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Winglets747
06-02-2007, 12:19 PM
I’ll begin with an unusual statement for a trip report: I didn’t actually fly on Skybus. I was supposed to. Here’s the story.

Last month when Skybus started selling tickets, I decided to take another “trip to nowhere” by flying from Columbus to Greensboro and Greensboro back to Columbus (with positioning flights to/from NYC) in order to try out Skybus. When I booked my tickets, I got each segment for May 29 (outbound and inbound).

But when I went to check-in online before my flight I discovered that Skybus listed me as coming back not on May 29, but June 29. Skybus doesn’t operate a toll-free number and all customer service communication is through e-mail. Since this was the night before my trip, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to get my issue sorted out in a day, through e-mail no less.

The small Skybus ticket counter
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I was much relieved when I got to the somewhat small Skybus ticket counter in Columbus and the agents were very nice (albeit clearly new at working for Skybus). I explained my problem and they looked up my reservation and their system listed me as coming back on May 29 and not June 29 as the website said. But then it got interesting. While I was listed as supposed to come back on May 29, the system did not have me listed on some other list that would create a record and allow me to check-in and get a boarding pass. (But I was also not on the June 29 list.)

The agents took care of the problem within 20 minutes, and were very nice and apologetic. They were equally as stumped as me about the whole thing (they kept saying “This is sooo strange”), and my only guess is that the system was overwhelmed with requests when I booked my tickets (within hours of when they started selling tickets) and this glitch happened or it didn’t like my same-day turn around.

The flight I was supposed to be on
http://i73.photobucket.com/albums/i221/Winglets747/IMG_1304.jpg

But anyway, that’s not really the bad part. The GSO flight was scheduled to leave at 4:42 (odd time). Most Skybus flights have 30 minute turn-arounds, so I was not expecting to board 30 minutes before departure, but by 4:30 when they had not started boarding I knew something was up. Sure enough, a few minutes later, one of the gate agents announced there was a mechanical issue that would be resolved “shortly.”

There were no further announcements until 5:10 (28 minutes past scheduled departure) when it was announced a cooling valve in the baggage hold was triggering a malfunction indicator in the cockpit, even though the crew determined the valve was working fine (Skybus has hired two Airbus technicians to assist them for a few years, according to a worker there, who were dealing with this issue). It was stressed this was not a safety issue but rather a FAA follow-the-rules issue.

The passengers for the flight to MCI (5:00 departure) queued up and I kept thinking that we should get their plane and they should get ours (whenever it got fixed), in order to reduce the delay (instead of having one really late flight, have two somewhat late flights). But the plane comes in and they get on and leave approximately 30 minutes late (no announcement about the delay in the boarding area).

About this time I noticed a Skybus employee, who was definitely not in his 20s or 30s like everyone else who worked there (except for the pilots), who was wearing jeans and a white button-down shirt (Skybus employees wear black shirts and pants--more on that later) and seemed to be distant from the operations. He had the CEO-type look to him. Sure enough, a bit after the 5:10 announcement he gets up to the podium and introduces himself as Bill Diffenderffer, the CEO of Skybus, and says he will be flying with us to GSO.

Oh, he also says the malfunctioning part will need to be replaced. And the part will get here in 40 minutes. There were lots of sighs from the crowd. But then he tells the crowd the plane is new and this will be its first flight, which makes the crowd very excited. Only this isn’t the plane’s first flight, I discovered later that night. It first flew in 2000 in Germany and then served with Skyservice (interesting--Skyservice to Skybus and both even use a similar type face). And one of the Skybus agents told me it operated a Skybus flight earlier in the day. Oh well for the new plane gimmick.

At CMH, Skybus does not use jetways but rather this space below the main terminal that is ground level with the ramp, allowing for boarding via stairs. Skybus is the only airline that uses this area, which is isolated from the rest of the terminal via a series of long ramps, and only has chairs and restrooms (no food).

http://i73.photobucket.com/albums/i221/Winglets747/IMG_1301.jpg

CMH, please get stairs or an elevator. These 3 ramps are very annoying.
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Skybus uses Disneyworld-style rope dividers, and has four “gates” (each with three lanes for the three boarding groups) in the small area for a total of 12 lanes, all of which loop around. If this sounds complicated, just look at this picture.

http://i73.photobucket.com/albums/i221/Winglets747/IMG_1289.jpg

I took this before anyone was in the area, and I couldn’t figure out where to go to board. Now put 100+ people trying to queue up and no one knows where to go. Before boarding everyone kept asking “Which line is this?” It also didn’t help that once everyone was in the lanes, the order somehow got messed up (first it was zone 1, then zone 3, then zone 2).

