Saturday, April 05, 2008

R.I.P. Skybus

Not even a year old, the no-frills airline, Skybus ceased operations today. A pity, I liked the airline a lot, recommended it to several people who themselves liked it, and had even considered buying us $10 tickets to Florida for a weekend day-trip this long Winter.

Here's an excerpt from a post I wrote last May on our Skybus experience, three days after the airline began operations...

"...After the Hodags took the regionals, my brother-in-law, Ted, sent an email telling us it was never too early to start thinking about booking a flight to Ohio and - incidentally - he had just read about this start-up no-frills airline called Skybus based out of Ohio that was selling $10 seats from Portsmouth, NH to Columbus. Skybus wasn't flying yet when I checked out their Web site. In fact, they hadn't even received their FAA certification, but after doing some research on the company and assuring myself they were legit and safe, I booked us on a flight on what would be - we hoped - their third day of operation.

Skybus did, indeed, receive their certification a week or so before they were to start flying, and sent us email telling us Flight #2 from Pease Trade Center (originally Pease AFB) to Columbus was departing as scheduled at 9:05 Friday morning, the 24th of May. Peggy and I went down to Pease the weekend before to check out the scene - and a weird one it was. Imagine something like 28 Days Later, but without the zombies. A few cars in an otherwise empty lot, a totally deserted terminal, a sign for the Pan-Am Clipper, a couple of Skybus kiosks. We were relieved to see the last, as it was the only evidence that the airline existed.

On the Skybus

So, here's some basics on Skybus:

  1. $10 Seats? Yep, they do sell $10 seats, a minimum of 10 per flight according to their Web site. But those seats go fast. And whether $10 or not, you need to book early for the best rates. A quick check of the Skybus site today shows the first $10 seats now available on the Portsmouth to Columbus route are in late October. I booked our seats for late May in early April, and it cost $30 apiece one-way. The same seats can cost as much as $110, dependent on the date you want to travel and when you book your flight. Flights from Columbus to San Francisco (really Oakland, as "Boston" is really Portsmouth on a Skybus flight) were ranging from $225-330 in June to $50-$150 in November. Again, you need to book early for the best rates.

    A $120 round-trip for two was a bargain when a comparable trip from Manchester, NH and back would have cost over $600. I should note that the $120 wasn't really $120, though. With taxes, baggage fees and priority boarding, our total round-trip cost for two was $202.60. See #2 below.

  2. How do they do it? First, they sell sponsorships. Our jet was displaying the logo of Nationwide Insurance on the outside and Skybus plans to also sell advertising space in the cabin, too. Our flight attendant closed her little landing speech by noting that if we'd like to sponsor that announcement, please check out the Sponsors page at

  3. Second, they also offer a variety of geegaws and gadgets for sale during the flight - everything from perfume to chocolates to a kid's knapsack to iPod accessories. Think of the in-flight catalog items you see on most airlines... that sort of stuff. They only difference is you can buy it right then and there.

  4. Third, they really are no-frills, and they charge for everything except the use of the bathroom. Checking in bags? It will cost you $5 a bag, with a maximum of two bags per passenger. Have more than two bags? The price goes up to $50 per bag. If you can carry it on, it's free, but the Skybus space restrictions on carry-on baggage are very tight. Carry-on items can't weigh more than 22 pounds, and can't be larger than 9 inches by 16 inches by 19 inches.

    Want priority boarding - a fancy way of saying you get closer to the head of the line? You can get it for $10 a person. I bought it for us, but I'm not sure it was worth it. However, if you like the Exit seats or want to make sure you're not sitting in the middle seat, it might worth the price to you. I'm not sure how many "priority" seats Skybus sells per flight. All they say is that it's limited. We were with a group of maybe 15-20 people in our priority lane out of 109 people on the flight from Portsmouth to Columbus.

    Want a pillow or a blankie? You have to buy it (on the up side you can keep it). Want something to eat or drink? You can't bring food or refreshments on the plane, since they want to sell everything to you. Meals - ranging from cheese plates to salads to sandwiches to mini-dinners - run from $8 to $12. Beverages run from $2 (coffee, water) to $5 (booze) - about standard or a little higher for airline fare these days.

  5. How's the Experience? Not bad at all, in fact unsurprising, which is meant as a compliment.

    If you fly Southwest or one of the other economy airlines you're not going to find much different on Skybus. You have to walk out on the tarmac and use a set of stairs to get on/off the plane, which may be a little problematic during bad weather. On the other hand, that's what generations of passengers did into the late `60s, and still do in many locations. The jets are brand-new Airbus jets. Since they were just recently FAA certified and are flying a new fleet with experienced pilots, Skybus is as safe - perhaps safer - as any other airline. Peggy commented that it's the first time she ever was on a plane with a "new car smell." Seats are three across throughout the cabin. Leg room is good, maybe a little above standard.

    As I mentioned, the attendants come through the cabin, pushing a cart with all the things they have to sell. There's no hard sell. They ask. If you say, "No," they move on. But I have to say that was the only part of the Skybus experience I found disappointing. While I wasn't expecting a carnival - or maybe I was - I was kind of hoping for some kitsch; Skybus t-shirts, caps, key chains, stuffed animals, that sort of stuff, all the bling they have for sale on their site, in fact. Instead, I was presented with Toblerone candy, iPod accessories, and watches. Personally, I think Skybus is missing the march on this. If I'm brave enough to fly a no-frills start-up, I'd like to have a souvenir, not something I can get anywhere.

    The flights were - again - standard flights. The flight into Columbus left and arrived on time; the biggest hassle was getting through the tiny security section in Portsmouth, which is not set up to handle getting a 100+ people through security screening in any timely fashion. The flight back was delayed about an hour-and-a-half because of some computer glitch, in this day and age, not unexpected. The only - minor - criticism I had was the the Skybus personnel were obviously new at what they were doing, not bothering to announce the gate, flight destination, or number of the delayed flight to Portsmouth, almost causing us to miss the plane, not bothering to change departure signs (our departure gate said our flight was bound for Pasadena further adding to the confusion), stumbling through the announcements, forgetting to deliver coffee. Minor stuff as I said, and all could be chalked up to birthing pains, considering we flew on the airlines' third and fifth days of operation.

  6. Would we fly Skybus again? Definitely yes, especially if it matches up to our travel plans. Skybus currently flies to only a handful of destinations (map above), and like Rome, all Skybus roads lead to Columbus, Ohio. While it's possible to work out a multi-point itinerary (say, Portsmouth to L.A.), it probably won't be the easiest thing to do. You have to pick up and re-check your baggage, for instance, and expect a lengthy layover in Columbus.
Skybus promises more routes are opening soon. But for now, if you're planning a trip to/from one of their destination cities, looking for an economical flight, can book well in advance, and are willing to be a little flexible for the savings, I'd recommend taking a look at Skybus.

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