pare the losers and focus on the winners. To do otherwise would be fiduciary malfeasance. My big question mark is the Allegiant-style “two days a week” service. Allegiant succeeds in part because it gains revenue from car rentals and accomodations. They are a TRAVEL company. So far, Breeze is an AIRLINE and the jury is still out on whether 2-day per week service is going to cut it. It will get even more interesting when the A-220s enter service. There is a lot of aviation venture capital closely monitoring Breeze’s model. Let’s see what happens.

  6. CF…..Can you please delete my duplicate post and this one as well? Sorry, my bad. Thank you.

  7. Neeleman may be good, but he’s not invincible. His recent foray into Europe with HNA was anything but stellar. Aigle Azur went bust and TAP was sold back to the Portuguese state.

    1. Correct.

      Aigle Azur should have remained on its France-Algeria market.

      Since the demise of Aigle Azur, lots of French people with Algerian roots in their family are higly suffering to find seats to go to Algeria, even before the pandemic.

      Some consequences are higly disastraous for the life of some travellers. This is to say that sometimes airlines play another role than just being a “business”.

      1. It was an interesting strategy though, trying to leverage synergies with Neeleman’s other investments in TAP and Azul, as well as HNA’s global empire. In the end, Aigle Azur was probably too small and too much of a niche carrier, the long haul flights to Brazil were over-ambitious, and of course, the fact that HNA was already not in the best of health didn’t help either.

  8. Flew XNA-SAT yesterday, along with maybe 35 other people on an E90. Family flew up in the opposite direction on Friday with maybe 30 on the plane. One interesting note is that for the E90s fully 48 out of the aircraft’s 108 seats are extra-legroom, so on the way back all five of us had plenty of legroom (33″ in a no-IFE slimline seat is plenty, and the seats were actually reasonably padded unlike the typical ULCC ones). We ended up spreading out a bit so e.g. I could recline into air rather than a 29″ pitch seat behind me.

    The 2x weekly G4 flight out of AUS (which has reversed aircraft routing so leaves earlier and gets back later, since AUS is the base for G4 rather than MSY for MX) was fuller, on a 320. Both flights started within a few weeks of each other (AUS-XNA started July 2nd). Guessing Breeze and Allegiant both got similar deals from XNA, then connected the appropriate dots on the map.

    The (ex-NK at ACY) FA doing the safety demo at the exit row said she had actually crewed a nearly full flight (three seats available I think?) a few days prior, so there’s demand in the Breeze network *somewhere* (side note: apparently the MX refit hangar is at ISP). Just going to take a bit for that to stabilize. IMO the hard product on E90s is solid for the stage length expected, and from what I hear the E95s are likewise good. Even without WiFi (which other ULCCs don’t have either, at least for now).

    The tricky part here is going to be when the A220s show up. Assuming they’ll have 145 seats or so in a two-class configuration, so they’ll have to figure out places where Southwest won’t plop down a 737-700, or AA/DL/UA won’t throw an A319, but still has the capacity to fill a plane like that at least a couple times per week. My gut says this would be on long, thin routes that don’t touch a legacy hub and aren’t likely to get Spirit hopping in.

    Now, selfishly, I’d say Breeze running a SAT-DAL-HOU triangle route on E90s would be super entertaining…and they could probably do it cheaply enough that WN/AA/UA would have to let them be…but I know that’ll never happen.

  9. Grand opening… grand closing…

    Sure seems like people start up these niche airlines with 737’s With hopes of getting just big enough that Southwest will buy them for a nice profit

    1. Breeze doesn’t fly 737s though. They’re E90/E95 now, A220-300 later.

      So if they fold it’ll be Delta and JetBlue buying their (non-Embraer) aircraft, not Southwest.

  10. I would like to see them come to Lansing, Michigan. No real competition for them here on the routes they fly, the only route from Lansing that makes any sense is Tampa.

    1. LAN is an interesting market. It obviously depends on where in the Lansing metro area one is departing from, but roughly speaking, DTW is 75 minutes away (with some traffic risk). GRR is an hour away (with almost no traffic risk, as GRR is on the far east side of the Grand Rapids metro) and Flint is 45 minutes away.

      That’s not to say that there isn’t demand in Lansing, but rather to suggest that leisure routes operating out of LAN aren’t just competing against other flights from LAN, but also against flights from the other major airports in the state.

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