Crowded and chaotic boarding area
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At this point I pretty much realized there’s no way I can go on Skybus as I would miss the last flight back to New York. But I stucck around in case things suddenly get fixed. When the part arrived (6:00 I think it was), the CEO said it will be installed and boarding would begin shortly. One woman asked if she could get food (we had all been waiting since 4:00 and there’s no food down there) and the CEO says he doesn’t know. He couldn’t even give a time estimate of when boarding would actually begin.

And so 6:00 turned to 6:30 and 6:30 to 7:00, all without any helpful announcements. A Skybus employee would go out to the ramp, then another, and another until finally no Skybus employees were in the terminal for a good half hour. I don’t think the passengers realized this, much less Skybus.

Finally the CEO comes back and says the part is not working but they are going to move on to Plan B (at this point, it was more like Plan F) but then one of the Airbus technicians comes in and says it’s working. But for some reason instead of taking our plane, we’re going to take the plane that was supposed to go to PSM and should be arriving shortly. Ah! Where was this concept two hours ago when the MCI flight was boarding?

During the wait I had chatted quite a bit with the Skybus crew (when they were in the terminal) and they worked out with the CEO for me to hop on board really quickly to see the plane since I couldn’t actually fly with them, which I will say was very nice of them and the CEO. (See the pictures at the end.) Their current fleet is all leased and has a capacity of 144 (their A319s will have 154 as well as two window exits on each side to comply with the increased capacity), so the seat pitch on their current A319s will not be as bad as it will be.

I heard the load was 112 pax and 73 checked bags (at $5 a bag, that’s $365), but 12-15 pax left before I did because of the delays and there may have been more after me. Around 8:00 as my LGA flight is taxing to the runway and I see the GSO Skybus flight pushing back. It had a nearly 3.5 hour delay.

My overall impressions with Skybus are not directly related to the ticket error and mechanical problem, but rather how the delay was handled. I’m not one to proclaim “I’m never flying your airline again!” after a delay and I understand delays (even long ones) happen but irregular operations reveal the true infrastructure companies are, and this situation showed that Skybus is operationally weak. Here’s why.

-Skybus is using their fleet to a maximum. There’s no room for, oh, say, a mechanical delay (or weather, etc.). This is just foolish. This is the airline industry and delays happen. This is why airlines keep spare planes around, even wide bodies (AA keeps a 777 overnight at JFK and NW keeps a 330 overnight at DTW, both in case of trans-Atlantic SNAFUS).

-A number of employees are from Independence Air, which is rather ironic since Skybus is making the same critical mistake Indy made: too much, too fast. Every new LCC airline wants to be the new jetBlue, but jetBlue didn’t start off serving a bunch of cities. They kept it simple and slowly expanded (and did very well until this February).

-Starting an airline requires training a lot of people, which takes time given the number of systems and procedures to know. Starting with a few routes allows everyone to get used to operations; throwing a bunch of flights at them creates mayhem for them and the passengers. At the time of my attempted fight, Skybus had been flying for about a week.

-Skybus currently has 3 active planes. Another arrived Monday night but won’t be in service for a few weeks, and another will arrive in late June/early July. (The 154-seat A319s fresh from Hamburg apparently won’t be in service until 2008.) Three planes are not sufficient for 8 daily routes. Period.

-In irregular ops, informed passengers are happy (err, not as grumpy) passengers. Going more than 15 minutes without an announcement is not good.

-Employees are helpful. At no point should there be NO employees in the gate area, especially not for half an hour. I and another pax ended up playing gate agent (telling people which flight left where, what the deal with the planes is, etc.).

