It’s a refreshing concept: an airline with low ticket prices, no layovers, minimum hassles and free parking. So what’s the gimmick?
For Shuttle America, a small start-up airline operating out of Connecticut, that concept is the gimmick. The two-year-old company bills itself as “a low-fare airline offering affordable air travel and convenience” to its passengers. The airline’s aim is to appeal to customers with lower fares and more efficient service than most large airports.
In at least this regard, Shuttle America has eked out its niche among American air-travel services. Rather than localizing its services in major cities, the company decided to build its own small airfields close to major cities and operate slightly outside the congestion of typical hub-and-spoke airports. With six metro-area airports up and running and plans to expand in the Northeast, this “satellite airport” approach seems to be a success.
What all this equates to is faster service for the customer. Shuttle America is big on speed: faster check-in time, faster boarding time, even faster turnaround time for the planes. According to spokesman Mark Cestari, a Shuttle plane spends an average of two to four hours longer in the air than most commercial planes. [What do you mean by longer? Longer each day? I know it’s not hours.]
Expediency has its advantages. Despite a limited number of aircraft (each airport has an average of six planes), Shuttle America handles 46 departures every business day, which means that it can accommodate more clients.
The efficiency of the system comes at no cost to traveler comfort. The planes–aptly named Dash-8-300s–are small but roomy. Lacking first-class or coach divisions, each plane seats 50 passengers. Beverage and food service is provided, and the engines are environmentally friendly and operate more quietly than many models.
The Shuttle America distinction is clear in ticket prices as well. The fares offered are much lower than those of national airlines, and the company’s web site (www.shuttleamerica.com) even offers a feature similar to eBay, where travelers can bid for the lowest fare.
The travel service’s only negative is its limited area of service. Shuttle America currently services Albany, Boston, Buffalo, Hartford, Trenton and Greensboro, N.C., and is attempting to add a space at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, but customers might have some difficulty finding one of these satellite airports close to their destination.
Additionally, those seeking international flights or taking trips to California may have to rely on a more expensive major airline.
Nevertheless, Shuttle America, which started as the private venture of three former Continental Airline executives, has developed into the perfect mode of student travel: fast, cheap and servicing most major cities in the Northeast.
Shuttle America recognizes its potential as a student airline and encourages the reputation by offering special incentives to students. One program, which allows students to fly free if accompanied by a parent, is aimed at high school seniors visiting colleges before graduation.
These are pretty hefty benefits. You can catch a weekend flight to Boston, get a shuttle to anywhere in the city and fly back home for likely less than you’d spend on a round of drinks at the Cheers bar. And don’t forget the free parking.