Up in the Air | Arts and Culture | Style Weekly

Economy airlines have a bad rap. Hidden fees abound, the amenities are few and far between, the legroom minimal. Practically any creature comfort comes with an up-charge. You want water? $3.50, my friend. A seat with more legroom? Four-times the price of a normal seat. Forget to print your boarding pass in advance? Ten bucks. Additional luggage besides a lone carry-on? Pay up, bub.

In exchange for being treated rougher than an ice cube in a martini shaker, you get a cheaper flight. The problem, according to industry analysts, is that economy airlines have inspired a race to the bottom where traditional airlines try to compete with low-cost ones. Delta, American, United and other airlines have begun nickel-and-diming passengers for amenities that were once complimentary.

Remember when you could always check one bag for free when you flew? Because of these low-cost disrupters, we all must pay.

Last summer, Breeze Airways began flying from Richmond International Airport. Created by David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue and other low-cost airlines, Breeze offers one-way tickets for as low as $39 before taxes and fees. Presently, Breeze offers non-stop flights from Richmond to New Orleans, Charleston, and Florida destinations Palm Beach and Tampa. Additional destinations will be announced in early March.

So, what is it like to fly one of the cheapest airlines around? Style set out to investigate.

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The Cost

Yes, some one-way flights are as low as $39, including my flight out to New Orleans; my return ticket was about $72. With taxes and fees added, the cost roundtrip was $159, a considerable savings. If it weren’t for Breeze, I’d have to pay hundreds of dollars to fly from Richmond to New Orleans and have a connection each way, adding hours of travel time.

While a small carry-on is allowed with every ticket (purse, backpack, etc.), an additional carry-on costs $25 and a checked bag costs $29 if you prepay online. Those fees go up to $50 if you pay for your carry-on or checked bag at the airport. Also, it costs $15 to $39 per person if you want to choose your own seat. If you don’t care where you sit, the wording of the website is confusing, making it seem like you must pay to claim a seat anywhere. A seat with extra legroom costs $20 to $50. Families are seated together without charge.

Make sure you have your boarding pass squared away ahead of time. Breeze will charge $3 per boarding pass if they print it for you at the airport. Breeze has no change or cancellation fees, and reservations can be modified up to 15 minutes before departure, but there is a $9 fee if a Breeze agent assists with a change or cancellation. Those flight credits are good for two years.

Breeze has an app where you can store a digital boarding pass, but they can also be saved to an Apple Wallet on an iPhone; the process for the latter isn’t as intuitive as it could be.

To purchase a ticket, flyers are required to create a BreezePoints account that automatically enrolls you in the airline’s reward program. Flights and bag and seat fees earn you back 2% to 4% of what you paid, which you can use on future travel.

There are no complimentary snacks or drinks on Breeze, including bottles of water. Soft drinks will set you back $3.50 each; Breeze says it will add alcohol to its offerings in the coming weeks. Snacks like M&Ms or a small can of Pringles are $4.50. Breeze also offers snack boxes and combos that range from $8.50 to $22. No cash, card only.

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Our writer reports that "the seats are slim, but comfy enough, the legroom isn’t awful." - PHOTO COURTESY OF BREEZE AIRWAYS

  • Photo courtesy of Breeze Airways
  • Our writer reports that “the seats are slim, but comfy enough, the legroom isn’t awful.”

The Flight

After parking in Richmond’s economy lot, my friend and I hop aboard the shuttle to the terminal. Everyone is in a good mood. The conversation quickly turns to where we’re all going, then to Breeze. No one else, including the airport shuttle driver, has heard of it.

My friend and I quickly give the broad outline of the airlines, including how they charge for everything. My friend jokes that they may ask us to pay for the restroom, spawning comparisons to the movie “Soul Plane.” One woman tells a horror story about a friend who took low-cost carrier Wow Air to Iceland, only to have the airline abruptly go belly up as the friend was about to board for her return trip.

Security is a snap (is there ever much of a line at the Richmond airport?), and we grab a beer and a snack before takeoff. Loading into the plane, spirits are high, but there’s also a sense that a flight this low-priced is too good to be true — as though, once aboard, Ashton Kutcher might jump out from the luggage compartment to tell us we’ve been Punk’d.

The seats are slim, but comfy enough, the legroom isn’t awful (I didn’t bring a tape measurer), and the plane is clean, if spartan. The attendants are unfailingly polite, dressed casually in slacks and collared shirts with the Breeze logo.

When the pilot addresses us pre-flight, he opens the cockpit door and casually leans against the frame, informing us of he and his co-pilot’s extensive flight experience, about the 125-mph headwind that will add 10 minutes to our flight and that we’re number two for takeoff.

The takeoff itself is a bit shaky (due to the headwind, no doubt) and the sun blinds us through the windows (did they scrimp by not tinting them?) but soon we’re off. Unlike other low-cost airlines, the seats recline. Instead of having an entertainment unit built-in to the seat in front of you, there’s a grooved drop-down tray at eye level that’s constructed to hold your phone or tablet (some Breeze flights offer free entertainment streaming). Wi-Fi is not currently offered on Breeze flights, but service will be added as the airlines expands its fleet to include the Airbus A220.

By the time we land, the pilot has made up for lost time, getting us into Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in an hour and 47 minutes.

The return trip from New Orleans was a similar experience, though king cake was much more common as a carry-on.

The Verdict

Offering a smooth trip all around, Breeze is a pleasanter experience than other low-cost airlines. If you book in advance and take care not to fall for one of their money-grabbing pitfalls, you can get a round-trip flight at a very low rate.

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