GREEN, Ohio – Do I really need another airline in my life? Before last week, I wasn’t sure. Then I flew Breeze Airways and decided there was room for one more.
Ever since United Airlines dropped its hub at Cleveland Hopkins in 2014, I’ve been airline agnostic – flying Frontier on one trip, Southwest on another, Delta on one more, depending on where and when I’m traveling.
It’s been years, however, since I’ve flown from the Akron-Canton Airport, largely because flights there have contracted so much, and fares are no longer cheaper than Hopkins flights.
Akron-Canton got a boost last month from Breeze, the new leisure-focused, low-cost carrier that started flying this summer to three destinations – Tampa, New Orleans and Charleston, South Carolina.
The carrier is the latest creation from David Neeleman, who also founded JetBlue, an airline that consistently scores high marks among frequent flyers for its in-flight entertainment and complimentary wifi, above-average legroom and a general reluctance to nickel-and-dime customers.
Breeze, alas, is no JetBlue, but it is trying to set itself apart from other low-cost carriers, offering a more comfortable, customer-focused product than many of its competitors.
I booked a ticket on the inaugural flight to Charleston, and this is what I found:
* Breeze, at least for now, is flying smaller (but not small) aircraft – 108- and 118-seat Embraer jets. These planes seat four in a row – two on either side of the aisle, so there are no middle seats. Even before COVID-19, I would have really appreciated this configuration.
* At 29 or 31 inches of seat pitch, these planes have more legroom than the 28 inches typically found on competitor airlines Spirit and Frontier. There was enough space for me to work comfortably on my computer, and my 6-foot-tall husband, who likes to grouse about tight plane quarters, wasn’t complaining either. The seats had adequate padding and even reclined a bit.
* Shortly after takeoff, the flight attendants passed out small bottles of water, plus bags of Utz and Lays chips and mini Kind bars. I’ve gotten used to packing my own refreshments for flights, but I appreciated the gesture.
Breeze does charge extra for other amenities, including baggage and advanced seat assignments.
I paid $126 round-trip for my base fare to Charleston, which included one personal item (purse or backpack). I added $20 each way for a carry-on bag, which is priced the same as checked luggage. But the price increases to $50 if you wait until you’re at the airport to buy it.
I decided against paying extra for a seat assignment, $10 to $50 each way, unconcerned about whether I sat next to my husband for the 75-minute flight. As it turns out, neither flight was full and we got seated together anyway.
Breeze offers something called “Nicer” pricing, which bundles together a bag, seat assignment and a seat in the first 12 rows of the plane, which offer an extra 4-plus inches of legroom. (This is in contrast to its “Nice,” or a la carte, pricing.)
Probably the biggest perk that Breeze offers is the lack of any change or cancellation fees. U.S. airlines made a big deal during the coronavirus pandemic of suspending cancellation and change fees, but many carriers have gradually added them back, particularly on their lowest fares.
I thought about the benefits of Breeze’s policy in the days leading up to my flight, as Tropical Storm Elsa was bearing down on the Southern U.S.
What if I decided I didn’t want to travel to South Carolina in the wake of the storm?
As it turns out, the storm decreased in strength and passed through the Carolinas earlier than expected. And the flight? Though about an hour late departing due to the weather, it was otherwise uneventful.
With me on the plane:
* Lisa Sporich from Fairlawn, who has been traveling regularly to Charleston and the beach community of Isle of Palms for decades. “We usually drive,” she said. “I’m pretty thrilled that I can fly direct.”
* Debbie Socotch from Alliance, who was delivering her two grandchildren, 11-year-old James and 7-year-old Ella, back to their parents near Charleston. “Usually we meet halfway,” said Socotch, who talked her daughter into lengthening the visit because of a decrease in travel time. “I hope to use this a lot.”
* Marian Carter and daughter Jordan from Richfield, flying to Charleston for orientation at the College of Charleston. Carter joked that Breeze was about to become her “personal airline” because it also launched new service from CAK to New Orleans, where her older daughter goes to school. “This gives us options,” she said.
* Judy Swinehart from North Canton, who traveled to South Carolina to visit her two sisters. “We always drive,” she said. “But I’ll do this again.”
The Charleston flight is offered four times per week – Thursday, Friday, Sunday and Monday, perfect for long-weekend travel. Flights to New Orleans run twice per week, Thursdays and Sundays, while flights to Tampa are once per week, on Saturdays.
In an interview last month, Neeleman said he thinks Akron-Canton can handle a dozen or more additional routes to unserved destinations. Breeze currently flies to 16 cities, including Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia; San Antonio, Texas; Pittsburgh and Columbus.
The carrier is currently limited by its fleet of 11 aircraft. Later this year, Breeze is expected to add the first of dozens of new, larger Airbus planes, which will expand the airline’s reach to longer routes, including the West Coast.
Lisa Dalpiaz, vice president of marketing and air service development for Akron-Canton, said she doesn’t think Breeze will attract too many Cleveland fliers initially, because all three markets – Charleston, Tampa and New Orleans – are currently served from Hopkins.
There were, however, at least a few Clevelanders on my flight – including Karen H., from Seven Hills, who said the flights from Hopkins to Charleston were too expensive, $400 or more, for the dates she was interested in traveling.
“I thought about driving, but I saw this flight,” she said. “The experience with Breeze has been nothing but positive.”
My experience, too, was a breeze. I had forgotten how easy it is to fly from Akron-Canton, 15 minutes from parking lot through security to gate.
My one concern about the airline: Breeze doesn’t maintain a phone number for travelers to call with problems or questions. All communication is directed to Facebook Messenger, email or text.
Airline spokesman Gareth Edmondson-Jones said the decision to forego phone communication was a financial one, to keep fares down.
As an experiment, I texted the number listed (501-273-3931) with a question about baggage fees and received a response in about 25 minutes. We’ve probably all waited a lot longer on hold to get through to a live person.
Would I fly Breeze again? Absolutely, because even though I wasn’t looking for another airline, I think I found one.
What to expect from new carrier Breeze Airways, launching today from Akron-Canton Airport