Is this complete lunacy? Maybe not. Certainly RyanAir has been making good money offering cut-rate deals in Europe. Go to its Web site and you'll see the Irish airline is offering flights for as little as 5 pounds.
JetAmerica seems to be following the RyanAir model pretty closely:
- Like RyanAir, JetAmerica is cashing in on subsidies from local governments eager to get better air service. JetAmerica is starting out with $1.4 million in government money from various sources, of which $600,000 is coming from the city of Toledo, where officials hope that having direct service to the greater New York area -- specifially Newark -- will help businesses there lower an unhealthy 12.1 percent jobless rate. The airline will also benefit from another $1.9 million in landing fee wavers and grants to underwrite marketing.
- Like RyanAir, JetAmerica also plans to squeeze every ancillary revenue stream. There doesn't appear to be any push to charge for using the toilets, but you'll pay a booking fee, you'll pay for food and drinks, and you'll get dinged $15 per bag. As one writer notes, nobody paying $9 a ticket is going to mind 15 bucks per bag.
What that means for RyanAir is that it can overbook with impunity, knowing from experience that X number of passengers won't show up, and they pocket that extra revenue.
In the JetAmerica case, it's only offering nine seats at $9 each -- plus the booking fee, of course. They're no doubt betting that many of those nine passengers will blow off the trip, thus allowing them to turn around to sell the seat again to a full-price passenger, and keeping the revenues from both fares.
So certainly, the model can work. What seems to have killed SkyBus last year was not the business model, but the big spike in fuel prices we saw.
Still, there's plenty of room for skepticism. SkyBus's collapse left a bad taste in a lot of mouths. After reviewing the business and operations plans, this guy named Bret Snyder calls JetAmerica "one of the most disorganized efforts I've seen in a long time." There's a potential issue with the fact that Alaska Air Group owns the rights to the airline name Jet America.
And while we can admire the ingenuity of a shoe-string operator, at the start, JetAmerica's entire fleet will consist of one 737 that it's leasing from somebody else.
"There is lean, and then there is anorexic," writes Tom Barlow at WalletPop.com. "Skybus adopted a finger-down-the-throat business plan, and JetAmerica seems to be flying in its contrail."