Last month, I wrote about the newest American mainline airline in 15 years called Avelo Airlines. They received a ton of publicity as their fares start at just $19 each way. Here’s my post with all of the pertinent information, including the routes they fly.
Since the airline is currently based out of nearby Burbank, California (I’m LA-based) and the tickets were so cheap, I figured it would make for a great first flight and story. Inaugural flights are always a treat.
As luck would have it, as I was debating whether or not to book a flight, the airline invited me on a day press trip to experience their first flight, which was to Santa Rosa. The official airport name is Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport (STS).
I jumped at the invitation and I’m really glad I did because, in addition to experiencing Avelo’s first flight, I experienced a number of other firsts as well.
Here’s a play by play of the day:
I live near LAX and I had never flown in or out of Burbank so I was excited to experience it. Call time was 8:45am and arrived on time after an hour drive. I parked in Lot G, which is about a 500-yard walk from the terminal in a semi-covered lot. Full disclosure: Avelo covered the cost of parking, which was $23 for the day.
It was a perfect day out. It was warm and sunny in both Burbank and Sonoma so it was an ideal day to fly up the coast. Just walking from Lot G to Terminal A brought back memories of when I first moved to California for college. It was warm, clear, birds were singing and the smell of jasmine was in the air.
I checked in and the hosts gave me a name tag with a yellow lanyard. I later found out the color had a meaning.
The Burbank Airport, officially called Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR), after they changed their name from the Bob Hope Airport, is a throwback in time. I’m not one who usually likes old airports but there’s something about BUR that I love. It felt like the 60s. It’s small and dated and wasn’t crowded.
Check-in was quick as they pre-printed everyone’s boarding pass (why doesn’t every airline do this?)
Security was quick too and I felt like a newbie since it was my first time traveling during the pandemic. I thought TSA was a touchless experience but I did have to hand them my license (they wore gloves) but I never handed my boarding pass to anyone or scanned it. They also ask each person to quickly remove their mask to confirm their identity.
The two shops and one restaurant, Guy Fieri’s, in the small terminal were open.
The one rookie mistake I made was forgetting to bring my water bottle to fill up at the fountain. I didn’t want to drink too much water like I used to so I could avoid the bathrooms but it’s one of my safety blankets. I tried to avoid spending $4.82 on a (terrible) bottle of Aquafina but when I saw an Avelo crew member (I thought she was a flight attendant but must have been a customer service rep) buy a bottle, I panicked and bought one. I thought maybe Avelo is really ultra-ultra low fare and wouldn’t even offer water onboard. Turns out I didn’t need to buy one as you will soon see.
The airport was quiet except for our departing gate. It was packed with Avelo passengers, invited guests, media and aviation geeks as the CEO Andrew Levy gave a short speech and cut a ribbon. I took a quick photo and hightailed it out of there.
Pre-pandemic, I always wanted to be the first person on the plane but not anymore and it’s especially not needed with Avelo as they only charge $10 for a checked bag but $35 to use the overhead bin. This is a genius way to speed up boarding and deplaning, which is the number one cause of delays.
There was almost a party on the tarmac, which is unusual as most airports don’t let you mill around when going from the gate to the plane. That’s another reason why these inaugural flights are great; you can take tons of pictures of everything and not look like a weirdo.
The CEO greeted every passenger with a commemorative boarding pass in a ticket jacket.
Prior to stepping onto the plane, the flight’s captain handed each passenger an Avelo boarding pass.
The Boeing 737-800 aircraft has 189 seats. 129 of them have only 29 inches of pitch (legroom), which is tight. I was in one of them and it wasn’t that bad, especially since I didn’t have anyone next to me and the person in front of me did not recline.
Right now, the seats do recline but the CEO thinks they will lock the recline button, which is a smart idea but that they probably won’t lock the 60 seats in front, which have between 31-38 inches of pitch.
Before boarding, I made sure the plane had its auxiliary power unit (APU) on, since this is what makes planes so much safer; they recirculate the cabin air through HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters. I asked the captain if it was on, he confirmed it was and I asked if it was going to be on for every flight or just the inaugural. I wasn’t clear on the answer so I need to follow up. Another answer no one seemed to know, including the check-in agent at STS, is how much a second checked bag is.
There was a lot of passion and excitement on the plane and you can tell the Avelo team was really proud the airline was finally seeing its first flight. There was a lot of clapping on pushback, takeoff, landing and some announcements in between.
Our 10:30am flight pushed back at 10:25am and we were airborne at 10:38am.
It was smooth, beautiful flight up the California coast. On the right side were the snowcapped Sierra mountains and on the left was the coastline. We had an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Within minutes after takeoff, flight attendants handed out a small package with an 8oz bottle of water, Lorna Doone shortbread cookies and a mini Purell wipe.
A few minutes after that, they passed out cups of sparkling apple cider for a toast.
We landed at 11:41am and the approach into STS was picturesque.
Avelo partnered with the Sonoma County Airport and the Sonoma County Tourism and they gave us one of the warmest welcomes ever. They handed out delicious Avelo-themed cookies, a swag bag and cheered all of the passengers as they disembarked.
The media were invited into a quick press conference and then all the invited guests boarded one of two buses to a vineyard 15 minutes away. No wonder why the airport is built as the gateway to California’s wine country.
I went to J Vineyard and boy it was nothing like I imagined. I thought we would be having a casual picnic. The set-up was something you would expect from a luxury Middle Eastern airline not an ultra low-fare carrier. But I believe Sonoma County had a lot to do with it. They sure gave everyone a taste of the area, including a wine tasting and pairing with each course.
Lunch was off the charts. Here’s the menu:
Little Gem Salad with Buttermilk Dressing, Grilled Shrimp, Avocado & Spring Vegetables
Lamb Loin & Shank with Nante Carrots, Spring Onions, Shiitake Mushrooms and Fava Leave (I’m not a lamb eater so they gave me a vegetarian dish of fennel. I’m not a fennel eater but ate it and loved it.)
Black Apple Chocolate Bar with Feuiltetine, Macadamia Nuts and Butterscotch Mousse
After a quick stroll around the property, it was time to head back to STS.
We definitely overwhelmed STS with two buses arriving at the same time. Check-in and security took a good 20 minutes if you were last in line like me. I love the Peanuts references since it’s named after their late creator and Santa Rosa resident.
The flight back wasn’t as eventful. XP 102 departs STS daily at 5:45 p.m. arriving in BUR at 7:20 p.m. However, ours departed at 3:55pm. We pushed back at 4:02pm and were in the air at 4:13pm. We touched down at BUR at 5:08pm.
The captain got on the horn both times 25 minutes prior to landing to give the weather conditions and to let us know the seatbelt sign was going on for the descent. On the return flight, he said something like, “it’s a warm day in Burbank and winds are gusting so expect some light chop on the way down. Also the runway is short so expect some medium braking. It’s all expected and you’re in good hands.”
The flight wasn’t bumpy but they do brake hard at Burbank since the runways are short, so keep your seatbelt nice and tight.
Overall, it was an incredible and memorable day for me, Avelo and the passengers onboard.
A few cons about Avelo Airlines:
-No power ports
-No frequent flier program
-No first class
-No inflight entertainment systems (IFE)
Since most of their flights are pretty short, most of these things aren’t really necessary.
They more than make up for it with the pros:
-Cheap checked bag prices
-Quick boarding and deplaning
Avelo is a great airline and with fares starting at $19 and a solid product, they’re a great option for travelers. Let’s all wish them luck because if they stay afloat, airfares will remain low to the markets they serve.