The Breeze Airways era is underway. The carrier launched flights this morning from Tampa to Charleston, kicking off a 16 city network covering 39 routes expected to be in operation by the end of July. It is a bold start, with 13 planes anticipated in the fleet by the middle of the summer.
But the day one experience was also not quite the same as what the company has pitched as the overall offering. The differences are subtle in some areas, more pronounced in others. And the experience in general is quite reasonable. But it very much is not the finished product the company hopes to deliver later this year. Calling this Breeze Beta would not be entirely out of line.
The on-board experience
Seating on board is split into “Nice” and “Nicer” options, with the nicer seats offering 3-5″ additional legroom. After sitting in both sections the extra space is noticeable, but the regular seats are spacious enough to get some work done, at least without the seats reclined.
As with many parts of the experience, the current seats are not long for the operation. The company plans to replace the Embraer seats later this year timed with the A220 arrivals (see below). In-seat power is also expected at that time.
The company plans to add a streaming in-flight entertainment solution to the fleet, based on the Airconnect Go platform from Anuvu (formerly Global Eagle). It is not active for day one operations, but by mid-Summer Breeze expects to have the system operational on all 13 aircraft.
Similarly, a buy-on-board option is planned for snacks. They are complimentary for passengers who purchase the “Nicer” fare bundle and a paid option for the basic economy “Nice” fare. During the initial operations everyone received the complimentary snacks.
A digital(ish) airline
Like many airlines of late, Breeze has talked about its digital focus. It launched with a functional app and integration with TSA PreCheck, clearing two major IT hurdles.
But the app does not work well off-line, limiting the utility once on board. It also struggles with some check-in issues and reservation management for things like changing seat assignments. Flight status is also conspicuously missing None of these are deal-breakers, but they will need to be addressed to emerge from the “beta” stage.
Similarly, customer service is mostly handled via digital channels. I needed support with my booking to add my Known Traveler Number for PreCheck. The requests were successfully handled via SMS rather than a phone call. How well that scales up, both technically and for customer acceptance, remains to be seen.
There is work to be done for a truly integrated digital platform, but the initial offering is, like everything else with the airline launch, a reasonable play. By the time the airline is running full speed this summer the digital solutions should be sufficient to support the operations.
Breeze 2.0 later this year
There is no doubt that the E190s delivery spectacular economics in the current climate. Breeze’s “power by the hour” leasing arrangement where it only pays for the flight hours on a very limited schedule also helps. But the company is not planning to operate this way forever. An average of 6.5 hours daily utilization on aircraft will not be sufficient once the new A220 deliveries start later this year.
As the new planes start to arrive the company will change its operations significantly. Longer flights will lead to a different crew scheduling approach as well as a different in-flight experience.
The company plans for in-flight connectivity and entertainment solutions on the A220s from day one. It also will include a premium cabin option known as “Nicest” seating on board. The Safran seats will deliver a premium experience on board that does not fit with the E-Jet model for shorter stage lengths.
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