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A $10-a-Seat Airline Launches--But Can It Fly?

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Skybus, an airline offering $10 seats, launched this morning, and by midday, it had sold 97,000 tickets. The American appetite for bargains seems as strong as ever.

Skybus doesn't have anywhere near the reach of a Continental or a Southwest yet, of course. It operates flights only between Columbus, Ohio, and Vancouver/Seattle; San Francisco; LA; Boston; Richmond, Virginia; Greensboro, North Carolina; Kansas City; and Fort Lauderdale. While the denizens of Columbus must be psyched, I wonder if Skybus will maintain this setup. Having to fly via Columbus to go between San Francisco and Seattle, even if it costs only $60, will only attract the most dedicated bargain hunters.

And can a startup airline like this work, when so many other airlines are faltering? Skybus is certainly making smart cost-saving moves. It's automating what it can by using check-in kiosks and doing everything through the Internet (it doesn't even have a toll-free phone number). It's flying through noncongested airports, like Bellingham instead of Seattle and Portsmouth, New Hampshire instead of Boston, which it says helps it keep costs down and stay on time. It charges for every extra, from water, to blankets, to priority check-in, to checked luggage. It flies new jets that are fuel-efficient so it can save money there. Finally, not all seats cost $10; depending on the day, they seem to cost up to $100 for a one-way trip.

It's the U.S.'s answer to entrepreneurial European airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet, both of which are extraordinarily popular. I'm rooting for Skybus: if it can avoid the union problems, logistical hassles and fuel costs that are hurting so many other U.S. airlines, I'll be impressed. What about you? Would you fly a Skybus? Or do you prefer the in-flight movies, drinks, and attendant high prices, of traditional airlines?

Last updated: Apr 25, 2007




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