Those of you with long memories may remember the original incarnation. The first PEOPLExpress launched in 1981, from its main base at Newark. It initially flew to just a handful of cities in the Northeast and Midwest, but grew rapidly to reach as far as Florida, the West Coast, London, Brussels and Montreal. Initially, service was all-coach, with just two fares on each route: peak and off-peak. Later, however, it added first-class seats and applied a more complicated "revenue management" fare structure. It was the first U.S. airline to charge for checked baggage and to charge for onboard soft drinks. I flew it twice -- from Newark to Columbus, Ohio early in its life, later on an inexpensive "first-class" trip to London.
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Version two hopes to avoid the mistakes of the earlier namesakes. Its main base will be at Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport in Newport News, Va., (formerly Patrick Henry Airport, and still using the code PHF). The plan is to fly initially to Pittsburgh, Providence, Newark, and West Palm Beach, with Orlando and Boston to come later. The line also intends to fly to "cities abandoned by other carriers," which means it may try to move in on routes abandoned by AirTran as it contracts into Southwest.
Flights will be in all-coach 737-400s, with the usual tight six-abreast seating, and, at 158 passengers, probably with a knee-crunching pitch of just 29 or 30 inches. The fare structure will be "simple," with one-way fares starting at $69. The line will not charge for seat assignments or for the first two checked bags and it will have a frequent-flyer program offering "extreme value."
Pending the usual paperwork, the first flights are programmed for "this coming summer." You can keep up with developments and -- soon -- buy tickets at www.flypex.com.
Will the new version last longer than the original? Obviously, it's far too early to say. But the new line faces tremendous obstacles:
-- The only successful recent startup lines -- Allegiant and Direct Air -- have employed a totally different business model. Both fly to a limited number of major tourist destinations from a bunch of cities too small to support a traditional airline; they fly only two or three times a week, and their profitability depends heavily on making a lot of additional revenue through bundling hotel accommodations and rental cars with their air tickets. PEOPLExpress doesn't seem to be aiming at this niche at all.
-- Established lines generally don't abandon any routes that can support daily frequencies in 158-passenger planes. And they stamp down viciously on any startups that invade their turf by slashing fares and adding flights. Finding routes that will support PEOPLExpress that don't already have service is a pretty tough assignment for any airline planner.
All in all, we can hope that the new PEOPLExpress succeeds. Consumers need as many choices as we can get. But any new airline is a gamble, especially one that appears to have no unique "value proposition."
Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through www.mybusinesstravel.com or www.amazon.com