Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that you’re asked to put together a plan for starting up a new airline. You have to choose a base of operations, a handful of initial routes and an aircraft type to run on those routes. So, what would you choose?? For the base of operations you probably want an airport with a decent sized local population, low operational costs and maybe even a decent location to route connecting passengers through efficiently, especially if the hub doesn’t have a huge local population. For initial routes you’re probably going to want to go after big population areas. After all, more people means more business and a better chance that some might fly with you. And for aircraft you’ll probably want something reasonably comfortable for passengers and reasonably efficient in terms of fuel economy.
Based on those conditions who would choose Melbourne, Florida as the hub? Or Dulles as the initial destination?? Or the Canadair CRJ-200 as the aircraft type???? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
But that’s what Elite Airways has announced. The company runs a charter operation currently, according to their website. And now they’re looking to provide scheduled service, too. Their target market is snowbirds and the Florida cruise port departures, not business travelers. And while regional jets are generally less costly to operate than mainline operations that’s usually because the crew costs are much lower, not because the planes are more efficient. The per-hour fuel burn is lower than on bigger planes but disproportionately higher on a per-seat basis. So if there is actual demand for the service the bigger planes are a lot cheaper to fly on a per passenger basis. And let’s not forget that the CRJ-200 is one of the least comfortable planes to fly on in a typical commercial passenger service layout.
So they’ve got a limited market segment to target, an uncomfortable aircraft to fly and relatively high costs. Oh, and their hub airport is only an hour from Orlando’s international airport, where many other options exist for service.
Good luck…they’re going to need it.
It is rare that I go somewhere again. Sure, there are a few mileage runs where a good enough deal is out there that I buy five at a time. And occasionally I’ll visit a destination again when I feel like I haven’t yet spent enough time there. But those are rare. So you’d think that a destination I’ve been visiting more or less every year since I was 5 wouldn’t be so high on my list. And yet here I am, sitting on the balcony and watching the waves break at Crescent Beach, Florida. And I love it.
No, it isn’t the most popular beach in the world. Not by a long shot. And that’s one of the things which makes it great. Even at the most crowded it is reasonably quiet and relaxing. And while I’ve had a great time on some of the bustling beaches I’ve visited over the years on six continents, this is the one I keep coming back to.
Part of that, I’m sure, is familiarity. Part of it is convenience. And a big part of it is that I think the beach is stunningly beautiful.
But most of it is that I just happen to like this type of beach environment. Getting a couple hours all to myself and watching the sun come up certainly isn’t the worst way I’ve celebrated a birthday.
UPDATED (11:08am EDT 18 July):
JetBlue announced Providence, RI as their newest destination today with service starting November 29, 2012. The carrier will offer three daily departures, two serving Orlando and one serving Fort Lauderdale. The flights are timed to connect onward to additional cities from Orlando. The carrier notes Aguadilla, Puerto Rico; Nassau, Bahamas and Montego Bay, Jamaica as natural connections in their release while the website still lists San Juan, Ponce and Austin as connecting destinations.
The carrier has also announced an introductory fare sale with one-way flights starting at $75.
The schedule for flights is as follows:
Original post below:
In a much anticipated move JetBlue will announce service from Providence, RI today. An official statement is not yet available but the company website has PVD listed as an origin airport and it offers six destinations:
None of the flights are loaded in public timetables yet so it is not entirely clear what the timing or connections will be but a bit of inference and conjecture suggests that the Austin, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale flights will be non-stop service with the Puerto Rico destinations served as connections via Orlando.
An official announcement is expected at 11am EDT.
I make no secret of my love for mass transit systems, particularly when they connect to airports. When I read tales of such systems coming to the USA I’m always a bit skeptical, mostly because so few cities here understand mass transit well. And when I read about such stories in Florida, well, forget about it. And so it was that I came across this piece in the Orlando Sentinel which has left me absolutely dumbfounded.
The gist of the story is that there are a number of rail projects happening in the Orlando area and the main airport there (MCO) wants to be connected to them. That makes all sorts of sense. Sadly, however, things start to fall apart pretty quickly after that. Apparently a private company is looking to build a $1 billion train connection between Miami and Orlando. But in order to connect it to the airport there is the need for a 1 mile monorail segment connecting a station the rail company will build to the main terminal. That one mile apparently will cost $181 million, plus nearly $80 million in other infrastructure improvements. In other words, one mile costs about a quarter of the full Miami-Orlando run. Say what?!?!
