Skybus takes flight from Oakland

ULTRA LOW-FARE STARTUP Skybus Airlines launched service Tuesday at Oakland International Airport, featuring some fares that are cheaper than a tank of gas.

By selling some $10 tickets from Oakland to the airline's base in Columbus, Ohio, the nation's newest carrier is trying to emulate the no-frills model of Europe's popular Ryanair.

"The fares are great," said Tiffany Lhuillier, who was taking five sons between the ages of 2 and 8 -- all sporting Mohawk haircuts -- to Columbus to visit her parents. "I bought seven tickets for $149, and all five boys got $10 tickets." Lhuillier lives at Beale Air Force Base near Yuba City, and her husband, who serves in the military, is deployed overseas.

Skybus has at least 10 seats on every flight priced at $10 one-way. The flights are nonstop, and offer connections to other cities from Columbus. The airline has one non-stop departure and arrival in Oakland from Columbus seven days a week.

Skybus also offers other low fares -- many in the $40 to $75 range for a one-way ticket, airline officials said. Most of the $10 seats have been snapped up on scheduled flights through Dec. 15, though a few are still available midweek in the fall at , the company said. The lower fares are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. The majority of the seats are sold for about $300 round-trip, still considered a bargain.

Don't bother calling the airline. Part of its push to cut costs includes automation that allows all tickets to be sold online. The $10 one-way tickets actually cost $20.80, including fees and taxes.

Also, Skybus charges extra for many items, including $5 each for the first two bags, and $50 for the third one. It's $10 for a preferred seat and $2 for a soft drink. Food can be purchased on the plane, but is not allowed to be carried on.

"It was a terrific flight, and I only paid $50," said Sharon Arnold, visiting her son in Albany.

Skybus flies into less congested airports, where costs are lower. For example, it flies to Bellingham, Wash., 94 miles from Seattle, and Portsmouth, Mass., 50 miles from Boston.

Other cities it serves include Burbank, Fort Lauderdale, Richmond, Va., Greensboro, N.C., and Kansas City. It will start San Diego service July 16.

"The model is about carrying people from point A to point B," said Ronald Kuhlmann, airline analyst at Unisys in Pleasanton. "Anything else you want, you have to pay for. Consumers need to pay close attention to the extra costs."

The airline, which boasts $160 million in funding, began service May 22. It flies the 150-seat Airbus A319 aircraft. Planes to and from Oakland Tuesday were about 80 percent full, a company spokesman said.

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