Stillwater News Press

Community News Network

June 6, 2014

It's back! The world's cheapest airline flies again

WASHINGTON — Do checked-bag fees, $2 junk food "snack packs" and chronic overbooking make you nostalgic for an earlier, even less glamorous era of air travel? Then PeoplExpress is the airline for you. This week the relaunched version of People Express, the somewhat iconic 1980s-era discount carrier, began selling tickets for the first time in more than two decades for flights in markets that the major carriers have abandoned. In the early 1980s, the original version of the airline thrived on its ultra-cheap fares. But by 1987 debt, over-expansion and a reputation as "People Distress" had transformed the airline into one of the industry's most notorious failures.

So why would a group of entrepreneurs want to resurrect the brand? PeoplExpress hardly has the retro-transcontinental allure of a name like Pan Am. If anyone still remembers People Express fondly, it's probably for its cheap fares, ugly planes and the unswervingly perky demeanor of its employees - all of whom were paid in stock (as well as salaries) out of the belief that an invested employee is a committed, joyous employee. The January 1985 issue of Texas Monthly described the results of this compensation scheme in memorable terms:

You know the look that comes over the faithful at the mention of Sun Myung Moon? That's the look People Express personnel get when they describe their company.

Cult-like atmosphere aside, People Express still managed to be one of the most innovative U.S. airlines ever to light up an air traffic controller's radar. Texas Monthly inadvertently highlights that point in this gem:

"With smart fares and smart folks like yourselves, it's no wonder we're the fastest-growing airline in aviation history," enthused Captain Bob Slater as part of another curious PE phenomenon, the inflight commercial.

Of course, 29 years later, that inflight commercial isn't curious. It's as commonplace as several other People Express innovations that debuted with the airline in 1981, including checked-bag fees (People Express offered them first), meal-free flights, and snacks and beverages for purchase. Once considered extremes of the post-deregulatory U.S. skies, such features are now acceptable irritations that big legacy carriers use to pad their expanding bottom lines.

What made People Express work so well for a brief period were its cheap fares offered on short, cheap-to-operate routes under-served by the big carriers, such as Newark (the airline's base) to Buffalo, Columbus, Sarasota and Norfolk. Soon, however, full planes bred arrogance, and People Express expanded into markets where it competed directly with - and lost out to - the legacy carriers, including a Newark-London Gatwick route that went for $149 one-way. It didn't help that the airline didn't have a computerized reservation system, but rather allowed passengers to pre-book via phone and then - no joke - pay cash for their tickets on the plane, as if it were a bus. Overbooking rates, unsurprisingly, approached 200 percent. In 1987, crushed by debt and hubris, People Express was merged into Continental, never to be heard from again.

Who's nostalgic for this in an age when low-cost, low-frills carriers such as Spirit Airlines are common? PeoplExpress has an answer posted on its website: "It's time to dispel the myth that low air fares have to mean poor service or an impersonal experience." That's very nice, but it's hardly the basis for a successful business plan. After all, Spirit recently pulled off the remarkable achievement of becoming the U.S.'s most hated and its most profitable airline at the same time, suggesting that smiles aren't important so long as the price is right.

PeoplExpress will do more than smile, of course. Like its Reagan-era predecessor, it will fly theoretically under-served routes such as Pittsburgh-Newport News/Williamsburg. Its success will depend on whether people really do want and need to fly those routes. If they don't, PeoplExpress won't last much longer than its ill-starred predecessor.

Adam Minter is an American writer based in Asia, where he covers politics, culture, business and junk. He is the author of "Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion Dollar Trash Trade."

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Community News Network
  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    July 29, 2014

  • linda-ronstadt.jpg Obama had crush on First Lady of Rock

    Linda Ronstadt remained composed as she walked up to claim her National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony Monday afternoon.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Can black women have it all?

    In a powerful new essay for the National Journal, my friend Michel Martin makes a compelling case for why we need to continue the having-it-all conversation.

    July 29, 2014

  • Dangerous Darkies Logo.png Redskins not the only nickname to cause a stir

    Daniel Snyder has come under fire for refusing to change the mascot of his NFL team, the Washington Redskins. The Redskins, however, are far from being the only controversial mascot in sports history.  Here is a sampling of athletic teams from all areas of the sports world that were outside the norm.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos

  • 'Rebel' mascot rising from the dead

    Students and alumni from a Richmond, Va.-area high school are seeking to revive the school's historic mascot, a Confederate soldier known as the "Rebel Man," spurring debate about the appropriateness of public school connections to the Civil War and its icons.

    July 28, 2014

  • Fast food comes to standstill in China

    The shortage of meat is the result of China's latest food scandal, in which a Shanghai supplier allegedly tackled the problem of expired meat by putting it in new packaging and shipping it to fast-food restaurants around the country

    July 28, 2014

  • wd saturday tobias .jpg Stranger’s generosity stuns Ohio veteran

    Vietnam War veteran David A. Tobias was overwhelmed recently when a fellow customer at an OfficeMax store near Ashtabula, Ohio paid for a computer he was purchasing.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 1.33.11 PM.png VIDEO: High-dive accident caught on tape

    A woman at a water park in Idaho leaped off a 22-foot high dive platform, then tried to pull herself back up with frightening results. Fortunately, she escaped with only a cut to her finger.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • CATS-DOGS281.jpg Where cats are more popular than dogs in the U.S.-and all over the world

    We all know there are only two types of people in the world: cat people and dog people. But data from market research firm Euromonitor suggest that these differences extend beyond individual preferences and to the realm of geopolitics: it turns out there are cat countries and dog countries, too.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • HallofFameBraves.jpg Hall of Fame adds businesslike Braves, Frank Thomas, managers La Russa and Torre

    Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and their manager, Bobby Cox, dominated much of baseball during the 1990s. This weekend they went into the Hall of Fame together.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

Buy & Share Photos
NewsPress e-Edition
NewsPress Specials
AP Video
US Ready to Slap New Sanctions on Russia Kerry: Not Worried About Israeli Criticism Boater Rescued From Edge of Kentucky Dam Girl Struck by Plane on Florida Beach Dies Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre House to Vote on Slimmed-down Bill for Border Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating
Stocks
NDN Video
'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Sneak Peek NOW TRENDING: Peyton Manning dancing at practice Chapter Two: Designing for Naomi Watts "The Bachelorette" Makes Her Decision Thieves pick the wrong gas station to rob Golden Sisters on '50 Shades' trailer: 'Look At That Chest!' Staten Island Man's Emotional Dunk Over NYPD Car - @TheBuzzeronFOX GMA: Dog passes out from excitment to see owner Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Florida Keys Webcam Captures Turtles Hatching Morgan Freeman Sucks Down Helium on 'Tonight Show' Robin Wright Can Dance! (WATCH) She's Back! See Paris Hilton's New Carl's Jr. Ad Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth Bradley Cooper Explains His Voice in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now!
Must Read