Tuesday, January 06, 2009

FL390: A Really Bad Place
to Run Out of Minutes!


Each and every time I fly commercial or watch the prices fluctuate wildly as I buy tickets online, I wonder if there is a better business model out there for the airlines then the crazy Hub and Spoke nonsense they use today.

Do the guys at the airshows who fly kids for "a penny a pound" have the right idea? Or, maybe the carriers could come up with the amount it costs them to fly one butt one NM, add an honest profit, and then simply calculate the nautical miles on your flight times the seat/mile charge. Long flights cost more, short hops are a bargain. All seats priced that way all the time, right up until they close the cabin door. This would seriously increase spur-of-the-moment flying if you just want to blast over to the next state and chill by a beach or slay trout at a mountain lake.

But wait, a new way of charging for air travel IS out there, and man, is it ever OUT THERE. This is being reported all over, including on wired.com:
"Taking a cue from the cellphone industry, an upstart South African airline is selling flights by the minute and allowing customers to buy tickets and book flights via text message. Airtime Airlines takes to the sky later this month, offering three flights a day from its base in Durban to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Passengers purchase minutes much like they would for a prepaid cell phone and redeem them for a ticket. Fees are assessed according to the length of the flight — say, 75 minutes for the run from Durban to Johannesburg — and could save as much as half of what competing airlines charge."
Well you at least have to give them props for creativity, right? And after your minutes run out, you just fill 'er back up, much like a Starbucks card:
When the card runs dry, you just "top it off" using a text message on your mobile phone. That "top off" rates changes, and today it was R6, or 6 ZAR (Rand). That converts to about .64 cents per mile, making that round trip to Johannesburg and back from Durban cost about $96 USD.
But according to South African site Business Day, this new, cutting-edge airline pricing scheme might never take flight:
"Blackbird Aviation, the group behind the new airline, was pursuing an agreement late last year with Lanseria-based aviation group Air Aquarius to lease three Boeing 737-200s and use the company’s air operator certificate (AOC), needed to begin operations as an airline. However, Air Aquarius CEO Gavin Branson said yesterday that the deal had collapsed and that his company would no longer be partnering Blackbird Aviation. That appears to leave Airtime with no aircraft and no AOC barely three weeks before it is due to begin flights between Johannesburg and Durban."
As is the case with many new airline ideas – including most low-cost startups – the challenge for Airtime Airlines will be to continue filling up seats once the honeymoon is over and the newness has worn off. These operations always have a bare bones marketing campaign out of the blocks, and after the initial press coverage comes and goes, the first thing they always cut back on is advertising. When that happens, less and less people remember a startup, and just go back to flying a legacy carrier because they remember their name or have their site bookmarked.

Do I wish Airtime Airlines well? Sure, why not? Do I think this idea will spread around the globe? Maybe...if they can fly for a year and prove it works.

Will it catch on in the United States? Not a chance. Still to many passengers like me who still can't text an SMS message. But if a serious low-cost U.S. carrier emerged that covered all of the USA and had rechargable (and dirt cheap) flight cards you could renew online, then hell yes, I'd fly them in a heartbeat if they were to add EUG to their routes.

Yeah right...like ANY low-cost carrier will ever fly into my home field.