In a nutshell: when a new airline offers free tickets, you have to take them up on it, right? This is all it took to get me to fly to Reno and back in a day to write an aha! airlines flight review. My overall impression of the new regional low-cost carrier is a good one after the experience. The flight was a little late, but they delivered in terms of service and comfort. And the price point was obviously unbeatable. I hope the new airline survives in a tough market with their chosen business model.
When yet another airline began service at our local airport, I knew I’d have to give it a try at some point. Like low-cost carrier Avelo Airlines, the new service by airline startup aha! caught me by surprise. Their “free ticket” sale for the first 100 Reno-Arcata customers caught me by surprise. I decided it was too good to pass up. My ticket cost me $14.40 in taxes and fees. Add in a cheap award ticket, and I had a nice joyride for a day. Finished an entire book during the trip. Plus, I can write an aha! airlines flight review.
What is aha! Anyway?
The aha! name is an acronym that stands for “air-hotel-adventure”. The brand launched as a leisure brand of ExpressJet Airlines, focusing on regional, short-hop flights at an attractive price point and with the intent to partner with hotels and resorts to offer even more value through vacation packages.
Based in Reno, Nevada, aha! has a fleet of four ERJ-145 regional jets, operated by ExpressJet. The ERJ-145 is smaller than the ERJ-175 planes operated by SkyWest that serve our local airport (in addition to their terrible CRJ-200s). They are painted with the new airline livery.
Reno makes for an interesting hub. The selection of destinations might seem odd, but it makes sense for aha! for two reasons. First, they are operating regional aircraft to markets that will have limited demand. Second, they will not be able to compete on popular routes served by major carriers that offer plenty of capacity out of Reno (e.g. Las Vegas). This restricts them to a smattering of small cities in the Western U.S.
The destinations served by aha! include: Ontario, Bakersfield, Fresno, Arcata-Eureka, Medford, Eugene, Redmond, and Pasco/Tri-Cities, all smaller airports that don’t already have nonstop service to Reno-Tahoe.
aha! Flight Review Details
- Carrier: aha!/ExpressJet (as EV 7000)
- Aircraft: ERJ-145
- Date: Tuesday, December 14
- Origin: Reno, Nevada (RNO)
- Destination: Arcata-Eureka, California (ACV)
- Booked Using: $14.40 cash (taxes and fees, $0 base fare)
Check-In at Reno-Tahoe
I didn’t bother checking in for my aha! flight online. You can do online check-in, but given the flight timing and probable lack of passengers, I made my way to the ticket counter 90 minutes before my flight. There were two people in front of me when I arrived. The other check-in queues around me at the small airport were nearly deserted.
Unlike some other carriers, there is no cost to print a boarding pass. The boarding pass was printed on fairly normal receipt paper instead of the typical boarding card. It even looks much more like a receipt than the other carriers that do this. Not surprised, given the need for aha! to cut all costs they possibly can as a brand-new carrier.
Since the airline is flying small aircraft, they did weigh my personal item. I was traveling without carry-on and without checked luggage. A non-personal-item carry on costs $30, same as a checked bag. Given the tiny size of the ERJ-145 overhead bins, this seems to be a fine strategy for limiting the carry-on luggage. It makes far more sense to check a bag with aha! than carry one onto the plane.
Reno-Tahoe security was nearly deserted as well. Very few people heading out on a Tuesday morning.
I made my way to Gate B2, where one of the two aha! aircraft were parked. A couple slot machines remind you that you’re in Nevada.
As it would turn out, the gate printed on everyone’s boarding pass was wrong. At about 9:05, an agent made an announcement for everyone to come to Gate B4, as our flight was boarding and the door would soon close. They’d switched the gates. The flight at Gate B2 was headed for Medford a bit later.
Ah, Yes, The Tiny ERJ-145
The aha!/Expressjet ERJ-145 aircraft have a 1-2 cabin layout, which I find so much better than the 2-2 CRJ layout. If you’re traveling solo, you can have your own window-aisle seat. Only thing better would be if it was a EMB120 Brasilia. Bummer no one flies those anymore.
The cons of the ERJ-145 are the tiny overhead bins and that I can barely stand fully upright in the aisle. My head just touches the ceiling at 5 feet 10 inches. But at least the seats are comfortable as far as regional jets go, and the legroom is reasonable. The windows are also at a better height than those on the CRJ.
I was given seat 24A, at the very back of the bus. I wouldn’t pick it, personally, as you’re inches from the lavatory door. But you do get a phone and a flashlight. Win.
The cabin was very sparsely filled, and the flight attendant informed me that I could sit anywhere I pleased. I wasn’t expecting this, as the weight and balance can be an issue on small jets. I moved once the plane reached 10,000 feet.
Personal items can go either under the seat or in the very small overhead bins. Given that there was no one seated in the pair of seats across from me, I put my pack under those seats.
aha! Flight Experience
Given that this was not the inaugural flight to Arcata (which was something I would have loved to have been on, had my scheduled allowed it), boarding and flying with aha! was as routine as with any other carrier.
I chit-chatted with the flight attendant a bit. He is hoping that the passenger numbers increase. There were just 11 passengers on my flight, even considering the free tickets offered, and otherwise reasonable fares.
This might sound crazy, but I believe this is only the second time I’ve been on a plane that needed to be de-iced. It was actually an enjoyable experience this time, as I got to watch the whole ordeal. De-icing obviously set us back a bit on the schedule, and the flight pushed back slightly late as it was. My guess is that it was due to the overall airport operations being behind, as everything else about aha! seemed to be running smoothly.
We finally took off around 10:25, quite a bit behind schedule. Even with a 50-minute flight time, there was no way we’d make the scheduled 10:40 AM arrival in Humboldt County. Even with such a short flight time and quite a bit of turbulence ascending out of Reno and passing over the Sierra Nevada, the flight attendant served water and snack. Options included granola bars and graham cracker squares.
Nothing beats a beautiful morning taken in from the air. With the storm breaking over Humboldt County, it was a lovely day for flying.
My aha! Flight Review: Overall Thoughts
The overall experience was about what I expected. It’s not much different than any other low cost carrier, except that you’re flying regional jets. That’s a bit different. I was impressed that aha! was able to get their flights out in a reasonable amount of time, given that they were covered in snow that morning.
Given the price point of aha! for flying to Reno, it’s a fantastic deal, especially if you can travel lightly. But…you only have Reno as an option. This is a very specific market. You can’t buy connecting tickets on aha! at this point. If you can figure out where each plane is continuing on to by perusing their schedule, you could in theory buy two tickets to get to one of their other destinations. But this would be a very limited market in the West.
The Reno-Tahoe area is about an 8-hour drive from home, which makes it a bit much for even a weekend trip. This is why it was one of the spots in California that I took many years to get around to visiting.
Now, I haven’t had much of a reason visit Reno in the near future. But maybe a skiing trip with the kids is in order later in the winter, or a summer visit to Tahoe. If the airline survives (and I’m not convinced it will), I think we’ll do one or even both, as long as far stay as affordable as they are.
And that concludes my aha! flight review. What do you think of the new carrier? Do you think they will survive, given their interesting business model that mixes low costs with regional jets and service?