VERO BEACH - Travelers are excited for the February return of commercial airline service at Vero Beach Regional Airport.
Breeze Airways announced in October that it will begin service to and from Vero Beach on Feb. 2. Though relatively new, Breeze Airways recently took the number two spot in Travel + Leisure magazine’s reader survey of the top 10 best domestic airlines. Breeze trailed only Hawaiian Airlines, a perennial winner of such surveys.
Tickets are on sale now for flights from Vero Beach to Hartford, Connecticut beginning Feb. 2, and to Norfolk, Virginia, and Westchester/White Plains, New York beginning Feb. 3. Flights begin as low as $59 one way. Average fares are expected to be less than half of those to fly Elite Airways, the airport’s prior carrier.
At the Jan. 17 Vero Beach City Council meeting and in a Jan. 10 memo to City Manager Monte Falls, Airport Director Todd Scher gave an update.
“Breeze Airways began service in May 2021, and since then the airline has established an exceptional reputation for dependability and pleasant flight experiences,” Mr. Scher said. “Breeze now offers 119 nonstop routes between 35 cities in 20 states utilizing a fleet of fifteen 118-seat Embraer 190/195 and ten 126-seat Airbus A220-300 aircraft. The airline has an additional 70 Airbus aircraft on order, and is taking delivery of a new A220-300 approximately every month. Both aircraft offer three classes of seating, including a first-class section, which Breeze refers to as their ‘nicest’ fare. Breeze's business model is a focus on providing efficient and affordable flights between secondary airports, bypassing hubs for shorter travel times.”
Elite Airways, the prior commercial air carrier in Vero Beach, drastically reduced its flights last June, and then cancelled all flights in July.
The Elite Airways website still shows Vero Beach as a destination, but no flights are available, to Vero Beach or elsewhere. A message at the top of the website says “Elite Airways is presently undergoing a reservation system upgrade & maintenance. Please try again later.” Browsers can’t see any schedules, and all the company’s news releases have been removed. On Elite’s Facebook page, nothing has been posted since Feb. 2022.
Media in Maine, where Elite Airways is based, speculate that the airline has gone out of business. As stated in the Portland Press Herald, “The only commercial airline headquartered in Maine has stopped flying - and Elite Airways executives aren't talking about plans for the company, including whether it will resume service between the Northeast and Florida. ... It appears the airline has quietly shut down much of its service.”
The Breeze Airways arrangement came together relatively quickly.
Breeze Airways Founder and CEO David Neeleman was also the founder of JetBlue, Morris Air, WestJet and Azul. Mr. Neeleman started Breeze Airways in 2021 with a plan to connect small and medium sized airports with larger airports in big cities like Las Vegas, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
“Breeze began discussing the potential for airline service to VRB in the fall of 2021,” Mr. Scher said. “Breeze provided a letter of intent on August 3, 2022 followed by a press release and the opening of ticket sales for flights between Vero Beach and White Plains and Hartford. The initial schedule extended into early May. Recently, Breeze extended their ticket sales window into early September. Breeze reports that advance ticket sales have been more robust than expected.”
Some aspects of the experience for Breeze Airways passengers at VBRA are still in flux. Simply stated, it would help if the facilities were larger. The terminal is not configured for the larger number of passengers expected.
“With Breeze flying larger aircraft in airline service, the current terminal passenger facilities are considered adequate at best,” Mr. Scher said. “Passengers will likely find the travel experience through Vero Beach a bit challenging, due to limited boarding lounge space and outdoor baggage claim. However, Breeze is confident that the airport's current facilities, while not ideal, are workable for the near term.”
The popular free parking at the airport may disappear, but that hasn’t been decided yet.
“There is also a concern that the existing automobile parking lots may not be sufficient,” Mr. Scher said. “Airport staff is working with consultants to conduct preliminary design and cost estimates for additional parking. ... Fees for car parking may also become practical, and increase revenue as well.”
The larger aircraft operated by Breeze resulted in a required upgrade of the TSA-approved airport security program. According to Mr. Scher, Breeze agreed to a rates and fee structure that fully covers the added cost of the security upgrade.
To view the Breeze Airways schedule and to purchase tickets, visit www.flybreeze.com.
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