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Aha! parent ExpressJet files for bankruptcy and ceases flight operations

Aug. 23, 2022
3 min read
New Mexico Scenics
Aha! parent ExpressJet files for bankruptcy and ceases flight operations
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Aha! is no more.

The parent of the Reno-based ultra-low-cost carrier, ExpressJet Airlines, announced Tuesday it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was ceasing all flight operations, effective immediately.

Atlanta-based ExpressJet cited three reasons for the bankruptcy filing: growth challenges stemming from aircraft availability and airport infrastructure, revenue impacts from COVID-19 and the inability to bundle hotels, and high fuel prices.

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“A combination of conditions led us to this decision,” ExpressJet CEO Subodh Karnik said in a statement. “Despite the valiant efforts of our employees to overcome challenges, and despite great support by our cities and airports – especially Reno-Tahoe and the community there, we arrived at a point where termination of operations was in the best interest of our stakeholders."

Aha! flew to 11 cities from its hub at Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO).

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Aha! August 2022 route map. (Screenshot from Cirium)

Aha! — which stands for air, hotel, adventure — represented a rebirth of sorts for ExpressJet, a regional airline with its roots in the 1980s. The airline was once owned by Continental Airlines and later spun off. In the 2000s, it briefly operated flights using a low-cost model under the ExpressJet brand and was then acquired by SkyWest Airlines and merged with another regional airline, Atlantic Southeast Airlines. In addition to Continental and its successor, United Airlines, ExpressJet also operated flights for Delta Air Lines and American Airlines. ExpressJet operated more than 450 aircraft at the airline's peak.

Read more: United Airlines to drop ExpressJet as affiliate, threatening regional airline’s survival

The end seemed likely for ExpressJet in 2020 when United announced it was terminating its regional flying agreement with the airline amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with Embraer Regional Jet flying being consolidated with another regional airline, CommutAir. At the time, United owned a 49% stake in the airline through a somewhat complicated ownership structure — a stake it continued to own until earlier this year. (Last year, United CEO Scott Kirby joked to TPG about selling off the stake.)

But ExpressJet soldiered on and never fully shut down after its United flying ended in September of 2020. It eventually began its Aha! flying in October of last year. As of today, the airline has three ERJ-145s. Using regional jets for a low-cost model is difficult due to the inherently high operating costs of the aircraft and the relatively low amount of seats available to spread the costs around — a fact especially true this summer as the price of jet fuel skyrocketed.

It's somewhat unusual for an airline to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and immediately shut down, as Chapter 11 permits a company to undergo a court-supervised restructuring. Aha!'s announcement speaks of liquidation of assets, which is what a different type of bankruptcy, Chapter 7, facilitates.

If you’re booked on aha!, the airline says to contact your credit card company to request a refund, as aha! will not be assisting with alternate travel arrangements.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.