In 1989, passengers paid more than $400 to fly from the Bay Area to Seattle. Now, that same round-trip costs $150, even though the price of jet fuel has about doubled in that time. The reason: Southwest Airlines, a small carrier that found a niche in the market, brought down prices, packed its planes, and made it big.
Many factors can make or break a new airline: the routes it flies, the prices and services it offers, the economy, the price of fuel. As long as airplanes have been carrying passengers, new airlines have been coming onto the scene—sometimes lasting, sometimes growing, and most often folding. Of a handful of new airlines that were founded in the 1990s, only a few are in the air today and serving the West Coast. Most notable among them are JetBlue, based in New York, and National Airlines, based in Las Vegas.
JetBlue started flying from New York City to Buffalo, N.Y., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a year ago. Since then, the airline has added nine destinations and continues to expand its service area. According to JetBlue's communications director, Gareth Edmondson-Jones, the company was started largely because "after deregulation, the number of people traveling in the United States quintupled, but the Northeast didn't see the same high growth in the number of passengers. Low-fare carriers were starting up around the country, but not really here." JetBlue now offers flights from Oakland to JFK with a price range of $129 to $249 each way. JetBlue also offers one-way fares starting at $99 for flights from Salt Lake City to New York City's JFK. JetBlue is flying a brand new fleet of planes, and the buzz is that, in style, it's sort of Southwest meets Virgin. The airline only serves snacks, but it has leather seats and DirecTV for every passenger.
National Airlines was formed when Las Vegas bigwigs realized that the number of hotel rooms in the city had skyrocketed, but the number of incoming flights was at a standstill. With Harrah's as its largest investor, National started flying two years ago. The airline says it offers competitive fares and better service than other airlines. "Our costs are low, but we aren't a low-cost carrier," says Dik Shimizu, National's director of corporate communications. "We serve food on china throughout the plane, and we have fewer seats on our Boeing 757 aircraft than most carriers."
The airline says its best feature is the price of its first-class tickets—a first-class, round-trip ticket from San Francisco to New York for March was quoted at $1,802. The same ticket on the same dates was $4,198 on United.
At press time, National Airlines had filed for bankruptcy protection to reorganize its business. Shimizu says the price of jet fuel has doubled since National began operations. He adds that National continues to run its flights uninterrupted.
Another relatively new airline serving the West is Sun Country, based in the Minneapolis area. The former charter-only airline has been around since 1983, but hit financial trouble and was sold in 1997. The new owners began adding regularly scheduled flights to the charter itinerary in 1999. Today, the airline serves more than 30 cities.
Where They Fly
CA—Los Angeles (Ontario), Oakland;
FL—Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers,
Orlando, Tampa, West Palm Beach;
NY—Buffalo, New York City (JFK),
Rochester; UT—Salt Lake City;
CA—Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco;
FL—Miami; IL—Chicago (Midway);
NV—Las Vegas; NJ—Newark; NY—New York (JFK); PA–Philadelphia; TX—Dallas (DFW); Washington D.C. (National).
AZ—Phoenix; CA—Los Angeles (LAX),
San Diego, San Francisco; FL—Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Orlando, Tampa/St. Petersburg; IL—Chicago (O’Hare); MI—Detroit; MN—Minneapolis;
MO—St. Louis; NV—Las Vegas;
NY—New York (JFK); TX—Dallas, Harlingen, Houston, San Antonio;
WA—Seattle; Washington D.C (Dulles);
WI—Milwaukee; Aruba; Jamaica—Montego Bay; Mexico—Cancún,
Cozumel, Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta; Virgin Islands—St. Thomas.
Photography courtesy of Jetblue Airlines
This article was first published in March 2001. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.