‘It’s surreal’: What it was like on Avelo Airlines’ inaugural East Coast flight
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The nation’s first startup airline of 2021, Avelo Airlines, has officially landed on the East Coast.
It was a momentous day for the airline, and perhaps an even bigger day for the local community in southern Connecticut — and here’s what it was like on day one.
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“We’re going to the airport?” my Uber driver asked, stunned when I hopped in the car. She had no idea that commercial flights were restarting in New Haven. (Tweed lost its commercial service at the end of September when American Airlines cut its Philly flight.)
From the moment we pulled up to the terminal, it was clear that this was no ordinary day for the airport. Two Avelo-branded Boeing 737-700s were parked in the distance, with a hubbub near the terminal entrance.
There were two check-in areas — one via a trailer for those traveling to Orlando, and another for the more than 100 local officials, VIPs and invited media who weren’t flying.
The check-in experience was seamless. I waited behind the Senerchia family, who didn’t realize that they were flying on Avelo’s inaugural New Haven flight. They were headed to Central Florida for a softball tournament and to visit some local colleges.
For now, Avelo’s six check-in counters will remain located in the temporary trailer. With the “New HVN” redevelopment project underway, the hope is to move to an upgraded, permanent facility in the coming years.
All departing passengers received a commemorative luggage tag while checking in — the same one that the airline handed out during its inaugural festivities in Burbank.
Some passengers also received a bill during check-in. Those who didn’t pre-pay for their full-size rollaboards were charged either $45 to bring it onto the plane, or $40 to check it.
After exiting the trailer, I entered the main terminal for security and boarding. There was a single TSA agent checking everyone’s identification, which funneled into two checkpoints — neither of which featured Precheck since Avelo isn’t yet a member of the program.
Once airside, there was a small gate area with a single concessionaire, as well as restrooms for departing passengers. There was a palpable buzz inside, but the real fun was happening outside under the shining sun.
Airline and airport executives, along with local elected officials and members of the media, gathered for a press conference next to the arch of orange and purple balloons.
Sean Scanlon kicked off the remarks, noting how Wednesday marked the biggest day so far of his three-year tenure as executive director for the airport. “It’s surreal,” he said. “I am excited for what is the first day of the new HVN Airport,” referencing the “New HVN” redevelopment project.
Scanlon passed the microphone to Avelo’s founder and CEO, Andrew Levy, who spoke about the carrier’s promising start so far in New Haven. Since putting flights on sale in mid-August, “our sales have been so strong and our demand has been so good that we already added flights to West Palm Beach and Sarasota/Bradenton,” he said.
Along with the promising news about Avelo’s East Coast future, Levy also christened the Boeing 737-700, registered N701VL, which became the first to depart from New Haven. It would be known as “The Spirits of the Havens” to celebrate the airline’s “long-term commitment to this community.”
(Later in the conference, Levy teased that a seventh route would be unveiled shortly — it won’t be to Florida, nor will it be to the Midwest or to the airline’s Burbank hub, he told reporters.)
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont wrapped up the conference with perhaps the most promising message for his constituents — Avelo coming to New Haven has brought nearly 100 new jobs to the region, with many more in the works, he said.
One of the new hires, Kim Howard, was standing by his side. Howard was the lead flight attendant on the inaugural flight to Orlando and lives just a block from the Tweed airport. Previously a nurse of 18 years, she has “found her passion” in aviation, and walks to work each day.
Following the conference, it was time for a ribbon-cutting ceremony, as well as pictures with two local sports mascots in attendance — Jonathan the Husky from the University of Connecticut and the Storm Tiger from the Bridgeport Islanders minor league hockey team. Neither was lucky enough to score a ticket down to Florida.
With the pre-flight festivities in the books, the attention turned to making sure Avelo Flight 301 would have an on-time departure.
Passengers were invited to board via airstairs, where Levy was stationed handing out a commemorative ticket jacket, along with a pair of free tickets to the Bridgeport Islanders.
Before snapping pics of the cabin, I took a moment to grab a shot of the new decal on the 13-year-old Boeing 737, along with a shot of Levy at the boarding door.
Once inside, Avelo’s orange and purple branding quickly faded, giving way to a familiar site for many Southwest Airlines flyers: 25 rows of blue leather seats arranged in a 3-3 configuration. The only thing missing was the Southwest branding: you won’t find any heart decals on either of the bulkhead walls.
Avelo purchased the Boeing 737-700 from Southwest and elected to keep the existing interiors to minimize capital costs for a retrofit project, Levy told TPG in a recent interview.
The seats themselves were quite comfortable for the hop to Florida. Notably, they weren’t the slimline seats you traditionally find on ultra-low-cost carriers, and even on Avelo’s larger Boeing 737-800s based in Burbank.
Pitch measured between 29 and 30 inches, except for the bulkhead and exit row which offered considerably more legroom (up to 43 inches of pitch).
Each of the 147 seats measured 18 inches wide.
Just be sure to charge your devices in the terminal and pre-load them with movies and TV shows — there are no power outlets or USB ports, nor is there Wi-Fi or inflight entertainment on these birds.
Tray tables measured 16.5 inches wide and 10.5 inches long — much bigger than the ones you traditionally find on ultra-low-cost carriers.
There were two lavatories on board, one located at the front of the aircraft and another at the rear.
Before long, boarding was complete, and Avelo managed to nearly fill the plane with a handful of paying customers, as well as executives, local officials and journalists.
After a welcome aboard from the flight deck and Levy, everyone took their seats and the plane pushed back at 10:55 a.m. local time.
Moments later, two firetrucks approached the plane and gave us a traditional water cannon salute to mark the inaugural flight. All the aviation enthusiasts aboard were peeled to the windows, and some even caught a glimpse of the fleeting rainbow that appeared on the port side of the jet.
We were airborne shortly thereafter, with a quick takeoff roll from Runway 2. We banked to the right, caught some great views of the New Haven area and then climbed to cruising altitude on our way to warmer pastures.
Flight attendants began their service once we crossed through 10,000 feet. They offered an 8-ounce bottle of Avelo-branded water and an 80-calorie sugar cookie to each passenger. (Avelo plans to transition to a buy-on-board model once the pandemic subsides.)
After the service, many passengers played music chairs — those in suits caught up with industry colleagues, and the aviation enthusiasts in “plane clothes” were reconnecting with old friends.
Levy also made his way up and down the plane, thanking each passenger for joining Avelo on the inaugural New Haven flight.
The excitement continued through the 2.5-hour journey. There weren’t any inflight giveaways or Champagne toast like there was on the Burbank inaugural, but the mood was festive nonetheless.
Before long, we started our descent for the Orlando International Airport. A partly cloudy, 81-degree afternoon greeted us after coming in on the airport’s Runway 35R.
A pair of firetrucks greeted the plane with an arrival water cannon salute as it pulled into Gate 112 in the A Terminal.
And just like during departure, those on the port side of the plane got a glimpse of a fleeting rainbow — perhaps a harbinger of good things to come as Avelo inaugurates its new East Coast hub, and starts its first of six routes to Florida.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
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