I had the privilege of flying Avelo Airlines’ first passenger flight yesterday. This was my first inaugural flight (my inaugural inaugural, if you will) of an airline. The overall experience didn’t disappoint and is something I’ll always remember.
But will I go out of my way to fly Avelo again?
Here’s what it was like.
Avelo Airlines is a low-cost airline (read: fees, fees, fees!). It previously operated as Casino Express Airlines and then Xtra Airways.
Current Avelo CEO Andrew Levy — formerly of Allegiant Air — took over Xtra in 2018. Long story short, he rebranded the carrier into Avelo.
By the way, it’s pronounced “uh-VELL-oh.” And USA Today‘s Dawn Gilberton explained the airline is called “Avelo” because the name is “a blend of the Spanish word for bird (ave) and the Latin word for swift (velo).”
The airline flies to several smaller western US airports:
- Arcata – Eureka, CA
- Redmond – Bend, OR
- Hollywood Burbank, CA
- Bozeman Yellowstone, MT
- Eugene, OR
- Grand Junction, CO
- Medford – Rogue Valley, OR
- Ogden – St. Lake City, UT
- Pasco Tri-Cities, WA
- Redding, CA
- Santa Rosa – Sonoma, CA
- Phoenix-Mesa, AZ
Avelo’s hub is Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Listen, I love the Burbank airport. I love the Valley. I love aviation and travel. But an airline calls BUR its hub kind of makes me smirk. But, hey, you gotta start somewhere, right?
Purchasing My Ticket
I bought my ticket on April 8 — the first day flights were available for purchase.
Avelo’s big selling point is $19 fares and only $10 to check a bag. (But seat assignments, overhead bin access, and all that jazz each have separate fees. We’ll get to that in a minute.)
So I logged on at 8:00 AM PDT (the onsale time). I was eager to purchase my reservation and be part of history. The plan was to buy a spot on Avelo’s first two passenger flights: Burbank to Santa Rosa – Sonoma — and then the return that same day.
Except the website was down for a while.
Is there a surcharge for Avelo Air’s website to work? pic.twitter.com/X9VxJJov7U
— RenesPoints●com ✈️ (@RenesPoints) April 8, 2021
They soon were back online and I was able to purchase buy a ticket.
But I wanted a window seat. I also wanted to purchase pre-boarding so I could get some photos of the plane before it became too crowded.
My $19 flight ended up costing me $47.
All in all, I spent $94 roundtrip. (Totally worth it for the experience I enjoyed.)
Worth noting: Avelo only accepts Visa and Mastercard. I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve and earned 3X points for my travel purchase.
Pre-Departure at Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR)
Hollywood Burbank Airport (or simply “Burbank” as most people call it) is a quaint airport. It has 14 gates spread across two terminals. (I use it most often for Southwest flights to Las Vegas and up to the San Francisco Bay Area. The odd Delta trip sneaks in there, too.)
I showed up just before 8:00 AM and was one of the first passengers there for the 10:30 AM departure.
Avelo’s check-in desk is located in Terminal A.
But flights depart from Terminal B (which is a two-minute walk).
Passengers’ boarding passes were pre-printed to help expedite check-in. Given the seven or eight reps working the counter, this strategy seemed to work and I had my boarding pass in a few seconds.
Avelo is not yet a TSA PreCheck airline. Their COO told me Avelo is in the process of getting that worked out.
A step-and-repeat was available (between Terminals A and B) for anyone who wanted to snap pictures in front of Avelo branding.
Once I cleared security and found a seat in the empty-ish gate area, I noticed my boarding pass didn’t include priority boarding.
I asked a gate agent about it. She took down my name, said she’d look into my reservation, and call me to the lectern when she had an update. I never heard anything; though, the place quickly turned into a circus.
The employees buzzed with nervous excitement. Some had zero airline experience and others were old pros.
But they had a pretty game customer base. Passengers consisted mostly of Avelo employees (execs and their guests, various crew members, etc) and AvGeeks thrilled just to be part of the experience. (Most of whom know better than to flip out on airline employees.) But I hope the employees are ready when passengers with less patience and/or travel experience start filling Avelo flights.
A steady stream of passengers, media, employees, and crew members arrived from about 8:30 until 10:00.
Our trip’s pilots and flight attendants were instant celebrities with the AvGeek crowd!
Mr. Levy soon gave a dedication speech before cutting a ceremonial ribbon.
Boarding Avelo Airlines’ First Flight: XP101!
Boarding was sort of a free-for-all. So I boarded without asking any questions (“Should I board now? Is this priority boarding?”) and no one said boo.
We were given souvenir boarding passes and luggage tags commemorating Avelo’s first flight.
Many passengers recorded media for vlogs, blogs, or their private libraries. People were very accommodating with photos and filming. I didn’t see others rushing fellow passengers along or giving the Why is this person taking pictures of everything on the plane?! look many of us receive 😉 .
