Fanfare galore: What it was like flying on Avelo Airlines’ inaugural flight

Apr 28, 2021

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A brand-new U.S. airline just landed.

Avelo Airlines took to the skies for the first time Wednesday with an hour-long flight from its West Coast base in Burbank (BUR) to Santa Rosa, California (STS).

The carrier — the brainchild of former Allegiant Air executive Andrew Levy — is ramping up operations from Burbank over the coming days and weeks, with service to 11 leisure-focused destinations scheduled to launch by mid-summer.

Despite launching during the pandemic, Avelo’s rock-bottom fares that start at just $19 could help entice flyers who might be on the fence about traveling. Ancillary services — such as checked bags, full-sized carry-ons, priority boarding, pre-assigned seats and in-cabin pets — range from an additional $10 to $95.

As the most-notable new U.S. airline to take to the skies since Virgin America nearly 15 years, Wednesday’s flight was met with fanfare. Here’s what it was like both on the ground and in the air.

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The festivities began on Wednesday well ahead of the scheduled departure time of 10:30 a.m. local time. Media and other invited attendees were welcomed with festive purple and yellow balloons.

The atmosphere was jovial, as many friends and acquittances reconnected for the first time since the pandemic began.

Employees were cheery, despite some admitting to nerves ahead of the big launch day.

Check-in itself was a breeze. Avelo currently has three counters at Burbank Airport, with plenty of purple signage pointing you in the right direction.

All the boarding passes were pre-printed, so it took just moments for one of the half-dozen agents to retrieve mine.

Despite inputting my Trusted Traveler Number when making the reservation, Avelo hasn’t formally been accepted as part of the Precheck expedited security program, something the company expects to happen in the coming weeks and months.

The excitement was palpable once I got to Gate B4. Aviation enthusiasts were peeled to the windows, grabbing photos of the two parked Avelo 737s.

Gate agents excitedly made last-minute preparations before boarding.

Moments later, Levy, Avelo’s founder and CEO, appeared and welcomed everyone with a solitary ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Boarding commenced shortly thereafter, with everyone in the gate area clapping and cheering for the first passengers to be scanned.

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The energy continued onto the tarmac. Phones and cameras were pointed in every direction, while some eager passengers ascended the airbridge to be one of the first onboard.

Levy was waiting at the bottom of the stairs to personally greet every passenger and hand out a celebratory ticket jacket with a commemorative boarding pass. The airline’s chief captain distributed Avelo-branded bag tags at the airplane door.

Once onboard, media, investors and other invited guests sat in the first few rows of extra-legroom seats. Everyone else, including the strong showing of aviation enthusiasts, was relegated to the back.

Avelo’s 737s are outfitted with 189 seats in an all-coach configuration. Seats are spread across in a 3-3 layout, with 60 extra-legroom ones in the pointy end of the plane.

The standard seats sport just 29 inches of pitch, while the ones up front have roughly 35 inches.

True to its ultra-low-cost business model,  there are no amenities like TVs, Wi-Fi or power outlets on the jet. Admittedly, fares start at just $19 each way, so you get what you pay for.

For now, the slimline seats recline, but Levy told TPG that the current plan is to lock the seats in a pre-reclined position to avoid making it an extra-tight squeeze for those trying to get up during the flight.

Levy noted that they’re still considering keeping the recline option for the extra-legroom seats, and no final decision has been made yet.

There were no inflight magazines, so aside from the purple safety card, you’ll want to bring your own entertainment.

Levy welcomed guests with an announcement right before the safety demonstration. His words were met with an uproar of cheers and applause.

“Welcome aboard everybody. It’s good to have you. It’s great to see an airplane that is almost full” he said. Wednesday’s flight was roughly 70% occupied, though it’s unclear how many were paying passengers.

Levy is optimistic about the airline’s future. It’ll take some time for Avelo to grow, and he thinks that “we are going to pack them in over time.”

He then took his extra-legroom bulkhead aisle seat, giving him a great view of the planeload of passengers behind him.

After the safety demonstration, it was time for push back, taxi and takeoff. A handful of ground employees lined up as the 15-year-old Boeing 737, registered N802XT, departed the remote stand.

Minutes later, Avelo Flight 101 blasted off Burbank’s Runway 15, which was met with another massive round of applause.

Once we crossed through 10,000 feet, flight attendants sprang into action and came through the cabin with individually wrapped snack packs, consisting of an 8-ounce water bottle, Purell sanitizing wipe and some Lorna Doone shortbread cookies.

As a low-cost carrier, it’s no surprise to hear that Avelo’s long-term vision is to ultimately charge for snacks and drinks, a company representative said during the flight.

To celebrate the inaugural, flight attendants passed through the aisle with cups of sparkling cider. Levy took to the PA system to once again thank everyone for joining. After he concluded, the entire plane toasted together.

The remainder of the flight was uneventful. Some passengers read, and others chatted in the aisles.

I unclasped the 17-inch-wide and 7.5-inch-long tray table and got to work on the first-look story. The seats themselves were tight — had the middle seat been occupied, I definitely would’ve felt cramped. Plus, they don’t recline, which puts Avelo on par with the inflight experience offered on Spirit, Frontier and other discounters.

Like nearly every other domestic flight, lines formed for the restrooms when the captain announced that we’d shortly commence our descent for Santa Rosa.

We touched down moments later to another round of festivities on arrival at the remote stand. Local Sonoma County officials greeted the flight with custom-designed cookies and swag bags.

Media and other interested passengers were then funneled into an airport trailer for an impromptu press conference.

“This was our first flight. It’s the first of many. Each and every one matters,” Levy said, acknowledging that future flights likely won’t be met with the same fanfare. “We just couldn’t wait to get to this part of our journey where we’re taking care of customers,” Levy concluded.

Of course, time will tell whether Avelo is successful, but with one flight in the books, the sky is the limit.

All photos by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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