Delivering a differentiated product in a crowded and commoditized market can be challenging. Just over a year after Breeze Airways brought its “Nicest” product bundle online with an offering comparable to other carriers’ first class cabin, the company has rebranded those seats as Ascent, hoping to highlight how it differs from those products, both in what it does include and what it does not.
This is really sort of emphasizing that brand element that was always intended to be there, but it’s now really just rolling out en masse this summer.– Breeze Airways president Tom Doxey
PaxEx.Aero flew on the Providence to Los Angeles inaugural flight as a guest of Breeze Airways. All opinions are our own.
In this context the rebranding is similar to how Spirit Airlines pitches its Big Front Seat product, though Ascent includes far more benefits than that version. Still, it is not a first class offering in the same way the legacy carriers deliver such, and company president Tom Doxey hopes that the branding shift helps eliminate some of those direct comparisons.
The “Nicest” fare bundle remains in the company’s sales channels; it now includes seating in the Ascent section of the plane, with the wider seats and increased legroom. Travelers booking Nice or Nicer can also buy up to a seat in the Ascent section, assuming one is available.
A smaller premium cabin
Breeze took a chance on upending the premium cabin market when it introduced A220 service. The carrier chose a premium-heavy layout on board, with 36 seats up front. After less than a year of those operations, however, it began to fly aircraft with just 12 seats up front, a number that it found more reasonable. And, while CEO David Neeleman touted the idea of quick-change configurations in the cabin, allowing the carrier to swap layouts in as little as an overnight, that also never materialized.
Going forward, Breeze will fly only the 12 seat configuration up front. Doxey appreciates the “creative things” the carrier is trying, including the very premium-heavy layout. But, for now, he acknowledges that the smaller premium setup is “the right configuration for our markets.”
The shift also simplifies operations dramatically. Breeze is trying to build out bases that are solely A220s to keep costs, staffing complexity, and spare parts challenges low. In much the same way, the Doxey expects the single config will ease operations. A single layout eliminates the risk of displaced passengers when swapping aircraft, for example.
The on-board Ascent experience
From a space and comfort perspective Ascent delivers well on its promise. The 2-2 layout on the A220 offers plenty of shoulder and hip room, and the pitch is on par with or or bests the legacy offerings. Breeze’s seats – the Safran Z600 – also include a leg rest, something rarely seen for domestic premium cabin travel.
The forward section of the plane also offers plenty of overhead bin space for the passengers. Which is useful, as the under seat space is somewhat limited. A combination of the shape of the seats, the leg rest, and the layout of the support rails makes it difficult to stow a backpack below, especially at the window.
The Z600 also features an articulating recline, with the seat pan sliding slightly forward in the process. With the leg rest extended the recline has a notable impact on leg room, especially if there’s a bag in play.
The seat does include a single-piece tray table, which is much more stable than the more common bi-fold option. Unfortunately, my seat showed signs of damage at the hinge, resulting in a tray that was, indeed, stable, but also canted at an angle when deployed. Hopefully that’s an easily repaired one-off and not a more systemic issue with the design.
Snacks and drinks included for Breeze Ascent
In addition to space, Breeze offers complimentary food and drinks for travelers seated in the Ascent cabin. While the options include premium beverages – Straightaway Cocktails’ Oregon Old Fashion and Margaritas are the current options – the carrier comes up a bit short on the dining side.
While Breeze chose to install ovens on its A220 fleet – the carrier does have ambitions of longer-haul international operations eventually – they are not used today. Moreover, even the better snacks from the cart are not included in the Ascent offering. Passengers up front can choose from a decent selection of sweet or savory (and very salty) snacks for free. But the meat and cheese plate ($9) or snack box ($10) still cost extra.
And with routes now exceeding six hours en route, the lack of fresh food options at all, plus the paid factor for some even in Ascent, is challenging.
Doxey recognizes the incongruity of this experience, but change is not coming any time soon. “For now the offering is the new elevated snack offering that we have,” he explained while en route on the company’s longest flight. “Have we talked about whether we should do something else at some point? Yes. As for now, this is what the offering is and we’ll continue to evaluate as we move forward.”
It also is apparent that this sort of limited service on board is part of the motivation for the rebranding.
Other bits and bytes for free
Passengers seated in Breeze Ascent also receive free WiFi on board. Or they will, once the rest of the planes are fitted and the carrier starts charging for the service. That is expected to transition around the end of the year.
And for travelers needing a 110V outlet on board, the Ascent cabin is the only place to find it. Passengers in economy – including the extra legroom seats – get USB-A and USB-C, but not AC power. The power location in the armrest was convenient to me, but my seatmate had trouble accessing it.
The seats also include tablet/phone holders on the seat back and the tray table. It is nice to have that optionality available.
Overall, the Ascent experience delivers as advertised. It is a comfortable, spacious seat at the front of the plane, with some additional benefits included. But it is not first class, at least not by the traditional US carrier standards. The rebranding allows Breeze to be more up front about that distinction.
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