In a nutshell: Avelo is your typical low cost carrier where you pay for everything extra, you can’t go wrong with $19 base fares. Avelo Airlines offered excellent on-time service on their first flight out of our local airport, plus friendly, excited staff and even a snack on the way. Another upside is how ridiculously easy Burbank is to navigate than LAX. Already hoping to fly with them again.
Booking the Flight
When new startup Avelo Airlines caught me by surprise with their new service to our local airport, I knew that I wanted to be on the first flight out. The ticket price of $19 between Arcata-Eureka (ACV) and Burbank (BUR) was downright amazing for a flight that runs most of the length of the Golden State. I was in.
Although this as not the Avelo Airlines inaugural flight (that one happened a couple weeks prior between Burbank and Santa Rosa), this was the closest thing to an inaugural that I’ve ever been on (United’s new SFO-JFK service a day late was the previous record). It was the first flight out on a new airline to a new destination from our local airport in years.
Here are my flight details:
- Date: Wednesday, May 19, 2021
- Carrier: Avelo Airlines
- Flight Number: XP122
- Origin: Arcata-Eureka (ACV)
- Destination: Burbank (BUR)
- Aircraft: Boeing 737-800 (N802XT)
- Seat: 36F
I also paid $5 for a window seat. Seat prices start at $4 for a middle, with aisle and window going for $5 at the back on the plane. Avelo Airlines checked bag prices are currently set at $10, which is amazing for a budget airline. What isn’t amazing is the $35 cabin bag charge. Even though I hate checking a bag, I certainly would flying with them. This was moot for my trip, though. I only brought a personal item.
I arrived at ACV at 3:40 PM, heading through the door at the end of the terminal nearest the United check-in. It was good that I did, as I was met with a giant line. Well, giant for our little airport. It stretched nearly halfway across the building.
Now, this is for a scheduled departure of 4:25 PM. There has never been a situation where 45 minutes isn’t enough time to check-in and make it through security. But it seemed like it could be this time. There is no way that Avelo departs with people standing in the check-in line, though. More people added to the queue even after I arrived. Big difference in passenger load between a CRJ-200 and a Boeing 737-800!
My stay in line lasted about 15 minutes. Everyone was upbeat and seemed jazzed to be taking the flight. There was lots of conversation about the $19 fares and great checked-bag price. Day one, and Avelo has made quite a splash with the
Standing in line did give me time to admire our airport a little more. There is a lovely painting on the wall of the Lost Coast, taken from Cape Mendocino. It’s of one of my very favorite stretches of road on the entire planet. I’d never noticed it before but was thrilled I recognized it. There is also a cool sculpture hanging high above as you walk in.
I did try to check in while in line, but this didn’t work. Other passengers remarked that online check-in had not worked for them, either. It seemed everyone needed to go to the counter.
Turns out that Avelo does have the option to check in online and download your boarding pass. It was nice to test this on my flight the following day back to Santa Rosa. If you don’t have any luggage, this is the way to go.
There were two gate agents working, plus a manager.
While in the check-in line I caught the arrival of the Avelo 737. Fly Humboldt, our local airport outreach (lobbying?) organization had the Avelo arrival streaming via Facebook live. The arriving aircraft got a single cannon water salute. That’s impressive for our tiny airport. Fly Humboldt provided a small memento for departing passengers. Arriving passengers were gifted a bag of north coast merchandise. No, they probably didn’t include any of our most famous product. I know that’s what you’re thinking.
Fly Humboldt has been instrumental in getting us new service over the past few years. I’ve really appreciated the work they’ve done, as we ended up with the LAX service, then Denver service, and now two new airlines this year. I never thought we’d be going from one nonstop destination (SFO) to five in just ~4 years!
Avelo is a low-cost carrier, which is even weirder for us to have. Their signage at check-in is really good. You can test your cabin bag size. Remember that checked bags are way cheaper.
Boarding at ACV
Hysterically, I got flagged for additional screening. Our airport may be tiny, but it happens to have some of the worst (or best?) TSA officers. I’ve been fully patted down once after testing positive for explosives residue (not joking). They’ve also confiscated other things that normally pass right through, including slightly-larger-than-limit toiletry items, like toothpaste. These have never been a problem for me at SFO.
Today the culprit was a chunk of salt from the Yucatan. I’d forgotten to take it out of the bag. I’d actually forgotten it was even in the bag. The agent was pretty perplexed when he finally found it, and they had to test a bit of it. At least I got it back. Note for the future: salt is suspicious.
By the time that rigmarole was over, the Avelo flight was already boarding. They were supposed to be by group number, but the PA system wasn’t working, so you had no idea what was going on if you were more than 10 feet from the gate desk. Eventually I realized that my group was long gone. With a seat at the back of the plane, I should have known. That photo above? That is our entire gate area. Gate 2 (which is being used by Avelo) doesn’t even have an official sign. Or apparently PA system. That arrived literally the day before and promptly decided to not work.
