Sept. 29 – Breeze Airways, the low-cost airline that began flying in May 2021 from New Orleans, has signed an agreement with Tulane University’s athletic department that it hopes will , will be the prototype of a new business model aimed at stabilizing its flight schedule.
Breeze, launched by veteran travel industry entrepreneur and JetBlue founder David Neeleman, has had a turbulent first year of operation, with disruptions due to the pandemic compounded by a general shortage of pilots and flight delays. obtaining regulatory certifications.
The result has been numerous changes to its flight schedules, including outright cancellations of flights that already had reservations last summer.
“We don’t want this to happen again,” Neeleman said, in an interview at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans to mark the new Tulane deal. “We will be moving seasonally, but we will not be moving people from flights already booked.”
The charter agreement with Tulane, which Neeleman hopes will be a model for similar agreements with other college sports programs, is part of the plan to avoid such disruptions.
New Orleans was one of Breeze’s four initial bases, along with Tampa, Charleston, South Carolina; and Norfolk, Virginia. The airline’s concept is to connect underserved airports to cities that are popular vacation destinations.
However, as Breeze chief commercial officer Lukas Johnson said, the timing was particularly bad for New Orleans because the first flights in July were well after the peak spring season. Just over a month later, the city was hit by Hurricane Ida and several subsequent events, including the rescheduled New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, were canceled.
Tulane to the rescue
A silver lining came when the Tulane men’s basketball team had to quickly find a charter operator who could take the team to away games.
Coach Ron Hunter said the university chose Breeze because it was based in New Orleans, had planes big enough to accommodate the whole team, “and it didn’t hurt that they have the best snacks.” Tulane charter flights ended up accounting for about 10% of Breeze’s first nine-month revenue from New Orleans.
The new agreement with Tulane will cover all sports teams except football, which requires larger commercial aircraft. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but there is a commitment to a minimum number of flights between Labor Day and Memorial Day. Hunter said the men’s basketball team alone steals about 14 away games per season.
Neeleman said Breeze will dedicate one of its ten 108-seat Embraer 190s to Tulane charter flights, saying it will then serve as “the perfect backup aircraft” for scheduled flights out of the airport. Breeze sees the New Orleans agreement as a prototype for other such agreements in its network.
A billion dollar company
“The world of sports charter is a billion dollar business in the United States, but charter operators tend to have smaller planes and do not operate scheduled flights, whereas for larger big carriers, like Delta, it’s just a side hustle,” Neeleman said. “We thought it would be a good idea to be excellent at both.”
Other potential cities with large college sports programs in Breeze’s network are Provo, Utah, home of Brigham Young University; Hartford, Connecticut, which is near the University of Connecticut; and Providence, Rhode Island, which is near the University of Rhode Island.
Breeze plans to roll out its fleet of 190s as the hybrid charter business grows and it takes delivery of three dozen 150-seat Airbus A220-300s over the next year.
New Orleans Airport and economic boosters still have high hopes for Breeze, despite the first year’s hiccups.
The airline promised to invest $6.6 million and create 261 new direct jobs here. To date, it has created 53 full-time positions (34 flight attendants and a supervisor, 8 technicians and their supervisor, a station manager and 10 pilots).
Flights are back
Of the first 10 scheduled routes that began in July 2021, all but two – Charleston, South Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia — have been suspended or canceled, though some are returning this fall.
Return flights are Louisville, Kentucky, which resumes bi-weekly flights on Friday. Next month, three routes resume flights: Jacksonville, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and Bentonville/Fayetteville, Arkansas. Scheduled to return in February are: Columbus, Ohio; Norfolk, Virginia; and Akron-Canton, Ohio.
Breeze said flights purchased before Monday for travel between Nov. 1 and Feb. 14 to Charleston, Richmond and Louisville would cost $39 each way. Flights to Jacksonville, Florida and Savannah, Georgia would cost $49 each way.
Flights to West Palm Beach, Fla., which were canceled this summer and originally slated to return this fall, may return on a seasonal basis next summer, Breeze said.
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