-Don’t lie to the passengers. Because of the limited number of planes, the plane doing CMH-GSO-CMH had to do CMH-FLL-CMH after that (another plane was doing a BUR run, and the other was doing MCI and Portsmouth). A FLL pax asked a Skybus employee where she should wait in line as the FLL departure time was approaching. The employee told her just to take a seat and the flight would leave later--and the employee had a small laugh. At the time the pax asked, FLL pax weren’t looking at getting out for at least three hours.

-During the delay, the CEO did not interact with the customers. I would have thought that a CEO of a brand new airline on one of its first routes that was currently experiencing significant delays would talk to passengers and keep the company’s image positive.

-And finally, I particularly enjoyed the periodic announcements by the ground staff during the delay saying that food and beverages were not permitted on board the aircraft. After the delay, I could only hope Skybus gave free drinks and snacks out on board.

Other comments:
The uniform: The gate agent attire was okay. They wore black plants (one female had those long shorts/Capri-type clothing) with a Skybus shirt (black or white, short- or long-sleeve) and black shoes (everyone had a different brand).

The flight attendants wore a similar outfit, only they wore shorts--and not the khaki, semi-professional ones WN crews have, but rather very casual black shorts (a type you would expect people on the street to wear). I think this was outfit was completely unprofessional. Long pants (or skirt with stocking for females) should be required, and if Skybus does not want to have button-down shirts, they could at least go for polo shirts.

The pilots wore olive-colored button-down shirts, which created more of an army pilot look than civilian pilot (although perhaps given Skybus’s “Rules of Flying” the look is intentional :wink:). Get normal pilot uniforms.

The passengers: I was very surprised how well the passengers handled the delay. They did not seem that upset. Pax at a major airline with this long of a delay would have been very upset. I think this has to do with the pax Skybus is attracting: the types that do not normally fly (similar, IMHO, to Spirit) and do not have set levels of expected standards.

The color scheme: There are questions about if the current orange scheme (“Mystery Machine”) will stay, as apparently the painters hated painting it (3 different orange/yellows, Independence-style dots at the top of the fuselage), took a long time to paint, and was likely very expensive. On the other hand, perhaps most of the Skybus fleet will have billboard ads, so the scheme won’t be a problem.

I sent them an e-mail after my “flight” and got this automated response: “Because we receive a very large number of messages, we can't guarantee a timely response.” If Skybus is not going to have a customer service telephone number, they should at least promptly reply to e-mails. NWA replies to most e-mails within two hours.

Final thoughts, and now the big question: Can they make it?

Skybus is going after an entirely new market, the so-called Ryanair market of the U.S. Europeans may have a love/hate relationship with Ryanair, but customers in the U.S. will not be willing to put up with low customer service.

I think there is a very large market for a Ryanair-esque airline in the U.S. and Skybus can pull it off if they select the right cities. From what I gathered, there is talk that CMH may not be the main hub in the future, or there may be many small hubs (similar to EasyJet).

Passengers in this new market may like cheap fares and be willing to pay extra for checked bags and snacks, but an airline needs a positive image and be able to keep its customers pleased. Skybus understands part of that, but has its work cut out to be a successful and well-liked airline.

They sell food and snacks and….jewelry?!
http://i73.photobucket.com/albums/i221/Winglets747/IMG_1286.jpg

Nationwide Scheme--yuck, sorry for the awful quality, but this was the only picture of N522VA I could get
http://i73.photobucket.com/albums/i221/Winglets747/IMG_1330.jpg

Simple scheme on N552SX, the aircraft with the mechanical issues (interestingly, she was sitting on the ground for 2.5 hours+ before the scheduled GSO departure)
http://i73.photobucket.com/albums/i221/Winglets747/IMG_1290.jpg

Mystery Machine, N521VA, pulls up to the gate from BLI before going to MCI.
http://i73.photobucket.com/albums/i221/Winglets747/DSC_4179.jpg

http://i73.photobucket.com/albums/i221/Winglets747/DSC_4188.jpg

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A ramp was used for boarding at 1L and regular stairs were used for boarding at 2L
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http://i73.photobucket.com/albums/i221/Winglets747/DSC_4191.jpg

Departing to MCI
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Inside the Nationwide plane, N522VA
http://i73.photobucket.com/albums/i221/Winglets747/DSC_4202.jpg

http://i73.photobucket.com/albums/i221/Winglets747/IMG_1323.jpg

http://i73.photobucket.com/albums/i221/Winglets747/DSC_4204.jpg

-Will

P.S. If/when Skybus serves New York, have fun shooting it--those Mystery Machines require major saturation adjustment.

