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[April 24, 2007]
Skybus starts selling tickets today, with some one-way fares for $10
(Columbus Dispatch (Ohio) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Apr. 24--How do you make a splash as a startup airline? Try $10 fares.
Skybus Airlines is expected to announce this morning that it will sell at least 10 seats on each of its flights for $10 one way before taxes and fees, according to a source familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
That means dozens of people who are quick enough to book the fares will be able to fly for about $40 roundtrip to cities including Los Angeles, via Burbank, Calif.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
After the $10 fares are sold out, Skybus officials have said fliers can expect the remaining fares to cost about half the current norm to the same destinations from Columbus. The Airbus A319 planes Skybus will fly will accommodate about 140 other passengers.
The $10 deals are expected to remain in place and aren't part of a startup promotional strategy.
Though flying to Boston has become more affordable since JetBlue began offering $39 one-way promotional fares there from Columbus, most of the cities Skybus will serve typically cost between $150 and $300 for a roundtrip ticket, and most involve at least one stop.
Skybus is expected to announce eight nonstop destinations from Port Columbus. The other five routes are to Richmond, Va.; the Boston market, via Portsmouth, N.H.; the Seattle and Vancouver areas, via Bellingham, Wash.; Greensboro/Winston-Salem, in North Carolina; and San Francisco, via the airport in Oakland.
Pending final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, Skybus expects to start flying May 22, with the other destinations to be rolled out over several weeks through mid-June. Most of the cities will be served with one daily flight in each direction, with Boston and Los Angeles being the exception, with two daily flights each way.
The airline plans to start selling tickets at 6 a.m. today. As one of the airline's many moves to keep costs low, tickets will be available only on the company's Web site, www.skybus.com.
Skybus plans to follow the style of European budget airline Ryanair by charging extra for checked bags, priority seating and all on-board refreshments. Passengers boarding from Port Columbus must walk down stairs or a ramp and board from the ground rather than from an elevated jetway, which most major U.S. carriers provide.
Skybus has attracted $160 million in startup funds, thought to be the most of any airline startup since deregulation in the late 1970s. Columbus-area investors include Nationwide Mutual Capital, Battelle, Huntington Capital Investment Co. and Wolfe Enterprises Inc., a subsidiary of The Dispatch Printing Company.
But it's flying into the headwinds of history. Dozens of upstart airlines have failed, with Southwest and JetBlue among the few notable exceptions. Some analysts have expressed skepticism at Skybus' use of secondary airports in some cases, and have questioned whether there is enough demand to and from Columbus to fill flights beyond the airline's initial honeymoon period here.
Local travel agents say they welcome Skybus and are rooting for it, even though the airline isn't selling tickets through agents. Columbus-area agencies, including Twin Horizons Travel and Bexley Travel, say they will book Skybus flights for clients for a fee.
Robin and Susan Schneider of Twin Horizons Travel cautioned that fliers may be without an advocate if they book online and then need backup help.
"They don't have agreements with the other airlines to put people on other flights if theirs get canceled," Robin Schneider said. "I think for these reasons, they'll initially have a tough time cracking the business market, which everyone needs to survive."
Susan Schneider added that offering just a handful of ultra-low fares can backfire on an airline.
"We get calls all the time from people asking why they can't get a fare they saw promoted," said Schneider. "It can have the unintended consequence of coming across as a bait-and-switch."
Bexley Travel manager Sandy Niklaus, though, sees strong demand for well-priced, nonstop service to top markets such as Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale.
"Everyone wants direct flights," Niklaus said. "As long as their service is good and their planes are flying as scheduled, I don't think concerns about backup planes and online booking are going to deter people."
Copyright (c) 2007, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
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