Try it, you'll like it: A flight review of the startup airline Avelo
I was ready to be disappointed, but instead I was actually impressed with Avelo Airlines. I'm always afraid to fly budget carriers, but when the opportunity to try a brand-new airline from my (new) home airport came up, I jumped at it. My preconceived notions about flying a low-cost carrier were entirely unfounded.
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If you haven't heard of Avelo Airlines, you're not alone. That's because it's a startup that launched this year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, with service to 11 cities from its hub at Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR). On Aug. 19, they announced new service from a brand-new base in New Haven, Connecticut (HVN).
If they can duplicate my experience on all the new routes, you should definitely give them a try.
Related: Avelo launches new service on East Coast
I volunteered to review Avelo since my home base at the moment is in southwest Montana, close to one of Avelo's initial service cities. Unfortunately, Avelo is cutting Bozeman (BZN) as of Sept. 15, though service could resume next year. Still, we figured it was a great opportunity to give other flyers a look at what Avelo is like.
Related: What it’s like flying with Avelo
I spent a total of $217 for my round-trip flight from Bozeman to Burbank, and used my Chase IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card (no longer open to new applicants) since it was running a special bonus with 8x IHG points for travel bookings, on up to $1,500 a month. I should end up getting a total of 1,736 IHG points for the booking.
My IHG card comes with free IHG Rewards Platinum Elite status as a perk. It also gives me a 50% bonus on base points and an annual award night certificate (at properties up to 40,000 points).
Related: What is IHG status worth?
If that sounds appealing, you can still sign up for the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card, which is currently offering a 140,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Related: Automatic Platinum status with the IHG Premier Card
As with all low-cost carriers, you have to pay for lots of add-ons. My base fare was just $60 each way.
While the base fare each way was just over $60, I paid almost $38 for taxes and fees, and I also paid $10 each way for a checked bag (that's a major deal since most airlines charge at least $25). I also splurged on my flight from Bozeman to Burbank, spending an extra $39 to pick the first-row aisle seat. That's the biggest charge for seats the airline offers. I wanted to test it out for TPG readers.
I tried to use the Avelo app to check in, but it's definitely not so useful so far. There is a section called "My trips," but I couldn't get it to find my reservation and I wasn't able to get a mobile boarding pass.
You can change or cancel by searching for your reservation, but the app can't seem to find it to put it under "My trips."
The app does give you the ability to change flights, but it's a bit wonky and slow.
Unfortunately, Avelo is not yet part of TSA PreCheck so I got to the airport extra early for my noon flight. I got to the ticket counter at 9:40 a.m. and there were two people ahead of me. There was one ticket counter agent, and it looked to me like he was just logging in for the flight. He quickly started helping people and I was checked in and had my boarding ticket and luggage ticket by 9:47 a.m.
Related: Avelo is already dropping routes
Avelo only charges $10 to check a bag up to 50 pounds. Note that if you want to bring that roller bag on the flight it will cost you $35. That's the airline hoping to cut down on slow boarding due to people dragging large bags on the flight.
I love that cheap fee to check bags. Avelo's idea here is that if they get more folks to check bags, they can speed up boarding. Indeed, most of the overhead bins were empty on both of my flights.
There were no check-in kiosks at all, so if you need to check in you'll need to see a ticket agent. He told me there were no Avelo employees at the airport. They use contract workers.
The TSA line at Bozeman was not too bad, but that's probably because I arrived extra early. The Bozeman airport has added hundreds of thousands of seats in the past year as the city has become one of the West's new boomtowns. Its proximity to national parks and the surge of demand in leisure travelers has airlines adding service and larger aircraft, and the airport has struggled to keep up with demand. TSA lines have been extraordinarily long this summer and flights are full. Normally, I can use the PreCheck line, but since Avelo isn't yet participating I had to go through the normal line, and I was worried. I was through in about 15 minutes though, so not bad at all.
Burbank is a whole other story. It gets really crowded, but the lines moved really quickly. Even with all the people, I was through in just about 20 minutes.
It was my first time flying out of Burbank and I loved it. The scale of the airport is so much more manageable than LAX. That said, it does get pretty crowded.
Avelo is using one of the older Bozeman gates. We left from gate A3. There was plenty of seating, but not enough power outlets. That's a big difference from the new B gates at Bozeman, which are brand-new and have plenty of outlets.
At 11:14 a.m., an airport worker showed up at the gate to begin the boarding process. The plane hadn't yet arrived at the gate. The gate agent simply told folks waiting about various federal laws.
The flight from Burbank arrived around 11:30 a.m. and most passengers were off by 11:43 a.m. Boarding began almost immediately at 11:45 a.m. Boarding began with people with disabilities and those needing extra time.
Avelo boards in numeric groups. Group One began boarding at 11:46 a.m. and by 11:48 a.m. they were already calling Group Four. Group Five was called at 11:50 a.m. I lined up to board, but then a TSA officer came up with a family. Apparently the name on the boarding pass for their elderly father didn't match his ID. Gate agents tried to help, but in the end he was left behind.
