With the apparent demise of JetAmerica before it ever made a single flight, we are left to wonder how the United States will get an ultra-no-frills, super-low-cost, utterly-comfort-free Ryanair clone.
First Skybus gave it a shot, and collapsed. Now JetAmerica can’t seem to get off the ground.
Meanwhile, though, Spirit Airlines is filling the void, expanding rapidly into the Caribbean and Latin America, pulling in cash from vacationers and immigrant families. Ryanair built much of its business in Europe with a similar strategy, adding gimmicky sales pitches to low-cost, no-frills flights to mass-market tourist destinations.
Spirit may not be able to rely on vacationers quite as much — Americans don’t get nearly as much vacation time as Europeans do — but it is following at least part of that model with its $9 Fare Club, discount coupons, tacky ad campaigns and fees, fees, fees for everything from checked luggage to water.
Spirit recently added flights to Colombia and the Dominican Republic, and is reported to be a leading bidder for the faltering Air Jamaica. It also is expanding domestically, adding service between Florida and Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Chicago.
JetAmerica will refund about $500,000 to 6,486 people who bought tickets to fly between July 13 and Aug. 14, the Newark Star-Ledger reports.
The collateral damage to customers — and to JetAmerica’s reputation — is harder to calculate. By postponing its launch for a month after selling tickets, the airline ruined countless vacations and angered thousands of people who were going to be its customer base.
JetAmerica blames the government, which it says changed the rules on landing slots at Newark. “That FAA policy change was not brought to the carrier’s attention until after it had already made millions of dollars in sales,” the company’s press release said.
Brought to our attention? This is pretty lame. The Star-Ledger story points out that JetAmerica could have bought the slots from other airlines, but couldn’t or wouldn’t spend the money.
The Star-Ledger also quoted a Twitter comment that called JetAmerica the worst airline. Pretty head stuff when it hasn’t even had a single flight.
JetAmerica has sold tickets for flights starting July 13 but now says it won’t start flying until Aug. 14, according to The Cranky Flier blog. Oops.
This is not a good sign. It’s all too reminiscent of JetAmerica’s predecessor, Skybus. If everything worked out, you got a cheap flight — sometimes extraordinarily cheap. But if it didn’t work out, you were up a creek without a paddle.
If you want to know what the startup JetAmerica airline is all about, read this very clear and useful explanation by Ed Perkins at Smarter Travel. He lays it all out.
Perkins explains how JetAmerica, technically a charter operation, differs from most other airlines. And he points out, quite rightly, that its advertising is misleading because its rock-bottom $9 one-way fares come with a $5 “convenience fee” — and that’s before taxes and other fees.
Still, $14 is quite the bargain. You just need to be aware of the trade-offs. So if you want to try one of these ultra-cheap fares, read the piece first and you’ll understand what you’re buying.
My friend Tom points out that JetAmerica President John Weikle mentioned Hartford as a potential expansion city in an interview with The Toledo Blade.
Whether this means Bradley International Airport or a smaller airport in the region is not entirely clear. Weikle’s last venture into airlines, Skybus, claimed it flew to Hartford, but actually used Westover Metropolitan Airport in Chicopee, Mass. So far, though, JetAmerica seems to be picking more established airports.
There’s a fair amount of skepticism out there about JetAmerica, and it’s particularly well-expressed on The Cranky Flier blog. Whether the airline will survive long enough to get to Hartford, whatever it means by Hartford, remains to be seen.