But it was easy to gloss over all these little issues. Did I tell you yet how excited I was?
As you would expect, ACV does not have a jet bridge. This makes things fun in the winter when it’s raining, as there aren’t even covered walkways. Luckily, it was a lovely day. We boarded via a clearly brand-new ramp.
Avelo Airlines 737 Seats
What can you expect when booking a budget airline for just $19 one-way? Not a whole lot in terms of seat comfort. But none of that really matters if the price is right. The seats are slim…Spirit or Frontier Airlines slim. They honestly might be the model Spirit uses, or something 95% similar. They do have a full size tray table, something Frontier did not have on the flights I took with them.
You’re looking at a mere 29 inches of seat pitch, which is tight for many people. It was a bit cramped with my backpack under the seat, but I still otherwise fit fine. Still plenty of knee room. There is a holder for a seat back magazine or other literature at the top, but nothing in it. This surprised me.
As I took a moment to photograph the tiny flight memento, followed by a shot of the ground crew outside, the guy next to me surprised me by asking, “What are you, The Points Guy?” This was a great unexpected icebreaker, and we ended up chatting for most of the flight. Turns out that I was taking a photo of his crew outside.
An Introduction to the World of Airline Ground Ops
The fact that I ended up next to Vince Dugan, the president of Trego-Dugan Aviation, a jet services company that provides charter flights and also ground operations at airports across the country. They’d won the contract for providing ground operations for Avelo at ACV. Why he was sitting in a middle seat at the back of the bus was beyond me. But it made for some interesting and enjoyable conversation.
As I’d suspected from the ramp, the equipment being used was brand new. The belt loader he pointed at out the window was another piece they’d brought it. There were quite a few staff outside, as other company members had been brought in to train the ACV ground staff.
In addition to providing ground services at ACV, Trego-Dugan will also be providing ground operations for Avelo at Redding, Pasco, and Grand Junction. If you happen to be in any of those places and want a decent part-time job with no experience required, they are looking to hire.
In addition to the new Avelo operations, Trego-Dugan provides ground services at many other airports for many other carriers. Allegiant and Frontier are two of the main ones, with a smattering of airports for the major carriers. Frontier’s operations at SFO are run by the Nebraska-based aviation company.
We both watched as the ramp agent was being trained by another Trego-Dugan employee. First day on the job!
The flight was remarkably full. Vince commented on this multiple times. He’d been on a few Avelo inaugurals either in or out of their new airports, and he said that Arcata was the most full by a long shot. He said he’d rarely seen a first flight this full. My guess is that our load factor was between 60-70%! My speculation: cannabis industry demand. I bet this ends up being one of Avelo’s best routes, as it will actually have a business demand.
Takeoff was uneventful. If I understand correctly, our runway is barely long enough to handle a Boeing 737.
It was a beautiful day. I was very glad to have a window seat. Entirely worth the $5 extra.
The flight attendants were upbeat during our whole flight. They brought around small snack packs, something I did not expect.
We were all warned by the captain of the high braking that we would experience landing at Burbank. The runway is not especially long, so they have to full reverse thrust. It really isn’t as bad as it sounds, but the flight attendants walked around making sure passengers were aware.
Although I survived the braking, I thought the clapping on arrival was going to kill me. It’s been years since I’ve heard airplane clapping. I definitely remember it landing in Moscow years ago. That might be the last time. I don’t know. It’s not a thing anymore, thankfully. I’m going to go with day-one nerves for our flight. Most of the passengers were quite excited about the new flight.
We deplaned to a very empty Burbank Airport. No food vendors were open. Not even Guy Fieri’s Kitchen and Bar. This was a totally unexpected Ferndale connection.
Sadly, the flight back to STS the next day would have a much lighter load, at maybe 30% full. I’m surprised they are flying daily flights to Santa Rosa. My gut tells me this gets cut slightly.
Final Thoughts: Avelo Airlines ACV-BUR “Inaugural”
As my first “inaugural” flight, I had a great experience flying Avelo Airlines to Burbank. The flight was on time, the ground staff and crew were all friendly, and the flight was a downright amazing deal. The energy and excitement of the passengers was palpable at times. Even though we were flying a low-cost airline with 29″ seat pitch and that charges extra for everything, people were jazzed. I was more than satisfied paying $24 for the experience.
I’m hopeful that there will be sustained demand for the 4x weekly flights between ACV and BUR. Avelo is taking a gamble on flying from a second-tier airport in the Los Angeles area to tiny regional airports in the west. But I’m sure they’ve done their market research. The management is ex-Allegiant, and this is along the lines of their model. With the cannabis industry connection within California, my gut tells me that Avelo will have enough demand to keep this route. Even if prices rise slightly, they’ll be able to undercut United. And many people will prefer the convenience of Burbank and also the fact they’re not flying on a terrible CR2.
Au revior, until next time Avelo. Flying you is better than traveling à vélo.