Skybus Goes Sky-Bust (Zing!)


Ah, Chapter 11.  Where stupid ideas go when they die.  Such is the fate of Columbus, Ohio’s Skybus, the low-cost airline launched last year that couldn’t have been lower-rent if they replaced their planes with trained pteradactyls like they had on The Flintstones. 

 Ohio governor Ted Strickland walks one of the lamer red carpets you\'ll ever see with Skybus CEO Bill Diffenderfer.

I would otherwise consider celebrating the death of a company in my home state unseemly given that we do not need any more lost jobs, but I can’t help but cheer the market when it disposes of a bad idea that launched at the wrong time – in other words, behaves rationally when so much of the rest of the economy is not.  Here was the Skybus pitch:

To be the cheapest airline in the United States.  Flying out of their central hub in Columbus, Skybus could offer customers rock-bottom airfares (sometimes seats as low as $10).  How did they get fares this low?  By giving you a seat, and pretty much nothing else.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  They also gave you the unique experience of having to look at advertisements on the interior of the cabin plus trying to politely decline while a flight attendtant tried hocking all kinds of crap to you for the duration of the flight.

\"Peanuts, sir?  Soft drink?  Imitation Rolex and/or Chanel No. 5?\"

That’s right.  Charging $10 for an airline ticket meant Skybus had to make up all those fuel/labor/maintenance costs somewhere, so they let other companies pay to have Skybus flight attendants act as an outsourced sales staff to the ultimate captive audience – people strapped into a metal tube 30,000 feet above the ground.  But hey, it’s a $10 ticket – surely you can just pop your earbuds in and rock out to Black Sabbath on your Zune, close your eyes, and escape the person in the Skybus uniform trying to sell you a timeshare while also checking to make sure your tray table is in the upright and locked position.  Right?

Sure, except $10 got you the ticket, just the ticket, and nothing but the ticket.  Wanna check a bag?  That’ll cost you – if you check more than 2, it’s $50 a pop.  If you want to board early or secure a choice seat, you had to pay for that.  They observed movie theater rules regarding food and beverages – you had to get rid of them before you boarded – because they tried to sell you food while you were in flight.  They didn’t offer a jetway; instead you had to walk across the tarmac and climb into the cabin. 

I could go on – they made catching a connecting flight a real pain in the ass, they paid flight attendants $9 an hour but let them claim a 10% commission on anything sold to passengers during the flight and thereby guaranteed an aggressive sales force, and their ugly planes that were the same color as the shorts on a Hooter’s girl.  But the bottom line is this:  an airline hatched a plan to offer unsustainably cheap plane tickets and making up the difference by turning their planes into flying department store counters, counting on retail sales and in-flight advertising to drive the top line.  By the way, here’s what fuel prices did since Skybus opened:

So here’s what we’re gonna do, everybody: let’s enter the market when prices are rising faster than they have in decades, charge enough for a seat to pay for an amount of gasoline that will move the plane maybe 10 feet, and then, once we’ve got people sitting down, let’s hit them with a bunch of hidden charges and hassle them for the duration of the flight by trying to sell them everything from Dorito’s to Polo Sport.  It’s a can’t miss.

Ah well.  I’m still waiting for somebody to try out my idea for an airline…talk about a can’t miss!  I call it “Deathplane 3000 Airlines.”  The only passengers allowed on board are Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jackie Chan, Jason Statham, Chuck Norris, Jet Li, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and Dolph Lundgren, and they can bring nothing on board except whatever weapons they can carry.   That’s a Spike TV Man Meat Movie of the Week, at least.


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