Remember to watch the Cranky Network Awards TONIGHT at 7:30pm MT. Streaming live at this link.
Since Breeze began, it has focused its aircraft on primarily flying routes that have no or very limited competition. Last week, the airline rolled out more than 20 new routes, some of which have pretty heavy competition. This would appear to be a change of direction for the airline, and I wanted to look at it in more detail.
This week’s announcement was wide-ranging, including a new airport addition to the network in Portland (Maine), a variety of short-haul flights, and a trio of long-haul flights which were what raised the red flag for me.
Though Breeze started off with short-haul flying on its Embraer 190/195s, it was originally envisioned for A220 flying. The low-capacity, super-efficient, long-range airplane was supposed to open up a variety of routes that just wouldn’t work on other airlines with other aircraft. Since first launching long-haul in Charleston – San Francisco during May of 2022, it has now tried 30 routes of more than 1,500 miles.
Breeze Routes > 1,500 miles
Of the 30 routes of 1,500 miles or more that Breeze has tried, 25 are still flying (or will be when they start in May). Charleston has done the worst, losing Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and that early San Francisco route. But that’s not really the point. What is the point is looking at the competitive dynamics in the routes the airline has tried.
Of those 30 routes, a whopping four have competition today, though one of those has already been abandoned by Breeze. Another three have had competition in the past but are now gone. The competition details are:
- Las Vegas – Hartford has 1x daily on Frontier (had JetBlue until April 2022)
- Las Vegas – Richmond had JetBlue service until Oct 2021
- Los Angeles – Charleston has up to 1x daily on JetBlue, Breeze left this market last month
- Los Angeles – Jacksonville had sub-daily service on JetBlue until last month
- Los Angeles – New Orleans has up to 3x daily on Delta along with 1x daily on both Southwest and Spirit
- Los Angeles – Raleigh-Durham has up to 2x daily on Delta and 1x daily on American, JetBlue left in April 22
- Los Angeles – Richmond had JetBlue until October 2021
Two of these routes really stand out to me… that’s LA to both New Orleans and Raleigh-Durham. These are large routes with multiple daily flights on multiple airlines. This is not the kind of route that I’d expect to see from Breeze.
The beauty of the A220 is that it can serve longer, thinner routes with great efficiency. This gives Breeze the ability to go into markets that don’t work on most other airlines because they don’t have the smaller airplanes with such capabilities. But neither of these are thin routes.
To RDU, American is flying a 172-seat 737-800 on most days while Delta runs a 180-seat 737-900. In New Orleans, Delta has 160 seat 737-800s, but remember, that’s up to 3 times daily. Spirit uses 182-seat A320/A320neos, and Southwest has a mix of 143-seat 737-700s and 175-seat 737-800/MAX 8s.
Meanwhile, Breeze will just operate 137-seat A220s on this route. At least Breeze has opted for a more dense configuration with only 12 “Nicest” First Class seats or this would look even crazier. But it’s hard to see how that is going to compete with, say, a Spirit A320 on costs.
Perhaps Breeze just thinks fares have gotten too high in these markets and there is an opportunity to bring them down. Or maybe it’s just an operational decision. New Orleans was one of the airline’s first bases while RDU only joined the network this month, but it already has growth plans to have 8 destinations by summer.
This is not utilization flying on an overnight or anything like that. In each case, the flights leave in the morning for LAX, turn around at mid-day, and then get back in the evening. It’s a full day of flying for the airplanes.
It sounds to me like the “long, thin” plan isn’t working as Breeze had hoped. Yes, load factors for longer-haul flights have been better than short-haul ones.
But other than during peak summer, they still haven’t been anything to write home about. Breeze has continued to have trouble finding enough pilots to fully fly its A220 fleet, and these flights take a lot of pilot hours. So it’s telling that Breeze has prioritized these over other routes with less or no competition.
It’s possible Breeze thinks that the skim model is going to work out better. Go into bigger markets that have higher demand and hope you can get some scraps. That wasn’t supposed to be what the A220s were going to do, but maybe it’s the best that Breeze can do right now, at least on those long hauls. That’s not a strategy that works on the long run, so I can’t wait to see if this is a real pivot or if it’s just a temporary blip.