Vision Airlines’ announcement on January 18 that by April 1 it would launch scheduled routes from Northwest Florida Regional Airport (VPS) to 17 cities in nine states surprised many airline-industry insiders.
The ambition of the long-established charter carrier’s rapid expansion into the scheduled-service business was clear for all to see: Vision Airlines itself boasted its planned move was “the largest expansion of a commercial airline in more than a decade”.
That might be true, at least as regards U.S.-based carriers. On March 25, Vision Airlines will begin services to VPS (which serves the Florida resort destinations of Destin and Fort Walton Beach) from Atlanta, Macon and Savannah in Georgia; Baton Rouge in Louisiana; Greenville/Spartanburg in South Carolina; Little Rock in Arkansas; Knoxville in Tennessee; Birmingham and Huntsville in Alabama; Punta Gorda/Fort Myers and St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport (PIE) in Florida; and Louisville in Kentucky.
Then, on April 1, Vision will add more new routes to VPS from Chattanooga in Tennessee; Asheville in North Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina; Shreveport in Louisiana; and Orlando Sanford International Airport in Florida.
Like low-cost success story Allegiant Air, Vision Airlines is primarily aiming to build a network linking secondary U.S. airports with popular resort destinations and to offer high-value, discounted vacation packages combining air fares with hotel rooms, car rental and entertainment options. Like Allegiant, also, Vision is primarily using widely available, low-priced, used jets to build its network – in Vision’s case, 737-400s and 737-300s.
But David Meers, Vision Airlines’ chief operating officer for passenger operations, says that unlike Allegiant, “We don’t charge any junk fees,” such as the so-called convenience fee Allegiant charges when passengers book tickets anywhere but at an airport counter. Nor does Vision Airlines emulate Spirit Airlines in charging for carry-on bags. Unlike Allegiant and Spirit, “You also get a complimentary Coke and salty snack on board” with Vision Airlines, notes Meers.
Vision’s published fares are simple, he says: they include everything but government-levied fees and charges for checked bags. The airline sells a certain number of seats at the lowest advertised price and when these are sold out, it sells a certain number at the next-highest price – and so on. Even Vision’s checked-bag fees are low: The first checked bag costs $15 if paid for at the time of booking, and the second bag $20. The fee goes up by $10 per bag if the fee is paid at the airport.
Despite the considerable task Vision Airlines has set itself in establishing a scheduled-service network from its base at VPS to destinations throughout the southern and southeastern United States, the airline is already mindful of service- and network-growth opportunities in the longer term.
Vision’s most obvious area for growth is in increasing frequencies on its scheduled routes linking VPS with Niagara and Miami – it launched Niagara Falls-VPS-Miami service on December 17 – and, by April 1, 17 other cities. Vision Airlines is initially serving all of these routes twice to four times a week with Boeing 737-400s or 737-300s. However, “As the routes build, we will build frequencies,” says Meers.
Also, he says, “The other thing you can count on from us is that we will add other destinations from that [VPS-centered] footprint,” where it makes sense. A likely new destination to be served from VPS will be Las Vegas, where Vision Airlines began life as an aerial-sightseeing operator and where it now operates scheduled services to destinations in the Grand Canyon area as well as sightseeing flights, with Dornier 228s and 328s.
Meers says that by adding Las Vegas to its 737 network, for example, the carrier could potentially offer one-stop routes such as VPS-Baton Rouge-Las Vegas; VPA-Shreveport-LAS Vegas; Savannah-VPS-Las Vegas; or even Knoxville-Little Rock-Las Vegas.
Additionally, as demand grows, the carrier’s twice-daily service between Louisville – where its main maintenance base is located – and Atlanta, near where Vision Airlines is headquartered, could see Boeing 737s replace the Dornier 328s Vision now uses for the service.