The smell of new carpet and seats instantly greeted me as I stepped aboard. (It maybe wasn’t #NewPlaneSmell — but darn close!)
The aircraft had very basic slimline seats.
Avelo planes have the ability to pack in a lot of passengers. Maybe too many for comfort.
I’ve heard various pitch measurements — but the cheap seats apparently top out at 29”. (For reference, a Delta Connection CRJ-200’s is 31.” Yeah.)
Now, that’s fine for short flights. I can put up with almost anything for an hour. Anything longer is pushing it.
I’m lucky that neither flight was full — and no one sat immediately next to me. Otherwise, it would’ve been very tight.
Other than that, the plane is basically a no-frills 737.
I had a window seat toward the back of the plane. An Avelo chief mechanic took the aisle. (The middle seat was unclaimed.)
I must say: it’s very comforting when one of the airline’s top mechanics is confident taking your flight. He told me the plane received several upgrades (new Rolls Royce engines, etc).
He and all the other Avelo employees were absolutely psyched to be on the flight. It was a lot of work finally coming to fruition. That excitement combined with the enthusiasm of aviation lovers who specifically took this flight created a fun, special buzz during the trip.
The CEO and COO were onboard both flights and chatted with passengers. I thought that was pretty cool.
Every announcement — no matter how standard — was met with cheers and applause. “Please fasten your seatbelts” –> “Whoo-hoo!”
The lead flight attendant accidentally welcomed us aboard American flight 101 — and then quickly corrected herself. (Guess where she worked before joining Avelo? 😉 ) She received some good-natured teasing from the passengers. Then she told us we were going to Santa Barbara (Santa Rosa was our destination). When she was corrected, she said with a laugh, “Well, we’re flying past Santa Barbara!”
The boarding door closed (and people cheered). We pushed back from the gate (and people cheered). We taxied to runway 15 and were told the plane was cleared for takeoff. (Spoiler alert: people cheered.)
Avelo’s First Takeoff!
We powered down the RWY15 and lifted into the sky.
Passengers clapped, screamed, cheered, and whistled. Employees pumped their fists.
A few people had tears in their eyes. It was a moment I will never forget.
On the ground, some of Avelo’s employees and guests watched the maiden flight soar off.
We soon banked to the west before turning north upstate.
Don’t expect much once you’re airborne. There’s no WiFi. Beverage service? Nope. (Though that’s apparently a temporary practice caused by COVID.)
Avelo’s flight attendants and executives served us snacks about 20 minutes into the ride.
Then each passenger was given a small glass of a delicious sparkling apple cider. The lead flight attendant explained that Avelo wanted to have a celebratory toast but there’s no way any wine they gave us could compete with the vino available in Santa Rosa. (Well, not only that but as I overheard one employee say, “We don’t have a liquor license yet.”)
Mr. Levy gave a nice toast before we descended over the San Francisco area.
It was a spectacular day for sightseeing.
We landed in Santa Rosa. And, of course, there was plenty of cheering. 🙂
So What Did I Think of Avelo?
Avelo Airlines, like most things, has its good and its meh.
Let’s start with the good.
I was very impressed with the service and employees. Plenty of smiles and great attitudes. When the BUR gate agent didn’t know the answer to my priority boarding question, she said she’d find out and let me know. We already covered that part and I’ll chalk it up to first-day hiccups. But despite her obvious jitters, she still wanted to get the situation resolved.
But here’s why Avelo is probably not the best airline for me.
- First, those seats are cramped and uncomfortable. Avelo is a no-frills airline and wants to pack in as many people as possible. But it truly felt like the proverbial “flying bus.” You can buy up to more legroom, of course, for additional fees.
- I hate ticky-tack fees. Being charged to pick an aisle or a window is gross.
- I really don’t have much reason to visit most of their destinations. I have family in Salt Lake City — but I’d rather take Delta or Southwest. I’ll pay more — but I’ll also be more comfortable.
- And here’s something that’s sort of concerning: I saw Avelo’s entire fleet today — two 737s. Again, I understand they’re a small airline just getting going. But if you’re taking one of the 737s and there’s a mechanical issue, you might be waiting a long time for another flight.
- Finally, there’s no Avelo loyalty program. We points/miles enthusiasts want to earn and burn our points. Let the naysayers rag on us for loving our credit cards and miles-earning strategies. They can pay a zillion dollars in fees and be uncomfortable in thin, slimline seats.
I truly hope the airline succeeds. I really do. I applaud Mr. Levy and his group for creating something that brings jobs and money to several destinations. I hope Avelo’s target customers learn about the carrier — and that the airline thrives.
What an amazing experience. My face muscles hurt from smiling so much all day! I loved being part of Avelo Airlines’ first flight. Their employees are a wonderful asset. Their hard product, though, leaves something to be desired for those of us who like decent seats and more than 30 inches of pitch.
I doubt I’ll take another Avelo trip unless necessary. But if they make some improvements, I’d gladly give them another shot.
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