The station in Orlando is also supposed to be capable of connecting to SunRail, a local commuter rail system which is currently under construction. SunRail will require a bus to transfer from the closest station a couple miles away into the airport proper. And it also seems that the new rail station is being targeted for the opposite side of the airfield as the SunRail station, despite the suggestion that they will somehow be integrated.
I’m a big fan of mass transit and I’d love to see something like this work out. But the ideas out there right now just don’t make sense. Bad connections, bad station locations and wacky numbers. It just doesn’t add up.
Apparently I didn’t look too closely when I was planning the six-segment trip from Newark to Seattle. Continental apparently didn’t mind too much either, as they let me book a 22 minute connection in Orlando. The good news is that all the Continental gates there are close together. The bad news is that 22 minutes is a very short connection.
Things got a bit worse as we waited in Houston for the flight to Orlando. Our crew was late arriving to the plane. Now our 22 minute connection was shrinking and there wasn’t much we could do about it. The gate agent in Orlando was quite helpful, offering to protect us on a United flight that would catch us back up with our itinerary but that wasn’t nearly as much fun as trying to actually make the connection.
The good news is that we made the connection, even with the delay. The Continental agents were waiting at the gate and knew that we were on the inbound flight from Houston and they were ready for the late arriving passengers. Even though we missed the cut-off time for being at the gate on-time we managed to keep our seats and the upgrades. Sorry to the folks next in line on the list.
The best part about making the connection is that the crew we had for the quick two-hour flight up to Cleveland was the best of the trip. Most crews are fine and even can be a little fun if you’re willing to chat with them. This crew was one of the few special ones that come along. Ashley, Scott and Michelle were having fun doing their job and it showed. Truly an enjoyable experience. So much so that we briefly investigated changing our last couple flights to get a couple more hours in the air with them. Sadly, that was cost-prohibitive; flying with them to Vegas likely would’ve been a blast.
Moral of the story? Regardless of how stupid a 22 minute connection seems, booking it can be fun. Especially if there isn’t really anything to worry about missing at the next hop if the flights don’t work out right. Besides, when things do work out right, fun times can be found.
There’s really nothing quick about this trip. The Pan Am Clipper could make it from New York City to Seattle faster than I will. But the itinerary sure is an entertaining one.
It all started when there was a mistake loaded in the routing rules for Continental flights between the two cities. Most fares are limited to non-stop flights only or just a couple connections in a specific sequence. This particular fare, however, had pretty much no rules. If you could dream it – and if you could get a booking engine to process it – then you could connect pretty much anywhere in the Americas en route between the two cities. It was, in Mileage Run terms, a gold mine, particularly given that multi-stop routings are harder and harder to find.
Connections in Bogota, Panama City, Panama and Florida worked. So did connections in Hawaii. And that is how I find myself passing over the Golden Gate Bridge, headed westbound to Honolulu, on my way to Seattle. Some folks managed to be even more creative than I was, with multiple trips between the mainland and Hawaii on the same ticket. Me? I’m settling for a six-segment routing that covers Hawaii, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Illinois.
The look on the ticket agent’s face when I asked her to print my boarding passes was fantastic. As she traced my itinerary segment-by-segment and counted off the connecting cities, each more the wrong direction than the next, the confusion changed to shock and then disbelief. The part where she called me crazy was pretty entertaining, too. And the fact that she’s not wrong doesn’t hurt the situation.
All told, I’m flying somewhere around 12,000 miles instead of the normal ~2,400 miles to get there. Definitely not normal, but for the price it is hard to beat. Most the segments got upgraded and I’ve got power at my seat so I’m getting some work done and relaxing. A friendly group of flight attendants, one of whom recently celebrated her 40th anniversary with the company and who is still hustling up and down the aisles, certainly helps the time pass quickly as well.
Six hours down, thirty to go, and the trip is great so far. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow after a few more hours inside the aluminum tube.
