By Barbara Peterson
Oct 7, 2021
Photo by Kuen Hoong/Shutterstock
Skip the long drive and book a quick flight to Reno-Tahoe International Airport instead.
The country’s newest airline takes off in late October.
Another new airline is heading into the U.S. skies with promises of bringing low fares and nonstop service to smaller cities deserted by the major carriers. Aha!, as the upstart has christened itself (short for “air-hotel-adventure”), plans to start flying from Nevada’s Reno-Tahoe International Airport in late October, at introductory fares of $49 each way.
Initially, Aha! will operate three times a week on routes connecting its Nevada base with eight West Coast cities, in California, Oregon, and Washington, starting with its first flight on October 24 to Pasco, in southern Washington State. Other routes, all operating out of Reno, will be rolled out as follows:
Aha!, however, is not actually a brand-new airline—technically, it’s a reboot of ExpressJet, formerly a regional feeder to major lines, which shut down operations last year at the height of the pandemic when it lost its contract to operate United Express flights. The carrier’s 50-seat Embraer ERJ regional jets will be repainted in the successor’s livery, but other than that, the two lines have little in common. Instead of connecting big airport hubs with secondary markets, as its predecessor did, Aha! will fly exclusively between smaller airfields that currently have no nonstop service to Reno.
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And if that plan sounds familiar, that’s because it is. In the past six months, two other startups have burst on the scene with similar business models: Avelo Airlines, based in Burbank, California, and Breeze Airways, the brainchild of JetBlue founder David Neeleman, which operates mainly in the eastern United States. Both serve leisure markets with direct flights and few frills, and their formula can be summed up in Neeleman’s promise to “get you there in half the time, at half the price.” The strategy is also aimed at staying out of the paths of larger rivals.
ExpressJet CEO and airline industry vet Subodh Karnik (ExpressJet remains the legal operating entity that owns the Aha! brand) says that the plan is for Aha! to add two- to five-night vacation packages in the Reno/Tahoe area, bundling flights and hotel stays; they’re expected to go on sale in the next few weeks on the Aha! website. The airline has also hinted that it might add more routes in the coming months, all from Reno, and expects to fly to more than 20 destinations.
Given those plans, Aha! strikes some industry experts as a would-be clone of another Nevada-based airline, Allegiant. “From the beginning, Allegiant focused on bringing tourists to Las Vegas, and picking markets where they were the only ones there,” notes Michael Derchin, a long-time airline analyst who pens the “Heard in the Hangar” newsletter. “Given their success, it’s not a surprise that others are going to try to copy their formula.”
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