Breeze CEO David Neeleman on the flight deck of a new Breeze Embraer e-jet.
If you haven’t been paying attention to the rise of Breeze Airways, you probably should. Serial airline entrepreneur David Neeleman launched the carrier earlier this year at a time when the future of air travel looked grim.
But it hasn’t turned out that way for Breeze. As air travel bounced back this spring, the airline expanded to 16 destinations, mostly on the East Coast, and it just secured $200 million in funding.
What does the arrival of Breeze mean for the airline industry, and how could a “Breeze effect” affect your next flight? I asked Neeleman. Here’s our interview.
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You just secured $200 million in funding for Breeze Airways. Congratulations. How did you manage that during a pandemic?
Breeze is my fifth airline, so that would be down to a great track record, I suppose. But this is the right airline for the right time, and our investors see that.
I’ve never started an airline just for the fun of it, though. There has to be a great opportunity. In this case, there are many secondary cities across the U.S. which no longer have access to nonstop flights. And flying through hubs doesn’t just take longer, it’s usually more expensive too. Investors recognize that our model is going to be really successful, pandemic or not.
Breeze CEO David Neeleman on an Embraer e-jet.
What is this funding going to allow you to do? How will it affect the customer experience?
It will affect customer experience and much, much more. It means more fleet growth, more destinations and frequencies, more staff, more everything. But, more than anything else, it means we’re here to stay. That we have a war chest to withstand our bigger competitors if they should come after us.
Why does America need another airline? Aren’t we going through a period of airline consolidation?
But is the consumer best served by consolidation? Or by innovative startups recognizing a need in the marketplace? I think it’s the latter.
Fair point. I’m sure you’ve heard the joke that goes, “How do you make a million dollars in the airline business? You start with a billion dollars.” What makes Breeze different?
Of our first 39 routes, only 5% had existing year-round service already in place. Breeze is connecting markets that currently aren’t served. And we know how to provide a great customer experience while keeping our costs really low. So we aim to start with a million dollars, or $300 million now, and turn it into more than a billion eventually.
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Your most famous startup airline is JetBlue. How did starting JetBlue inform what you are doing at Breeze? What lessons did you learn from the ups and downs at JetBlue?
When we started JetBlue it was the best-capitalized startup in U.S. aviation history. Now, 20 years later, Breeze is now again the best capitalized, with twice what we had at JetBlue.
But the money is really just insurance for rainy days. The heart of the business has always been delivering what travelers want for a low fare. And if you can do that while being the nicest, you’re unbeatable.
I wanted to ask you about Azul, which was your next act after JetBlue. You kind of went off the radar for your American audience. What happened in Brazil, and what made you come back to the States to try another airline startup?
Azul is an amazing airline that broke many of JetBlue’s records. It was even named Best in the World and is the largest airline in Brazil, forever changing air travel there. So Azul was my focus for many years, but I still lived in the U.S. As I said before, I’m only back doing it again in the U.S. because the market need is so obvious.
Breeze CEO David Neeleman with an Embraer e-jet.
You’ve always been an early adopter when it comes to technology. What role does technology play in Breeze, and how does it set the airline apart from its competitors?
The best thing about starting brand new is that you don’t inherit all the old-school technology that many other airlines still use. You start off with the latest and greatest.
We don’t have a toll-free phone number, for example, as airlines can’t keep up with passengers’ demand. This summer we heard of airlines that have a 41-hour hold time! Can you imagine?
Our guests just text us their questions and they get an answer right back. Even at our busiest times, average response is less than 20 minutes. That’s a great indication about how we use technology across the airline to do things differently. Take a look at the app. It’s so easy, fast and simple and everyone can use it to empower their nicest travel experience.
What should your customers expect from Breeze? Also, what should they not expect?
Fast, convenient travel for a low fare. Like the ad says, we’re nice, new and nonstop.
But that’s just the start. We’ll be introducing the brand new Airbus A220s in 2022 and expanding our national footprint to transcontinental service. We’re only just beginning.
Have you flown on any other airlines since the pandemic? If so, what do you think of the experience? And specifically, I wanted to ask you: How can the industry do better by their customers?
Absolutely. It’s a slimmed-down experience right now, but the industry is doing whatever it takes to keep passengers and crew safe. Each airline decides the best course of action to do better by their customers. It’s not one size fits all.
What do you want Breeze to be known for?
Niceness. That we offer a great price, nonstop to where you’re going, with people who care about your experience.
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.