Just like the excitement over the birth of a new child, comes the hopes and fears and the pride and pain of launching a new airline. On Wednesday, a new airline was born: Avelo.
Avelo 737-800 Inaugural Flight Report
I had the pleasure of flying on the very first Avelo flight yesterday, as the carrier launched commercial service with a flight from Burbank to Sonoma County. But it was really more than a flight – it was a pageant of tradition with a bold hope to stand out among others (and avoid the cavernous mass grave of peers) by carving a unique niche.
Avelo is led by Andrew Levy, a former executive at United Airlines and Allegiant. He’s a smart guy and sees a market in serving secondary airports with no-frills flights. Unlike Spirit and Frontier, you won’t see Avelo at major airports like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, or New York City.
Initially, Avelo is launching airports from Burbank Hollywood Airport, a small but incredibly convenient airport easily accessible to much of Los Angeles – a hidden gem. It will fly to a number of cities including:
- Arcata – Eureka, CA (ACV)
- Bozeman Yellowstone, MT (BZN)
- Eugene, OR (EUG)
- Grand Junction, CO (GJT)
- Medford – Rogue Valley, OR (MFR)
- Ogden – St. Lake City, UT (OGD)
- Pasco Tri-Cities, WA (PSC)
- Phoenix-Mesa, AZ (AZA)
- Redding, CA (RDD)
- Redmond – Bend, OR (RDM)
- Santa Rosa – Sonoma, CA (STS)
But Wednesday’s inaugural was all about Santa Rosa. Thanks to a truly last-minute opening in my schedule, I was able to score a seat on the inaugural flight…then come back three hours later in time to pick up my son from school.
I arrived at Bob Hope (I still call it Bob Hope despite its name now officially being Burbank – Hollywood Airport) and was met a by a table in the Terminal A lobby festooned with balloons which welcomed special guests and members of the media (including me – I traveled as a guest of Avelo).
After picking up my name-tag, I proceeded down to the check-in hall where a pair of lovely check-in staff welcomed me and directed me to the queue for check-in.
While check-in is at Terminal A, Avelo departs from Terminal B, which is a very short walk at BUR. After clearing security I encountered a heavy, non-socially-distanced crowd at the gate: everyone was happy to take part in the festivities.
After brief remarks from Andrew Levy expressing optimism in his new airline and thanking his team, he cut the ribbon and boarding shortly commenced.
The 737-800 used by Avelo for this flight is a former Turkish Airlines model, recently retrofitted with new carpeting and 189 economy class seats in a single-class configuration. Levy greeted every passenger as they boarded.
I ducked into the flight deck and had a chat with the pilots, including Captain Tony, who also had captain’s stripes. Captain Tony has been with Avelo for many years (when it was called Xtra Airways) and is now its Senior Pilot. His co-pilot has flown 737 private jets as well as commercially for Oman Air and EgyptAir. The men were beaming with pride over their new airline and a pleasure to speak to.
I found my seat and settled in. Legroom is tight for the most of the plane at 29 inches, but very much manageable considering how thin the seat is and that seats do not recline. The seat felt like flying Spirit Airlines or EasyJet, but I have to say for a one hour flight it was still considerably more comfortable than the Recaro slimline seats used by Lufthansa and its partner carriers.
After welcoming us onboard, we took off and had a very powerful takeoff roll (perhaps no cargo in the belly?)—I mean the most powerful takeoff roll I’ve ever experienced on a 737.
After reaching cruising altitude, Levy welcomed everyone on the PA and service began.
Despite being an ultra-low-cost carrier, Avelo offered a complimentary snack pack including:
- bottled water
- shortbread cookies
For a one hour flight, this was perfect, though I would expect buy onboard food and drink to eventually permeate.
To commemorate the launch flight, a special toast was also offered featuring sparkling apple cider (the airline does not have the permission to serve liquor onboard yet).
Passengers also received a fully a first flight certificate and luggage tag.
Bring your fully charged devices onboard because there is no in-seat power and there is currently not wireless internet offered.
We landed on-time in Santa Rosa to a round of applause (it felt like flying in the former Soviet Union) and a parade of ground staff and Sonoma County officials waiting to greet the flight.
Every passenger was offered a swag bag from the airport which included a genuinely thoughtful assortment of items.
This was a fun inaugural flight and I really hope, especially because it is operating from my hometown airport, that Avelo finds a niche in reaching a new base of customers to sustain its operations.
Ground staff, flight attendants, and pilots were friendly and gracious – that will be a key ingredient moving forward beyond the inaugural flight.
Stay tuned for further insight on flying Avelo and some interesting tidbits I learned while having lunch with Avelo’s Chief Operating Officer. I also plan to fly Avelo again on a non-media flight to get a better idea of what service is like on a “normal” day.