The Second Coming of People Express: Will it Fly?

It’s been more than 30 years since the first incarnation of People Express Airlines – also known as PEOPLExpress – took to the skies before ultimately crashing in a haze of debt, but a new group of entrepreneurs is ready to try again.

New No-Frills Airline

Assuming all goes well, the ultimate low-cost carrier will return with the same brand and the same no-frills philosophy.

The announcement about the return of People Express was made out of Newport News Williamsburg International Airport (PHF) which would serve as headquarters for the new start-up – that is, if it gets off the ground. Initial plans call for service to Pittsburgh, Newark and West Palm Beach.

Which Airline was Taken Over by the Old People Express?

Hurdles Face New People Express

There are plenty of hurdles for the reincarnated carrier including regulatory approval from the U.S. government, and as the Associated Press notes, “It still needs to secure financing.”

Airfare analyst Rick Seaney notes that with oil hovering around $100 a barrel, the matter of financing is hardly a trivial one, and added “I am all for new start-ups giving it a go – but unfortunately, the economic climate is more conducive to mergers and bankruptcies than hatching vibrant low-cost carriers.”

Read about a Great American Airline in Mid-Bankruptcy

The Original No-Frills Airline

The original People Express only flew from 1981 to 1987 but is remembered fondly by many for its bare-bones service and even cheaper prices including its famous $99 coast-to-coast fare.

Unlike most other airlines of the era, there were no free meals – but it was all part of the novelty according to one People Express flyer: “Meals were like a family picnic.”

Demise of the Old People Express

It took awhile, but other airlines finally gave the carrier some competition, notably American which introduced Super Saver fares in the mid-1980’s. As debts mounted, People Express was eventually taken over by Continental which is itself now being merged into United.

Southwest Memo: Today’s Airlines are All Low Cost Carriers

All Airlines Lack Frills Today

Another difficulty facing a new People Express says analyst Seaney is that in the current economic climate, “No frills is the order of the day.” Just like the original People, no U.S. airline serves meals in coach anymore and most don’t allow passengers to check bags for free.

It will be interesting to see how the new incarnation will differentiate itself, but management says it will shun hub cities to focus on “niche markets that are currently underserved or those that have lost service altogether because of industry consolidation.”


Published: February 14, 2012