“Hassle-Free” Airlines: A Threat to Legacy Airlines and Low-Cost Carriers?
Southern Airways Express — an airline based in Memphis which has launched public charter service with non-stop low-cost flights to ten destinations throughout the southeastern United States — claims to have flights with no baggage fees, no security hassles and no airport parking fees.
I noticed that one of the special airfares is between New Orleans and Memphis for August 30, 2013. I decided to attempt a return for Monday, September 2, 2013. When including the $31.77 in taxes and fees, the lowest total cost was an even $298.00 round-trip.
As a comparison, the lowest airfare I can find — including all taxes and fees — was $600.10 on American Airlines, with both the origination and return flights stopping at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The next lowest airfare was $705.10 on AirTran Airways — also with connecting flights both ways.
Keep in mind that Southern Airways Express does not use the typical commercial airports — which means the following:
Airports Aircraft are operated by Southern Airways Express at “fixed based operators” and not typical commercial airports — which means in most cases free parking for your vehicle for at least 14 days, free coffee and newspapers, complimentary Internet Wi-Fi service, and comfortable waiting areas for your flight. This also means that you may arrive at the departure airport in as few as 15 minutes before your flight.
Airport Security Upon purchase of a ticket for a flight operated by Southern Airways Express, you name is run through a security background check by the Transportation Security Administration. You will not go through an airport security checkpoint. All baggage may be subject to manual inspection, and the captain of the flight — in his or her discretion — may request to perform a brief security check of any passenger by using a hand-held magnetometer. You will not be subjected to any intrusive measures by the staff of Southern Airways Express or anyone at the airport.
Baggage You may check as many bags as you like with no fees — but you are limited to a total aggregate weight of 50 pounds of baggage. However, three or more bags and oversized items will be transported free of charge as long as space is available. I am not sure as to what happens if space is not available.
Aircraft Southern Airways Express operates a fleet of Cessna 208 Caravan and 208B Grand Caravan aircraft — think really small propeller aircraft — all of which are outfitted with nine luxury leather passenger seats, a Bose or Sony headset for each passenger, and space in the cabin for one personal item, such as a briefcase of purse.
In addition, here is the policy for changing your ticket, according to Southern Airways Express:
Tickets are fully refundable and changeable within 24 hours of purchase. In addition, if you wish to change the date of departure or return, you may do so under two conditions:
- that Southern is able to re-sell your current ticket to another passenger, and the flight is sold-out; and
- that seats are available on the future flight in the same fare class.
In the case of a higher fare class being the only seats available, you will have to pay the difference. In the case of a lower fare class being available, the difference will be refunded to you.
There is a fee of $25.00 if you are unable to embark on your trip and want to transfer your ticket to another person. Simply contact Southern Airways Express, and your reservation will be changed to the name of a friend, colleague, or family member.
This sounds like a dream come true, no?
Well, there are downsides. In addition to operating really small propeller aircraft on flights between only ten destination airports, the frequency of flights — or lack thereof — does not compare to those of typical commercial airlines. You also cannot connect to flights on other airlines outside of the Southern Airways Express route system unless you arrange for transportation between a “fixed based operator” and a commercial airport — and allow plenty of time to do so. Reliability of flights are unknown at this time, as service is apparently only being launched this month.
There is also no guarantee that Southern Airways Express will succeed and become profitable.
Other airlines with similar or unique concepts include the following:
- Surf Air — a concept where you can fly on as many flights as you like for one monthly membership fee to four destination airports in California
- ImagineAir — an air taxi company which no longer offers flights throughout the southern and eastern United States for as low as one dollar, but rather for as low as $39.00
- SeaPort Airlines — a concept similar to Southern Airways Express which was first launched several years ago and competes in a few of the markets in which Southern Airways Express intends to operate
What if established commercial airlines operated under a model similar to Southern Airways Express? Is it even possible? Would you consider flying as a passenger on Southern Airways Express?