America's Newest No-Frills Airline: Skybus

One of Skybus Airlines' 14 A-319 jets. The A-319 carries 144 passenbers. Photo courtesy of
One of Skybus Airlines' 14 A-319 jets. The A-319 carries 144 passengers. Photo courtesy of

Sadly, Skybus didn't last long but the ideas are reminiscent of Ryanair

By Renee Estey

[Editor's note: In April 2008 Skybus stopped all flights and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Commentators are speculating about whether it was a defect in their business model or poor management that led to the airline's collapse. They are also speculating about whether the so-called 'Ryanair' model, based on the European low-fare airline, can work in the US.]

The nation's newest air carrier, Columbus, Ohio-based Skybus Airlines took off May 22, 2007, with the first flights of their A-319 air buses. The company hopes to have the success of European carrier Ryanair.

Skybus provides low prices for airline tickets and low taxes and fees, as well. And they promise that apart from their usually inexpensive fares they have at least ten seats on every flight priced at $10 one-way. This is before taxes, bringing it to $20.80, after collecting September 11 Security Fees, Passenger Facility charge, and US Flight Segment tax.

Automating Everything

CEO Bob Diffenderffer says Skybus can offer the lowest prices in the country because they have found numerous ways to cut costs and boost non-ticket revenue, including selling advertisements on their planes, inside and out!

"We automate anything that can reasonably be automated," Diffenderffer says. "You book your own flight online, check yourself in online or at the convenient Skybus kiosk at the airport, and head to the gate. Clean and simple. And a lot less expensive. We give customers the opportunity to control exactly what they pay for. Unlike other airlines, we don’t drive up fares by charging you for things your never asked for and don’t even want.

Smaller Regional Airports

"We fly in and out of less congested airports. At these airports our costs are a lot lower and your chances of arriving and taking off on time are a lot higher. We pass these savings on to [our customers]."

Skybus also saves money by having passngers board directly from the runway without using a jetway.

Although their flights are inexpensive, nothing is included with the flight. Overpriced food, drink, blankets, and pillows are charged per item. This is great for those that do not care to eat or drink throughout their flight, but is unfortunate for those on longer flights during meal times.

A skybus jet with an advertisement for Nationwide Insurance.
A skybus jet with an advertisement for Nationwide Insurance.

Food is not allowed on board, “unless you brought enough for the whole plane” the website explains.

A Flying Kiosk

Skybus aircraft sell everything: food, drinks, perfumes, watches, clothing, toiletries and souvenir items, and the crew members get a commission on all merchandise sold.

Other charges include the bag check-in fee of $5 for the first two and $50 for any after that. For any oversized carry-on, an additional $25 is added to the fee. These fees are for each flight segment, as well, so if it is a round-trip you would be paying twice.

These jets only have one class; there is no Economy or Business class. This said, though seats are comfortable and modern with wide aisles in between for movement room, do not expect the luxury of other airlines.

Priority Boarding

Although there is only one class, Skybus does offer Priority Boarding so long as each person in the party requests it for $10 per customer. Otherwise, seating is first-come first-served with the request for customers to arrive at least thirty minutes before the flight or that seat will be given away.

No Phone

In order to cut costs and keep flights and fees low, Skybus has avoided extra expenses by having most of the processes automated, and only allowing booking via their website. They do not have a phone to reach them, but instead have an email system where they say to be patient, because they usually will not get back to you in efficient time.

Passengers will board Skybus planes from ground level to save the price of a jetway. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Passengers will board Skybus planes from ground level to save the price of a jetway. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

This system is understandable for a business just starting out, especially in this era where machines are slowly ruling the world. However, I can only predict the issues soon to arise from customers having flight issues or questions and not having the ability to deal with it efficiently by communicating with someone directly.

According to David Wikening of, within the first three hours of having their flights established online, more than 30,000 tickets were sold.

Less Congested Airports

Primarily, Skybus will connect Columbus, Ohio (their base of operation) to Burbank, California; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Bellingham, Washington; Kansas City, Missouri; Richmond, Virginia; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Greensboro, North Carolina, and Chicopee, Massachusetts.

The areas to visit are limited, but as the company becomes more successful, the number of destinations will expand. As of now, all of the places listed are close to large and highly populated cities with lots of attractions; however, they do not fly directly into the congested airports that most airlines use.

If they can do without any extras, and if they can plan their trips around secondary airports, travelers -- especially families -- can clearly save a lot of money.

The Los Angeles Times interviewed a California mom who flew from Burbank to Columbus with her sister and three sons, then rented a car and drove to a cousin's wedding in Atlanta. She estimated she saved about $2,000. With savings like that, she said, she didn't mind paying $2 for water.

But for other vacationers with hefty amounts of luggage, it may not be worth all the excess baggage.

Renee Estey Renee Estey is a writer and mom who lives in Western Massachusetts.

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