Yesterday had a bit of a buzz on the internet regarding a piece about airfare pricing from Nate Silver that was published on his NY Times politics blog. The post, filled with mathematical analysis, attempts to use statistics to determine which airports have unfairly high fares relative to others providing comparable service. And I’m sure the math involved is accurate. I have no doubt that someone as statistically gifted as Silver got the regression analysis correct when he ran the numbers. But the findings are still miserably flawed.
Why? Because several of the assumptions made simply do not apply to air travel.
Silver acknowledges that most the other folks who have tackled this topic have made specific flaws in their assumptions. He aims to correct these but instead makes some tragic assumptions of his own.
Let’s take a look at the factors he considers:
The first factor is the distance traveled — we use the distance from the origin airport to the destination as though it were a nonstop flight, whether or not there was a layover along the way….
The first factor cited – distance traveled – is probably one of the last things that actually comes into play when airlines are figuring domestic market pricing. Should they? I can see that argument being made, but it ignores the general concept of market pricing and supply/demand dictating the going rate for a ticket. If the airlines wanted to price everything based on distance they could, but they’d be leaving a lot of money on the table for the shorter flights and they’d never sell the longer ones. Even just using the average costs to operate a flight as a price basis you’d be looking at $600+ on average for a round-trip transcontinental flight. They seem to sell a lot better in the $300 range, at least in major markets.
Silver chose to ignore whether there is a connection or not. While that is reasonable for calculating the distance traveled, it ignores perhaps the single greatest factor that drives travel bookings for business travelers, the folks paying the higher fares: schedule. When you’re a business traveler hopping between cities and trying to get to that next appointment on time and then home as quickly as possible you pay more for a non-stop flight. Should you? Maybe, maybe not. But you do. This pricing function is probably more directly traceable in cargo numbers and there is a ton of data available on that, including in Greg Lindsey’s Aerotropolis, a pretty good read. But the same concept absolutely applies to passenger travel as well. There is a very real value in speed out in the real world; there apparently isn’t one in Silver’s.
Silver found that Newark was about 25% more expensive than JFK based on his data. And there is no doubt that is the case on some routes. But when you also consider that Newark has quite a few more domestic destinations available as a non-stop flight than JFK does that price premium isn’t nearly as surprising. After all, folks pay for speed.
Certainly demand factors into the pricing as well:
Second is a variable representing the demand for travel at both the origin and destination airports. Demand is assumed to be a function of the number of origin-and-departure passengers that an airport handled (not counting passengers who passed through the airport on a layover), but with a modification for average ticket prices. In other words, if the average fare at an airport was high, the model assumed that more people would have wanted to fly there but were deterred by the cost, and if the average fare was low, that some passengers would not have flown if the fares had not been such a bargain.
Indeed, one can expect that fares to smaller destinations will be higher. And they generally are. But assuming that more people really want to be traveling to smaller cities but choose not to because the airfare is too high misses the point. They are smaller cities with lower demand for travel because they have fewer businesses, fewer residents traveling (or being visited) and generally less volume. They aren’t seeing lower air traffic because they are too expensive, they are seeing lower traffic because they are small. Lowering fares may translate to a small increase in volume but it most certainly is not a linear path.
Moreover, the ability for a new entrant to operate in a market requires a certain base level of demand. No matter how cheap the fares, you aren’t going to survive long as a startup carrier if your hubs are in Columbus, Ohio and Greensboro, North Carolina, for example; just ask SkyBus. This means major metropolitan areas see the up-starts, and those up-starts bring lower fares because that’s how they attract customers. Their fares go up over time – JetBlue and Southwest have proven this – but that’s where it begins. And that explains a lot of the pricing trends that are seen today.
Finally, Silver looks at the most important factor, competition:
The regression analysis also accounts for three other factors that have significant effects on pricing. These are, respectively, the market share at the origin and destination airports held collectively by the five “legacy carriers” (United, American, Delta, Continental and US Air); the market share held by Southwest Airlines; and the market share held by the largest single carrier at that airport (for instance, Delta and its affiliates are responsible for about 66 percent of all traffic at Atlanta).
Passengers at Newark paid an average of 12 percent more than those at J.F.K. for their trips to Los Angeles, 49 percent more for those to Chicago, 65 percent more to Dallas, and 118 percent more to Washington, D.C.
