Aha!, the third new US airline this year, takes off today
"What pandemic?" That might be the question on the minds of aviation observers when learning that the third new U.S. airline of 2021 is taking to the skies on Sunday.
On Sunday, Aha!, the leisure brand of long-time regional operator ExpressJet Airlines, will take to the skies with a 2:05 p.m. local time departure on Flight 7082 from Reno/Tahoe (RNO) to Pasco/Tri-Cities, Washington (PSC). The flight will then return to the airline's Reno base later in the afternoon, marking the first round-trip for this new airline.
Aha! stands for “air, hotel, adventure,” and the new airline is designed to bring leisure travelers to its Reno base from “underserved” markets along the West Coast. Reno is known for its casino resorts, dining and year-round outdoor activities — including nearby Lake Tahoe — and Aha! is hoping to turn its first hub into an easily accessible destination from points in California, Oregon and Washington.
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The carrier will start with eight destinations, all launching over the next few weeks, from Oct. 24 through Nov. 10, with hopes of expanding its reach over the coming months. It has plans to grow to more than 20 cities shortly, though Aha! hasn’t tipped its hat at exactly what its growth plans might look like.
While Aha! is technically a new airline brand, it's actually the latest venture from ExpressJet. Founded in 1986, ExpressJet has a long history of operating regional flights between small- and mid-sized cities. At one point, it was even owned by Continental Airlines, and most recently flew exclusively on behalf of United Express in mid-2020.
However, due to the pandemic, United ended its contract with ExpressJet and the carrier ceased operations. Now, the airline is rebranding four 50-seat Embraer 145 regional jets in a catchy blue and green livery and throwing some darts into the sky to see what sticks.
The flights won't be the most comfortable ride in the sky — the Embraer 145 jet is outfitted in a 1-2 configuration, and with small overhead bins, you'll have to pay $30 to gate valet your full-size rollaboard bags. Other optional fees, including seat assignments and extra bags, range from $10 to $100. Flights can be booked on www.flyaha.com or through the airline’s call center at 775-439-0888.
Aha! is the third newest U.S. airline to launch this year. Former Allegiant Airlines and United executive Andrew Levy is behind the first new carrier to launch this year, Avelo Airlines. Interestingly, Aha! and Avelo share a similar launch strategy. Avelo began with one hub in Burbank on the West Coast and has since expanded with more routes there and a new base in New Haven, Connecticut, on the East Coast, with the goal of connecting smaller cities to these markets.
Serial airline entrepreneur brought his latest project, Breeze Airways, to life a few weeks after Avelo. Breeze is focused on connecting midsized markets with nonstop flights, focusing on cities that are too small for major carriers to serve beyond flights to their hubs.
So far, the airline is concentrated around four focus cities: Tampa; New Orleans; Charleston, South Carolina; and Norfolk, Virginia.
It'll be interesting to follow how Aha! and the other newbie airlines fare. In the meantime, if you're traveling to Reno, you'll soon have another option.
Aha! launch routes
|Pasco/Tri-Cities, Washington (PSC)||10/24/21|
|Bakersfield, California (BFL)||10/25/21|
|Medford/Ashland, Oregon (MFR)||10/31/21|
|Eugene/Springfield, Oregon (EUG)||11/1/21|
|Ontario, California (ONT)||11/4/21|
|Redmond/Bend, Oregon (RDM)||11/5/21|
|Eureka/Arcata, California (ACV)||11/9/21|
|Fresno, California (FAT)||11/10/21|