World’s Cheapest Airline, PEOPLExpress, Returns to Fly the Underserved Skies

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After being grounded for more than 30 years, the PEOPLExpress airline brand is making its return to an industry hungry for a good deal. The US airline, which in its 1980s heyday herded passengers onto no-frills flights for a few bucks, will begin selling tickets Wednesday for a handful of flights out of its home base in Newport News, VA, starting June 30.

With fares as low as $76, the PEOPLExpress brand is diving back into an industry that has begun to adhere to the high-fee model that the airline pioneered back in the day. A leader in checked-bag fees and meal-free flights, PEOPLExpress will now go up against other no-frills US carriers like Spirit Airlines, which is trying to turn around its reputation for poor customer service while goosing sales for its discount flights.[more]

The original PEOPLExpress, which flew from 1981-1987, was acquired by Continental Airlines. As USA Today notes, despite using the same moniker and funky spelling, this new airline is technically Vision Airlines dba (doing business as) PEOPLExpress, under new ownership with a respect for its heritage. “(The original airline) not only did low fares, but they did low fares with excellent customer service and really developed a passion for—and respect and caring for—their travelers,” PEOPLExpress CEO Jeffrey Erickson told Bloomberg.

The reborn PEOPLExpress will initially fly to Newark, Pittsburgh and Boston and add routes to New Orleans, Atlanta, West Palm Beach and St. Petersburg in Florida. The desirability of these routes, often passed over by major airlines, could be the key to the airline’s success, Bloomberg notes. If people don’t want to get to Newport News or escape it, the new version of PEOPLExpress may quickly go the way of the old one.

But why Newport News? AirTran served travelers there from 1995 until 2012, and established “a nice base of travelers, then all of a sudden disappeared two years ago when Southwest pulled out,” PEOPLExpress CEO Jeff Erickson told TheStreet.com. The city has “a latent demand for air service and a great history of traffic—that is why we are here.”

And while nostalgia may serve the airline well at first (another group is also trying to resurrect the long-defunct Eastern Airlines), PEOPLExpress will quickly have to fall back in line with the industry. “Each airline’s success depends more on its management, financing, and relevancy of business strategies, route networks, and value propositions than their names,” travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt told TheStreet.com, so the brand better get back to moving people—and fast!

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