Postscript – PeoplExpress

News reports on September 25 advised that the new PeoplExpress had lost half of its fleet on September 19 (consisting of two planes). The next day the company succumbed to subsequent operational challenges, resulting in cancellation of all service and stopped answering its phones. The company advises that it will “relaunch” October 16.

A few other commentators have observed that a company selling tickets without owning or directly operating the equipment used to fly the routes shouldn’t be called an “airline.” Whatever PeoplExpress might be, the media miss the point of an experiment so poorly conceived, planned, and operated.

One leased plane–down from two. A schedule with routes from Boston to New Orleans. Very few contingency plans–and inadequate one at that.

If this were a travel agency project, the criticism would be intense.

Sources:

PeoplExpress apologizes online for weekend delays

There’s something disturbing about this piece from the Virginian-Pilot (August 12, 2014). The article superficially discusses an apology circulated via Facebook by a senior PeoplExpress executive. The incident involves an air service disruption and the events surrounding it.

Read the piece carefully and then see my thoughts below. I don’t believe the image the company tries to create is successful.

Here is my short list of concerns and observations:

  1. It is hard to imagine that a company selling air transportation with three planes that it doesn’t own or operate will have anything other than operational problems.
  2. Consumers have not made that operational connection, which might be a better area for media to consider.
  3. As the PR person quoted in the piece observes, it’s “refreshing” that an airline is apparently  forthright with its customers–so rare of late in an industry that collectively seems determined to abuse its customers in the name of economy and low fares as to rate space in a large newspaper.
  4. It’s strange that, whatever the circumstances, a flight delay/cancellation resulted in screaming at an employee somewhere in the airport (not clear where). Inadequate training and preparation are probably contributors, but most frequent travelers have been exposed to equally inept staff, Neanderthal passengers, and gate-level service collapse that didn’t result provoke similar reactions from the crowd, motivate a Facebook post from a senior executive, or result in a $20k out-of-pocket for the company. One wonders what was really going on.
  5. The cumulative effect is to make the operation look inept, apology or not, especially when the explaining starts. Too much information is usually not helpful or particularly enlightening. It often has the opposite effect.
  6. Reading comments from a senior executive attributing delays to “staff limitations” and federal work rules is very strange. The complexity of the subject raised would cause informed consumers and media (regretfully few) to ask what specifically he had in mind and how that relates to safety. Rather than honesty it suggests that you don’t know what you are doing and that your customers won’t notice when you shift some of the blame to government.

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PeoplExpress Starts Operations June 30, 2014

PeoplExpress is a strange concoction. I paid a bit of attention to it a couple years ago because Newport News is about 20 miles from where I live. The more attention I paid, the less interested I became. Rather than a brave aviation experiment, PeoplExpress seems more of a case study in failed business planning and development practices.

Here are but a few:

The essential marketing strategy for the company has never been clear, apart from reliance upon what I refer to as the “Doctrine of Cheap Things.” This being that, if you sell something cheap enough, some people will buy it, regardless of whether it adds any real value. The on-line travel seller’s market is also filled with such outfits.

There are frequent references to the company’s customer-friendly intentions, and a “cheap with a smile” attitude, but no one has ever explained how precisely this is going to work. Delivering the same or a similar set of miserable customer services as most every other aviation company, but doing it with a better attitude, seems to be an amazingly shallow strategy. If the company is somehow expecting service enhancements, it’s never been clear what these might be, how they will be affordable within a “cheaper is better” business model, and why this approach might be sustainable.

As many others more qualified that I have remarked, the company’s fleet and operations strategy simply doesn’t make sense. In this context, that which doesn’t make sense usually doesn’t work either. There are exceedingly rare exceptions, but that’s a poor way to plan a business.

The business planning failures are even more striking, especially when you consider them in the context that they do contain some partial logic–but you have to have been there to appreciate it.

PeoplExpress appears to have been contrived by a very small group of people who shared some basic assumptions. None of these appear to have been validated either by the marketplace (one assumes that the service launch in a few days will be part of that exercise), or by adequate research and planning.

One is that there remains some value and goodwill in the PeoplExpress name. I’ve never met, or even heard of, anyone apart from the management team who believes this. Most travel industry people old enough to remember People Express Airlines have the opposite, or at least conflicted, recollections.

Another is that Newport News is a logical place to base an airline.

In a way, it is. Some commentators have remarked that there is no logic in trying to complete with a perfectly adequate and well-served airport in Norfolk. There is–but only if you live here.

I never fly from Norfolk–never. I’ll drive to Richmond, which is somewhat further (and just as well-served), or occasionally to Washington, which is a lot further. The reason is that there is no good way to get to or from Norfolk International from this part of the Virginia Peninsula. It can take 30 minutes, or three hours. There’s no way to predict and it’s a miserable trip on a good day. That route is notorious in local thought and urban mythology. If there were such things as trolls, local people would be assuring you that they are found in abundance underneath the bridge that forms part of the route that you have to travel.

If you’ve ever spent an hour in a car stuck in traffic in a tunnel underneath the Chesapeake Bay, you’ll understand what I mean.

However true that may be, it’s an inadequate business strategy. It’s usually a fatal mistake to base strategy on what you personally find appealing–unless you’ve been able to prove that large numbers of other people happen to agree with you.

The 200,000 or so people in the direct service area for Newport News on this side of the water will probably agree that more service from Newport News / Williamsburg International is a good idea. The million or so people on the other side probably will not. No one has convincingly tested either of these assumptions, by the way.

Early on, PeoplExpress tried to get support from Norfolk to establish its base there–the idea was rebuffed. The company’s first business office was in Norfolk.

Newport News is a delightful airport to use because almost nobody uses it. As soon as it becomes busy, it is a far less attractive facility.

All this is why there is a market for good consultants. By that I mean equally aviation and business experts who will look at situations objectively and tell you the truth. There are far too few of these.

PeoplExpress is an idea that is so flawed in concept and execution that it’s impossible to rationalize how it even might succeed.