I was assigned Group Six even though I had spent $39 for one of the best seats on the plane. We finally boarded around noon. Despite the boarding problem, we were greeted warmly at the cabin door.
It wasn't long until they closed the forward door and prepared for departure. The pilots came on the intercom and said that despite the late pushback, we'd still likely arrive on time in Burbank.
We ended up taking off at 12:24 p.m. with about a 30-second takeoff roll. The flight was about two hours and five minutes and we managed to land five minutes early at Burbank Hollywood Airport.
Landings at BUR can be tough. The runway is fairly short and it's known for hard landings. Our landing was no different, but not too bad.
Cabins and seats
Avelo has a very small fleet of three 737-800 jets, but the flight attendants told me several more 737-700s are about to enter service. TPG's Zach Griff reported back in April that three of the smaller 737s were being retrofitted in San Bernardino, California.
The plane I was on was apparently purchased from Turkish Airways, but it looked pretty new inside since the cabins have been redone.
I had a heck of a time tracking the plane down. It couldn't be found on Flightradar24, but I did finally track it down on JetLovers, which labels it as "Extraairways." It's aircraft number N802XT, listed as being 15 years old.
Related: Avelo is adding Las Vegas, but will it work?
There are two rows of three seats each. There is no first class and no premium economy seats, but extra-legroom seats at the bulkhead and in exit rows can be had for an extra fee. The 737-800 had 189 coach seats and 32 rows.
Pitch was a squished 29 inches for most seats. The Acro Series 6 seats do have 2 extra inches at the knees thanks to the curved design.
I purchased seat 1C for an extra $39. I needn't have bothered. There was great legroom, but the seats were narrow and didn't recline. I measured the waist area of the seat at 17 inches and the seat measured 16.5 inches at the shoulder. Unfortunately for me, all bulkhead row armrests are fixed — that means that the tray table prevents your hips from expanding past the 17 inches of the seat. On my flight home I was happy to not be in the bulkhead row.
In fact, rows 1-8 have extra legroom and can be purchased for anywhere from $13 all the way to $39. Exit rows 20 and 21, in addition to rows 22 to 24, also have extra legroom ... for a price. Most of those more expensive seats were empty on my flight from Bozeman to Burbank.
Related: Where to sit on the Avelo 737-800
The seats are definitely not a selling point; however, most of the airline's routes are two hours or less so it's not a major concern. If I were on a longer flight, I'd be more bothered. It was fine for my quick trip.
Every seat has a tray table. The ones in the bulkhead row seats fold out and measured 15.5 inches long and 10 inches wide — just fine for my 13-inch laptop.
Zach Griff said the tray tables toward the back " ... measure 17 inches wide and 7.5 inches long, which is definitely too small for a 13-inch (or larger) laptop. After all, my 11-inch iPad Pro barely fit."
On my flight home, I took one for the team and just had the airline choose a seat for me. I was assigned seat 29F. I had a fun conversation with the couple seated next to me. We agreed that it was pretty tight in the back. When boarding was complete I realized that the row behind me was empty, so I asked the flight attendant if I could move back a row. She said, "Sure," and I ended up in seat 30F — poor man's business class.
It was really tight in the back. I would splurge for a seat upfront next time. I couldn't really work on my laptop on the return flight.
There was plenty of overhead bin space.
There are overhead air vents at every seat (thank goodness).
Bathrooms are pretty small and basic. They had the most bizarre soap dispensers I've seen on a plane.
Amenities and inflight entertainment
This section will be really short since Avelo doesn’t have inflight entertainment, Wi-Fi or power outlets. It's not the end of the world on short flights, but know that you'll be offline and without power for the duration of the flight. Bring a magazine or your e-reader or an iPad preloaded with a movie.
Food and beverage
Flight attendants Chris and Andy served a small snack pack just about 20 minutes after takeoff.
The snack pack had water, a hand sanitizer wipe and Lorna Doone cookies. It actually doesn't compare that unfavorably to a short-haul Delta flight these days.
Most of Avelo's flights are short hops so don't expect food aside from a cookie or biscuit and some water.
Service was great on the flight. It's always a little awkward sitting in a row that faces the flight attendant jump seats, but Andy and Chris were friendly and talked a little about flying with Avelo. They said there are only 40 flight attendants at the airline!
I found them kind and efficient.
They served snacks quickly and came through several times to pick up trash.
I was a little disappointed no one asked if anyone needed more water, but Avelo is a low-cost carrier and I was pleasantly surprised to get anything at all on this short flight.
I had equally friendly service on the return flight.
I loved flying Avelo. It was wallet-friendly. Both my flights were on time and boarding was efficient. It helped that neither flight was full. I'm a little bummed they are discontinuing the Bozeman flights (at least temporarily). Service was friendly, and the flight attendants were fun and chatty. I really enjoyed both flights and I would definitely recommend flying Avelo to anyone who can make the carrier's airports and schedules work.