Skybus Airlines got off to a fast start during its first day of business yesterday, selling 60,000 one-way tickets by 5 p.m.
The Columbus airline, which will start flying May 22, is using a low-fare strategy that includes offering $10 fares for at least 10 seats on every flight.
"We booked flights today for Boston, Richmond, Kansas City, San Francisco and Seattle," Bexley resident Arlene Armstrong said in an e-mail to The Dispatch. "The total cost for 10 tickets was only $399. What a deal!"
There will be more where that came from. At a news conference yesterday morning to officially announce routes and fares, Skybus CEO Bill Diffenderffer said the airline plans to add seven more routes from Columbus within the next several weeks, bringing the total to 15 routes before the end of the year.
By 5 p.m. yesterday, $10 fares had nearly disappeared for the summer months on routes to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Los Angeles and San Francisco. They had been replaced by fares of $40 to $100 each way, still less than it would cost to fly on other carriers. Routes such as Richmond, Va., and Kansas City still had plenty of $10 tickets available.
For some, excitement about the low fares was mixed with frustration. A number of would-be fliers reported repeated errors on Skybus.com, which was flooded with inquiries."My wife and I have tried 20 times-plus to book from Columbus to Fort Lauderdale," Columbus resident Anthony Mampieri said. "Either the Web site has been down, or we keep getting error messages."
Several others e-mailed The Dispatch with similar stories.
Skybus spokesman Bob Tenenbaum said he was not aware of any lengthy problems. He said there were some "glitches" throughout the day, and they were dealt with quickly.
The Skybus way of doing business will take some getting used to for those accustomed to traditional airline policies. The carrier is providing no phone numbers for bookings or customer service. Also, Skybus will charge $5 each for checked bags and $50 for those who bring a third suitcase.
Another point of discussion on Internet chat boards was Skybus' "no-outside-food" policy. The airline plans to make money by selling onboard refreshments, including bottled water and potato chips. On its Web site, Skybus warns: "Oh, and don't sneak food onboard unless you brought enough for the whole plane."
Skybus' low-fare competitors at Port Columbus said they are not overly concerned by the upstart's rock-bottom fares.
"I think there will be different customers that are interested in different products," JetBlue spokesman Bryan Baldwin said. "We're currently offering $39 sale fares to Boston. Once you check bags and buy refreshments and pay for transportation into the city, it will be interesting to see what the fare comparison really is."
JetBlue flies directly into Boston's Logan Airport, while Skybus flies into Portsmouth, N.H., 50 miles north. Also, JetBlue plays up its free perks, including snacks and in-flight entertainment.
Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King echoed these sentiments.
"We're a customer-service company that happens to fly airplanes," King said. "From what I've seen so far, Skybus is not emphasizing customer service."
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