Wednesday, May 27, 2009

JetAmerica: Proof that There is Plenty of Folly Left in the Airline Industry

We are all for new airlines and adding competition. But the latest offering from a start-up called JetAmerica really defies all logic. Brought to you by the original founder of SkyBus (remember the airline that flew from Columbus, Ohio to a bunch of tiny, random cities that no one really wanted to fly to?) JetAmerica seems to have a similar business model.

First of all, do we really trust an airline that can't get the city code for Minneapolis/St. Paul right on their home page? This isn't a hard one like MSY (New Orleans) or my personal favorite, SUX (Sioux City, Iowa) - this is MSP! MPS, for the record, is a small city in South Carolina but maybe Jet America is thinking of service there as well.

And how about those $9 fares? Guess what, turns out there is no way to actually buy a $9 fare. Consumers are used to government fees and taxes being added on to advertised fares but JetAmerica has taken it to a new level by adding a booking fee - obviously they are not quite in touch with the recent booking fee changes over at Expedia et al.

Adding insult to injury is that JetAmerica hides the fee. On the booking page they offer this disclaimer which fails to mention the $5, non-optional fee that JetAmerica charges consumers for booking on their website:

If that were not enough, look at how they sneakily add in the booking fee under the guise of a tax that is collected by the government when a user clicks for more info:
They have even invented a new tax code for it: CNV. (All the rest of the tax codes are the industry standards that appear on every ticket.) How can this be "not a gimmick?"

Moreover, are consumers really well served by a couple of flights a week from Melbourne, Florida to Toledo? Or three flights per week from Newark to Melbourne? Or three weekly flights from Toledo to Minneapolis? One would assume that if MSP-Toledo (or MPS!) was such a barn burner that Northwest would have added flights on the route a long time ago. And Melbourne-Newark? How long before Continental decides to re-enter the market.

What is most offensive about these new flights is that we, as tax payers, are actually funding them. Yes, in these tough times, there is still an FAA program called the Small Cities Air Service program which allows carriers to receive money in exchange for adding new service to under served markets. While this is a good concept, using the money on a fly-by-night, less than daily operation hardly serves travellers in the best possible way. We are all for the good citizens of Toledo having nonstop links to important destinations but wouldn't they be better served with one daily flight on a regional jet to Newark and one to MSP? If the goal (which it should be) is to facilitate business travelers to stimulate the Toledo economy, operating less than daily service on an airline not listed in the Global Distribution Systems (where most business travelers book) or on the major online travel agencies is simply not going to help. The FAA has given $400,000 to this effort + the Toledo airport has kicked in another $200,000. The Boyd Group offers a great discussion on the program and how they have successfully used this funding mechanism to bring truly valuable air service to small, under served communities. Toledo, Melbourne and Lansing officials would do well to read the Boyd Group's primer and shoot for air service that really serves their communities rather than grasping at straws.....

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