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Breeze Airways founder David Neeleman billed his airline as a "tech company" but I found the opposite.
In-flight entertainment was touted but not offered on the first flights, and will come with new planes.
Breeze also doesn't have a phone number and requires customers to send a text message or email.
Breeze Airways is America's newest airline and is taking the US by storm with 39 new low-cost leisure routes across 16 cities. It's the brainchild of iconic aviation entrepreneur David Neeleman of JetBlue Airways fame, as well as four other airlines in the US, Canada, and Brazil.
Leisure flying is Breeze's bread and butter, and it just happens to be all the rage as pandemic-weary travelers seek to finally take a vacation or visit family and family.
Ultra-low-cost airlines are trying to capture the market with low fares, as a result, and Breeze is no different. Introductory fares are still being sold for as little as $39, and for that price, an airline would be forgiven for not offering as many amenities as say, well, JetBlue.
But David Neeleman, in his initial promotion of the airline back in 2020, told media outlets that he was starting a new type of low-cost airline.
"I prefer to say that we are a high-tech company that just happens to fly airplanes," Neeleman told AFAR. Breeze's first flight successfully flew in late May, with Insider onboard but the tech aspect of the airline, however, left a lot to be desired.
Here's why I wasn't impressed with the so-called tech company that's doubling as an airline after just two flights.
No in-flight entertainment nor in-flight WiFi
Breeze, in its launch announcement, touted that its Embraer aircraft would have streaming in-flight entertainment through Global Eagle. Movies, television shows, games, and even a map would be available for flyers to enjoy.
But on launch day, the inaugural aircraft was deprived of any entertainment whatsoever. The airline's Embraer E195 fleet, specifically, will not yet feature in-flight entertainment while the Embraer E190s that are scheduled to enter the fleet this summer will.
In-flight WiFi also won't be available on any Breeze flights until the Airbus A220 arrives at the airline this fall and that's the only aircraft on which the service will be available. Offering different products on different aircraft types can also confuse customers, according to travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt.
"There are a growing number of consumers who expect WiFi to be available everywhere they go, including airplanes," Harteveldt said in a prior interview with Insider. "And if Breeze is hoping to attract millennial and Gen Z consumers as its customers, they're going to be disappointed that there's no WiFi on board the plane"
"The core component of a brand promise is consistency," Harteveldt said in a prior interview with Insider.
Breeze believes that the flights are short enough where flyers won't notice the difference but more ultra-low-cost carriers are moving towards offering in-flight entertainment on all flights. Spirit Airlines has finally unveiled in-flight WiFi on some of its planes while Sun Country Airlines offers a streaming service.
Breeze's Airbus A220 fleet will also come standard with in-flight entertainment.
No digital wallet functionality
Mobile boarding passes have largely made paper boarding passes obsolete when flying domestically. Most airlines, including Breeze, offer mobile boarding passes through their mobile applications when checking in for a flight.
Breeze, however, does not yet offer Apple Wallet, Samsung Pay, or Google Wallet functionality, meaning flyers have to go into the Breeze app each time to pull up their wallet. While normally not an inconvenience, I found that the Breeze app would sometimes log me out and I'd have to log back in to access the boarding pass.
It slowed down my time going through the security checkpoint and during boarding because I had to log back into my Breeze account. The solution also isn't as simple as getting a boarding pass from the check-in counter as the airline charges $3 for a boarding pass, and self-serve kiosks weren't available on the first day.
Once that functionality is available, however, it will be a huge time-saver for flyers and it is on the way. Flyers can also currently print their own boarding passes for free if they have access to a printer.
No in-app messaging feature
Breeze might be the first airline not to have a phone number for customers to call. Flyers can only contact the airline through text communications, whether it be through Facebook Messenger, email, or a phone number that doesn't accept phone calls.
If customers try calling, a recorded message will direct them to Breeze's messaging platforms and even send the caller a text message to shift the conversation there.
But one feature that Breeze doesn't have is in-app messaging, a staple of major airlines like JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines.
I tried messaging Breeze to add my known traveler number to my reservation and found the agents, known as the "guest empowerment team," were helpful. The issue took about 20 minutes from start to finish but it wasn't like I was waiting on hold so time was not a factor.
However, the problem could come when older individuals or flyers with disabilities try to use the texting service. Breeze does allow the latter to leave a message and request for an agent to get back to them but it's unclear how long that takes.
Breeze is also targeting a certain segment of Americans with its low fares that might not be as technologically savvy, which could alienate them.
"A concern that I have is that the target Breeze customer may be less likely to own a smartphone, they may be less likely to own tablets, they may be less likely to use technology in their personal and work lives," Harteveldt said.
Another problem may arise when delays and cancellations strike. Flyers want immediate assistance and reassurance but will be at the whim of a messaging service instead of being able to speak directly to another human.
No self-serve kiosks
Self-serve check-in kiosks have become standard in the airline industry and all major US airlines use them to expedite check-in and avoid long lines. However, Breeze self-serve kiosks were not available at Tampa International Airport, one of the airline's four bases, on the day of the inaugural flight.
Most of the functions of a check-in kiosk could be done on the app, admittedly, but flyers wanting a paper boarding pass would have to go to the counter to get one. Breeze didn't charge for boarding passes on the first flight but having an agent print a boarding pass normally costs $3.
Printing a boarding pass at a self-serve kiosk would also solve the problem of the app not working always properly or not having digital wallet functionality.
Breeze didn't respond to a request for comment when asked about the estimated arrival date for self-serve kiosks at all of its airports.
No buy-on-board service
Ultra-low-cost airlines thrive on selling extras to flyers, and two big sellers are snacks and drinks. Some airlines, like Spirit Airlines, won't even give flyers cups of water.
Breeze plans to sell snacks and drinks but the service has not yet been rolled at, and that's actually a good thing for flyers looking to save money. The in-flight service currently consists of complimentary bottles of water, Utz chips, and miniature Kind bars.
A more robust offering will come later this year as the pandemic wanes further.
What Breeze got right in tech
For all of its faults, the Breeze app is incredibly easy to use whether it be to book a flight or assign a seat. The only issue that I had is that I wasn't able to check in on the app, an experience echoed by other flyers, but it worked perfectly other than that.
Another plus for Breeze was that it had TSA PreCheck ready to go on day one, allowing flyers in the program to skip the lines at security while keeping their shoes and belts on. Rival Avelo Airlines wasn't able to have TSA PreCheck available for passengers on day one, as Insider found on the first flight.
What to look forward to
The real tech company that happens to fly airplanes will come this fall when the Airbus A220 enters the fleet. It's one of the newest aircraft flying anywhere in the world complete with technological advancements that make it cheap to operate, fuel-efficient, and quiet.
Breeze will fly the aircraft on longer domestic routes and plans to open up destinations in Hawaii and even Europe with the A220 in the coming years. A premium cabin is also being planned for the aircraft to offer another type of experience for passengers willing to pay up.
Hopefully, Breeze will have its other tech issues sorted by the time of its arrival.
Read the original article on Business Insider