An airline calling itself Florida Express Jet says it plans to launch service between three Florida cities in less than 40 days.The carrier is selling seats now for nonstop service that’s scheduled to start March 20. Florida Express Jet will fly nonstop from Orlando to both Fort Lauderdale and Tallahassee with fares starting at $69, even for last-minute flights. Florida Express Jet also is selling connecting service between Fort Lauderdale and Tallahassee via Orlando, with fares running $99 and up.
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Florida Express Jet will pay Swift Air to operate its flights on Swift Air-owned Boeing 737-400 jets. Swift Air is an FAA-certified large jet operator that currently provides charter flights for major collegiate sports teams and for several professional sports franchises, including the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association and the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins of the National Hockey League.
Florida Express Jet says the Swift Air-operated 737s will be painted in a Florida Express Jet livery that features “true Florida colors,” including “the Florida sun, water and beaches, palm trees and the state Everglades. All seats on the aircraft are soft blue leather.”
Florida Express Jet will offer free Wi-Fi on its aircraft, which will seat 12 in business class and 138 in coach.
Jeff Thompson, Director of Sales for Florida Express Jet, says in a statement that he thinks “our low cost, unrestricted fares will remind Floridians of the early days of Air Florida, Southwest Airlines and PSA Airlines as they established their foothold with low fares and great service in their respective states of Florida, Texas and California.”
“We will continue to add service as demand warrants to all of the major cities throughout the state of Florida,” Thompson adds, saying “Florida Express Jet will focus its attention and service exclusively on markets within this great state.”
The company’s website lists Jacksonville, Key West, Miami and Tampa as cities with “services coming (in) 2014.”
As for its March 20 launch, Florida Express Jet’s online booking engine shows two daily round-trip flights between Orlando and Fort Lauderdale and between Orlando and Tallahassee on most days through April and into May. That flight schedule also allows for multiple connecting itineraries between Fort Lauderdale and Tallahassee via Orlando.
Florida Express Jet pledged fares of $69 each way on “all” coach seats on both of its nonstop routes. However, the company’s booking engine showed both a $69 coach fare as well as a “better coach” fare for $89 during a check of Florida Express Jet’s website at 5:10 p.m. ET on Monday, Feb. 10. It was unclear what came with the “better coach” fare. Business-class seats cost $99 each way.
For connecting flights, Florida Express Jet said a release that it would charge a $99 flat rate for coach class. The company’s booking engine did show $99 fares for coach – but also $119 fares for a “better coach” seat. Business class fares on the company’s booking engine were available for $149 during the same check of Florida Express Jet’s website.
Florida Express Jet will charge a $25 fee for each checked bag “to offset ground handling and airport costs.” But the company says it will not charge for other items, such as ticket changes, preferred seating, carry-on bags, snacks and soft drinks.
Florida Express Jet will have competition on its planned routes. Silver Airways also flies nonstop between Tallahassee and Orlando, offering flights that also are part of a codeshare agreement with United Airlines. United also offers those Silver Airways flights for sale on its website.
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On the Orlando-Fort Lauderdale route, Florida Express Jet will go head-to-head with both Silver Airways and Fort Lauderdale-based ultra low-cost carrier Spirit. Like on the Tallahassee-Orlando route, United also offers Silver Airways’ flights for sale on its website.
Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst for Hudson Crossing, says Florida Express Jet’s business plan isn’t without its challenges.
Harteveldt says it was smart for Florida Express Jet to partner with Swift Air, a carrier that already has an operating certificate recognized by the FAA. Difficulties in obtaining needed regulatory approvals have slowed or thwarted numerous airline start-up efforts in recent years. A reborn PEOPLExpress brand and California Pacific Airlines are just two recent efforts that have failed to meet projected launch dates because of a protracted regulatory process.
But while regulatory hurdles may not be a problem for Florida Express Jet’s launch, Harteveldt says he’s not sure its intra-Florida routes have much profit potential for a start-up airline offering only three point-to-point routes.
“Maybe they can stimulate demand,” Harteveldt says of Florida Jet Express. “But aviation history is littered with the tattered carcasses of failed start-ups. I hope management has done their homework.”
Florida Express Jet’s most immediate challenge may be simply lining up agreements to fly to the airports it says it will start flying to on March 20.
At Tallahassee Regional Airport, Director of Aviation Chris Curry tells The Tallahassee Democrat that his airport would welcome the new service but that there’s no contract in place between the airport and start-up carrier. That would be needed before the flights could begin as scheduled.
“The position of the city of Tallahassee is that we are very excited to provide new destinations for the residents of our community,” Curry says to the newspaper. “We do not have a formalized contract with Florida Express Jet yet, but we do welcome the opportunity to establish an agreement with them to work out of the airport.”