ExpressJet Takes Off

Earlier this month, ExpressJet Airlines signed a global distribution agreement with Worldspan LP and announced flight services that begin operating in 24 cities across the U.S. in April 2007. The carrier, which spun off from Continental Airlines in 2002 but still operates 205 aircrafts as Continental Express, says it is focused on more convenient, nonstop travel to destinations less frequented by major carriers, such as Boise, Corpus Christi and Spokane. Kristy Nicholas, a spokesperson for ExpressJet, says that an agent incentive program is in the works but the airline will not be offering commissions.

"Our main goal is to save people time," Nicholas says. "Whether you're going on a vacation or to a business meeting, time is still important. Rather than have a six-hour trip with a layover in a hub, we're aiming to get you there more directly."

Industry watchers have compared ExpressJet's moves to that of Independence Air, which in 2006 failed in its attempt to transition from a regional carrier to a stand-alone airline. ExpressJet, however, is quick to dismiss the comparison. "Fortunately we have the benefit of hindsight," says Nicholas. "They added very high frequencies to Dulles and tried to be a low-cost carrier. We're not operating out of any one hub, but more of point-to-point." In addition, whereas Independence Air relied on its web site for reservations, ExpressJet is distributing tickets through numerous different sources in addition to its web site, such as travel agents, GDSs and online travel agencies like Orbitz.

ExpressJet's longest flight will be three hours, and all flights will be operated with 50-seat Embraer aircrafts that have no middle seats. ExpressJet also will offer XM Satellite Radio with complimentary headsets and a valet bag-check service, as well as its own frequent flier program. It's also looking at alliances and code sharing with other airlines to extend its network. Despite its shorter travel times, ExpressJet will offer snacks onboard all flights and meals on longer routes. A select number of beers will cost one dollar, wine or alcohol will be about three dollars and non-alcoholic beverages will be free. "Our snacks will be a premium name-brand snack that will be heartier than peanuts," Nicholas says, "and even if it's not a meal time, on our longer-haul flights we will give you a meal. Your flight may be from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., and though that's not considered a standard meal time, you got to the airport at 8 a.m. and you may have a meeting to go to immediately, so we felt like it was the right thing to do to."

Nicholas says all of the destinations ExpressJet is flying to have been very receptive. Fares will vary market to market, and Nicholas adds that ExpressJet will not try to undercut its larger competitors, but rather will be popularly priced. "We're not completely going head-to-head in markets where majors are already competing," she says, adding that ExpressJet's destinations were chosen based on three years' worth of research. "We looked at population growth, economic growth and travel patterns to make sure we were picking cities that didn't have good point-to-point service," she says.

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