Skybus Takes Flight
been called "America's Ryanair" -- by its proponents AND detractors
-- and so far, it's been mostly clear skies for Columbus, OH-based
The ultra-low-cost, no-frills carrier began operations Tuesday,
flying from Columbus to Burbank, CA. The return flight was delayed
by about an hour, according to sources close to the airline, due to
a slow turn... but that's not the worst first day a new airline has
In keeping with its pledge to undercut nearly all other
airlines, some tickets on the first Skybus flight sold for $10...
and a low number of similarly-priced seats will be available on all
its flights, according to Skybus CEO Bill Diffenderffer.
"We're sort of embarrassed our fares are as high as $10,"
Diffenderffer told USA Today.
But, as they say, you get what you pay for. Even the airline's
highest ticket price -- currently $225 for a last-minute fare from
Columbus to Burbank, according to the Skybus website -- does not
include checked baggage, priority boarding, or any kind of onboard
food or drink. Those are extra-cost items... and passengers aren't
allowed to bring their own food onboard.
Should passengers neglect to bring along reading material, they
may amuse themselves reading various advertisements plastered
throughout the cabin. Flight attendants also peddle perfume, and
other inflight impulse-buy items.
If this sounds familiar, you're right... as the Skybus operating
model closely mirrors that of Dublin-based Ryanair.
"Skybus is very Ryanair-esque," said Dan Garton, executive vice
president of marketing at American Airlines. "We're watching that
carefully, and the question is, 'Is that a direction we want to
Skybus also mirrors Ryanair -- and, to a lesser extent, current
reigning American LCC Southwest -- by flying to out-of-the-way,
non-hub airports. For its advertised flight to the Seattle area,
for example. Skybus flies into Bellingham, WA -- which is 78 miles
north of Seattle. Driving to Seattle can easily become a three-hour
affair during rush hour.
But so far, Diffenderffer says, the market has responded
favorably. "A couple hundred thousand" tickets have been sold since
they became available -- online only, no ticket agents -- on April
24, the CEO says, and more than 80% of the seats on its current
14-plane fleet of leased Airbus A319s are booked through the first
And plan on a packed aircraft... even if it the plane isn't
full. Skybus will cram 156 seats into its own A319s, which the
carrier expects to begin receiving next year. To give you an idea
of the resulting seat pitch, or distance between the seats -- that
type of plane typically carries 124 passengers in a two-class
configuration; currently, Skybus is operating 144-seat A319s leased
from for upstart carrier Virgin America.
Airline consultant Michael Boyd, president of the Boyd Group,
expresses doubts Skybus will be able to hold onto passengers, once
the novelty wears off.
"In the US, the trend in low-cost carriers is toward a
higher-value proposition," Boyd said. "They ain't Ryanair, and this
(Photo above by Derek Rust)