Given those numbers, it is probably useful to take a look at the competition in those markets. There is zero competition between Newark and Washington, DC. National airport is only served by Continental and Dulles is served only by Continental and merger partner United Airlines. Plus, those routes are not generally reasonable to fly with a connection. The travel time is so short that when you add the connection it is silly to fly when total travel time is important, as it often is. The Dallas route sees a bit of competition from American Airlines, as does the Chicago route. Los Angeles has a tiny bit of competition but it also has the advantage of being a long enough trip that making the schlep over to JFK to save some money on airfare doesn’t actually completely ruin the speed=value margins. Ditto for connecting flights that add a smaller percentage of time to the travel experience.
Somewhat ironically based on the first factor Silver names, longer distances traveled can actually drive down prices as the impact of connections or less desirable departure or arrival airports is decreased as the total travel time increases.
It is actually surprising that Silver didn’t note the disparity on pricing in the Newark/JFK – Boston market. For quite some time now Continental has held a monopoly on that route. Similar to the DC runs, it rarely makes sense to connect for such a short trip and Continental exploited that price disparity. Right up until JetBlue announced their entry into the market. The fares dropped quite quickly at that point. Hardly a surprise, really. Competition, not the airport, drove the pricing.
Here’s a much more simple way to figure out if an airport is expensive or not:
- Is it a mostly leisure destination? If the answer is yes then it is almost certainly not going to be as expensive on average. Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando and most the rest of Florida all come to mind, and not surprisingly they’re all on Silver’s list of good value airports.
- Is it dominated (60%+) by a single carrier?
- If that carrier is United, Continental, US Airways, Delta, American or Southwest then odds are it will be a more expensive airport.
- If that carrier is AirTran, Spirit Air, JetBlue or Allegiant (and, to a lesser extent, Frontier) then odds are it will be a less expensive airport.
- Is it a particularly large metropolitan area? If not, fares are going to be higher because demand is lower.
Three easy questions that don’t take statistical regression or misguided assumptions. Silver actually gets some of these, particularly regarding the competition factor. But he also has a couple huge misses, especially around distance traveled and the price/demand curve.
It would also be interesting to compare the actual costs of travel versus just the base fare data. Spirit has a pretty incredible ancillary revenues per passenger – to the tune of an extra $35/head on average – so those "cheap" airports can come with significant surprises once the customer gets to the airport. Indeed, the airlines are quite keen to sell these ancillary bits to their customers and many are now stating explicitly that these fees are where their profits are. The airlines even want to control the way those fees are marketed to the customer by cutting the GDSes out of the pricing loop. Not a good deal for consumers.
Oh, and the suggestion he links to about searching for the best airfares on weekends is horribly wrong, too. Tuesday or Wednesday mid-afternoon is the time you’re most likely to find deals. On the weekends the airlines are raising fares and limiting the cheaper inventory in an effort to cash in on folks shopping for their vacations while their home with their family.
Silver should stick to baseball and politics, two things that he appears to understand a lot better than air travel.
I prefer to welcome back baseball each year with a trip to Spring Training. Sneaking away from the cold of New York City in the middle of March for a couple days of fun and sun in Florida is never a bad thing. Sadly, however, it did not come to pass this year. Instead I welcomed back the baseball season through the eyes and words of one of their own, Dirk Hayhurst.
Hayhurst pitched for the San Diego Padres organization for a couple years, both in the minors and, eventually, in the majors. His story, The Bullpen Gospels, tells the life of a ball player as it exists for the majority of guys with a uniform on their back, trying to eke out a living and make it to the big leagues and live out their dream. And it is hysterical.
There are stories of bad roommates at spring training and on the road, of practical jokes and long bus rides through the night from stadium to stadium and game to game. There is the pain of almost getting cut and the triumph of winning a championship.
For the most part the story is good-humored fluff. Nothing too serious and plenty of ridiculous stories that read quickly and leave you with a smile on your face. There are a couple serious moments, too, including this bit that Hayhurst acknowledges after an evening in the bullpen hanging out with a three year old who had terminal liver cancer:
The burden of players isn’t to achieve greatness, but to give the feeling of it to everyone he encounters. It was wrong of me even to try to separate life and the game. They were intertwined, meant to be, one affecting the other, one teaching the other, even when the mixture occasionally blows up. It takes a real person, one who understands himself, to use the tool of baseball for something good. For that person, as long as he has a jersey on his back, he has a chance.
