Startup airline PEOPLExpress touching down in Pittsburgh

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Some two years in the making, a new airline is ready to take to the skies, and one of its first stops will be Pittsburgh.

PEOPLExpress, the startup named after the popular no-frills airline that failed in the 1980s, plans to launch service June 30 with flights to Pittsburgh, Boston and Newark, N.J., from its headquarters at Newport News/​Williamsburg International Airport in Virginia.

It will start with one flight a day to Pittsburgh International Airport, one to Boston and two to Newark. There currently is no service between Pittsburgh and Newport News/​Williamsburg.

The flights will be operated by Las Vegas-based Vision Airlines under the PEOPLExpress name while the carrier continues to work with the Federal Aviation Administration to get its own certification to fly.

Fares will start at $76 each way, but a host of add-ons quickly can push up the cost. The first checked bag will cost $20, a carry-on bag will cost $25 for each flight segment, an exit row seat will be $25 each way, and an advance seat assignment is $15 each way. A “Living Large” seat will be an extra $59 for each flight segment.

But PEOPLExpress CEO Jeff Erickson said that even with the extra charges, the flights are “going to be substantially cheaper than what’s in the marketplace right now.”

Tickets will go on sale starting Wednesday at PEOPLExpress will use three Boeing 737-400 jets.

Pittsburgh, which has seen service drastically scaled back since the loss of the US Airways hub in 2004, has been on the carrier’s radar for two years. At one time, officials envisioned Pittsburgh as a focus city. Mr. Erickson said Friday there is still interest in making the airport a “multidirectional hub” but that nothing has been finalized.

Nonetheless, despite its plans to start service June 30, PEOPLExpress still doesn’t have a lease agreement with the airport, spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said. Mr. Erickson said the airline is in discussions with the airport.

The lack of an agreement, Ms. Jenny said, would not prevent the carrier from flying into Pittsburgh. She said it could use common gates and common ticket areas to conduct business.

PEOPLExpress intends to add service to four other destinations — West Palm Beach, Fla.; Atlanta; St. Petersburg, Fla.; and New Orleans — later this summer. Mr. Erickson said the airline will evaluate its progress in mid-October and decide then whether to adjust or expand.

Michael Boyd, a Colorado-based aviation analyst, said he questioned the decision to bring back the PEOPLExpress name and to charge fees for everything from a carry-on to an aisle seat. He also wondered how much traffic the Pittsburgh-Newport News route would generate.

“You want to encourage this, but it looks right now that it hasn’t been thought through and the name PEOPLExpress means nothing to the marketplace,” he said.

Mark Belko: First Published May 30, 2014 12:09 PM

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