Avelo Airlines, America’s first new airline to launch in the COVID era, took flight Wednesday with a single round-trip between Burbank and Santa Rosa, CA in the wine country.

Avelo’s inaugural flight departed BUR at 10:30 PDT and arrived into STS at 11:55 PDT. The inaugural flight from STS to BUR departs today at 15:55 local time, with a 17:35 scheduled arrival at BUR. The route is served by 189-seat Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Chris Sloan was at the launch event to report.

“Today’s first flight represents far more than a 90-minute journey from LA’s iconic Hollywood Burbank Airport to the Sonoma County Airport in the heart of California wine country — we’re embarking on a new era of choice, convenience and everyday low fares” said Avelo Chairman and CEO Andrew Levy. “Avelo was created to Inspire Travel by making it easier and more affordable to reconnect with family, celebrate with friends and explore new places. We’re excited to play a small part in making these new memories and adventures possible.” 

"We are excited to bring our low fares, caring Soul of Service and convenient experience to Santa Rosa, Sonoma County and the Greater Bay Area" said Levy. “This new route will help stimulate demand to the region and allow travellers to skip Bay Area traffic. They can land in the heart of California's wine country and be on their way to over 425 vineyards and 55 miles of majestic Pacific coastline just a few steps from the gate.”

Reported by aviation journalists Chris Sloan, Avelo’s strategy targets “connecting under-served, high-priced destinations with secondary airports in really large metro areas, more like a Ryanair and EasyJet, or even say a Southwest of 40 years ago in big metro areas avoiding congested airports” says Levy.

Levy points out that there’s O&D traffic existing on both sides of each route; with a lot of emphasis originally on attracting traffic in the Los Angeles Basin to other secondary airports like Mesa/Phoenix, AZ (An Allegiant stronghold) and Ogden, UT (Salt Lake City); there is also considerable traffic from other cities in the west like Arcata/Eureka, CA, Bend/Redmond, OR, Bozeman, MO, Eugene, OR, Grand Junction, CO, Medford, Ore, Pasco, WA, Redding, CA and Santa Rosa, CA.

With low operating costs he estimates at 25 percent below Allegiant; with an initial fleet of three Boeing 737-800s on property, one owned and two leased at rock bottom costs, Levy is leveraging low costs. When asked why use such a large mainline jet on such thin routes, he points to Allegiant as a model “It used to be that small airport, market, right. We kind of busted that idea part at Allegiant by flying big airplanes to small markets”.

The incremental costs of flying the larger jets over smaller RJs are according to Levy “$200/hour extra in fuel burn and an extra flight attendant”. Unlike Allegiant’s variable flying schedule when the airline doesn’t operate on some low demand days, Avelo will be flying every day which makes sense given the small fleet serving 11 stations. Daily aircraft utilization will begin at 5-6 hours per day and climb to 9-10.

With three additional 737-800s due by end of the year, the out and back model will likely be applied to a new secondary airport base later in the year perhaps Wilmington, DE near Philadelphia.

Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Avelo Air

Avelo is heavily marketing itself digitally in its markets and will eventually appear on meta-search platforms, but will not rely on any OTAs or third party platforms for its distribution. Much like Southwest and Allegiant, customers will have to go directly to the website or app to book.

The word “different” is a recurring theme at Avelo, this extends to a customer friendly approach to passenger experience, fees and merchandising ancillaries as well. Unlike other current ULCC’s, the airline won’t charge change fees. The $10 checked bag fee is much lower than any other airline. Levy says that by encouraging customers to check rather than carry, turn times will be reduced but that the overall experience will be better. In true unbundled ULCC fashion, carry-ons will be priced at $35 per bag, priority boarding at $10 and $95 per pet in cabin. Levy seems ancillary opportunities for third-party merchandising of cars, hotels and attractions, along the lines of Allegiant in the future after Avelo is up and running. Levy won’t commit however that Avelo is shooting for 50% of revenue to be from non-ticket ancillary revenue, as it is for established ULCCs. Ancillaries aren’t subject to excise tax which is a net positive in this category.

The onboard experience will be “very simple, basic and unbundled as we'll be flying short-haul flights, averaging under two hours and partly as a response to Covid” Levy says. In a very un-ULCC move, passengers are handed a free sealed package of a bottle of water, a cookie and some hand sanitizers. He expects overtime to sell a limited variety of food and beverage items, but the free water bottle will remain.

More Destinations Take Flight This Week  

On April 29th Avelo will launch a three-times-a-week service between BUR and the Tri-Cities Airport (PSC) in Pasco, Washington. The largest airport in the Southeastern Washington and Northeastern Oregon region, PSC, is situated in the vibrant, sunshine-soaked heart of Washington’s sprawling wine country. Avelo Airlines flight XP 103 departs BUR on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 8:00 arriving in PSC at 10:20; flight XP 104 departs PSC at 11:00 and arrives to BUR at 13:30.  

On April 30th four-times-a-week service will commence between BUR and Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN), the onramp to Big Sky Country and Yellowstone National Park. Avelo Airlines flight XP 105 departs BUR on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 08:00 arriving in BZN at 11:25; flight XP 106 departs BZN at 12:05 arriving in BUR at 13:40. 

Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Avelo Air

By late May, Avelo will provide non-stop service between their initial base at BUR and 11 destinations across the Western US, including Arcata-Eureka, Redding and Santa Rosa, California, Bend-Redmond, Eugene and Medford, Oregon, Bozeman, Montana, Grand Junction, Colorado, Pasco, Washington, Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona and Ogden-Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Report by Chris Sloan