It isn’t literary genius, to be sure, but it is a quick, fun read.
Today’s itinerary, JFK – Richmond, VA – Ft. Lauderdale, FL – White Plains, NY, was crafted with a singular goal. It turns out that there are very few domestic JetBlue airports that I have never flown to and I’m using the All You Can Jet pass to address that issue, among other plans. Of the five remaining on my list two (RIC & HPN) were on today’s itinerary. Add on the one I got Sunday (SRQ) and the one I’ll get this coming Sunday (SJC) and I’m dangerously close to crossing the finish line on that challenge.
Even though that was the ultimate goal of today’s flights I found that it wasn’t what I was ultimately focused on during the flights. For two of the flights I was focused on sleeping, attempting to rectify the misery inflicted by the redeye I took in from Sacramento last night. But I also found myself chatting with gate agents and flight attendants even more than I normally do, which is a lot to begin with.
The gate agents in Richmond were incredibly friendly and interested enough in my travel tales that I ended up chatting through the whole boarding process and was the last passenger to get on the plane. Many thanks to Matt and the whole crew there for making my brief stay in Richmond so enjoyable. Plus, I got to fly on the JFK-RIC route before it is cut later this fall so I’m happy about that.
|My ride from Richmond to Ft. Lauderdale
The flight Richmond to Ft. Lauderdale offered up yet another new travel experience for me. The two women working in the cabin are spitting images of each other. Turns out that they are a mother-daughter pair. They’ve been paired occasionally before when picking up segments here or there but this was the first time they ended up on a full trip together. Very cool to see them working together and enjoying themselves.
As an added bonus it was the same crew from Ft. Lauderdale to White Plains so I got to actually see them in action versus the initial flight that I slept through.
Wrapping up with the stats for my AYCJ adventures so far:
|New (to me) airports
|New lines flown
|Time in the air
My desire to fly out of Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport this weekend made things a bit more complicated than they really needed to be. Most troublesome was that I had to wake up extra early since the drive to the airport was about 45 minutes longer than either Jacksonville, Orlando or Tampa would have been. Good and bad at several levels.
For starters, I was awake for sunrise. Lots of both good and bad associated with that situation. I’m going to need a nap later (which should be easy with all the time I’ve got on airplanes) but I also got to see sunrise over Paynes Prairie. That was incredibly beautiful.
Only a couple minutes to stop at the Prairie, though, as I had a three hour drive ahead and I didn’t really want to miss the flight. The road was wide open and the speed limit is 70 mph for most of the drive so I actually made it in less than three hours, even with the stop for photos. That meant I had about an hour extra to explore Sarasota on a beautiful Sunday morning. And so explore I did. I didn’t make it out to Siesta Key or any of the other barrier beaches – tempting but just not enough time – but I did get to roll through the rather cute downtown area.
Filled with shops and restaurants, downtown Sarasota has a number of things to see and do so long as you’re willing to look past the homeless population in the park and looking for the antiquing sort of lifestyle. But definitely cute. There was one restaurant open early on a Sunday morning – First Watch: The Daytime Cafe – so I dropped in for breakfast to go. The place was bustling pretty good but it only took a couple minutes for them to whip up a Ckickichanga (breakfast wrap with eggs, chicken and avocado, among other things) for me. No time to pause and eat, though; I wanted to see more of town.
Next stop was a quick pass by the Ringling Museum. The circus magnate’s estate has been converted into a couple different museums administered by Florida State University. While a bit far from the main campus in Tallahassee, the fact that FSU has a clown school so the relationship isn’t quite as strange as it might seem. No time to actually visit the museums but they look rather nice and interesting; maybe next time I’m in town.
And then finally on to the airport. SRQ is a relatively new airport and the facilities reflect that. It is clean, bright and open with some nice features. Not a ton of food options on the concourse once you pass through security but free WiFi throughout the airport and a pretty cool fish tank just outside the screening checkpoint make it reasonable enough as a travel option. Given the decent number of flights daily from several different airlines, SRQ is quite reasonable as an option for travel to the southwestern coast of Florida. Oh, and the runway is right along the water so take-offs and landings offer some great views if you happen to get a window seat.