Iberia A340-600
06-02-2007, 12:27 PM
Very good report, Will. Sorry that you couldn't try them out!

I was wondering if they had taken out the Virgin America seats and it looks like they have!

Mellyrose
06-02-2007, 12:35 PM
Great report!

I can't believe how atrociously the situation was handled though...especially for a new airline. I would have blown a fuse!

This airline really has an unnecessarily large ego.

nwafan20
06-02-2007, 12:38 PM
What I am surprised about is how the CEO lied to everyone on the flight. Very unprofessional.

Good report, even though you never got to fly them.

Did you get any kind of refund or compensation?

PHL Approach
06-02-2007, 12:59 PM
The CEO proved the Boyd Group's article about them right. He expects these people to be fresh for flying, not getting angry at the horrible service and what not..You should have grabbed the mic or yelled - "He's lying! these aircraft are hand me downs from other airlines." Look at those DGS n00bs pushing that ramp, haha. Thanks for the "Ground" report though. Ryan and I wanted to fly out to CMH and fly them somewhere cause who knows they might be gone in 6 months to a year. I find it very ironic about the Ex-Independence employees going to an airline with the same start up attitude. Can they not get on with a major...?

AirtrafficController
06-02-2007, 01:54 PM
great report, man this was a long one

mirrodie
06-02-2007, 02:18 PM
Thanks Will. I guess you area bit glad to see to didnt fly them.

Do you get a refund or is that not allowed?

T-Bird76
06-02-2007, 02:21 PM
This is one **** airline boys and girls. For a CEO to get up and lie to his customers faces.....wow! This airlines is very bad for the industry and I hope they don't take off, forgive the pun.

hiss srq
06-02-2007, 02:25 PM
Bill Diffenderffer isw one heck of a assshole lawyer from Texas. I have met him. He regularly flys USAirways between LGA and CMH. Full of himself is not the word. I kind of laughed when I saw the skybus card on his bag once. This airline wont last ling

AirtrafficController
06-02-2007, 03:12 PM
let Skybus burn into the sunset!

cancidas
06-03-2007, 12:00 AM
definately sounds like a very rocky start if they have to use a straightback ramp to board pax. glad i don't have any plans that take me to CMH in the near future...

Matt Molnar
06-03-2007, 12:58 AM
That sucks, but I don't know why we're blaming the Skybus business model for this. Have we not all had similarly bad mx experiences with well established airlines? I know I have, and I don't even fly nearly as often as many of you.

P.S.: The interior looks pretty nice.

Winglets747
06-03-2007, 07:28 AM
I was wondering if they had taken out the Virgin America seats and it looks like they have!

I'm not sure these planes ever had the VA seats to begin with. Do you know otherwise?


What I am surprised about is how the CEO lied to everyone on the flight. Very unprofessional.

Did you get any kind of refund or compensation?

Except for the "new aircraft" bit, he didn't really lie (although perhaps when he said "new aircraft" he forgot to specify new to Skybus :wink:).

I'm currently try to see if Skybus will re-book me for other flights, but if that doesn't work out, I don't think they do refunds. I'm not sure about any compensation given out as I did not fly and there was no mention in the gate area, although my guess is no.


You should have grabbed the mic or yelled - "He's lying! these aircraft are hand me downs from other airlines."
Like I said, I found that out after the flight.


Thanks Will. I guess you area bit glad to see to didnt fly them.
I'm a little bit disappointed, but my Air Canada 777 trip worked out and that easily beats Skybus. :lol:

LGA777
06-03-2007, 04:07 PM
Will. thanks for a great tr and photos. Love the detail and very impressed you took the intuitive after realizing you could not travel of getting access and going aboard their aircraft for photos. I have been watching Skybusses early ops with interest from here in NYC and while I am very sorry your plans did not work out I am not all surprised.

I have a friend who has worked on the ramp for US in CMH for over 30 years and has been a very serious airline enthusiast for longer than many on this board have been alive. As Skybus ops are right next door to US in CMH he has had a front row seat and he and I both expected it to be a circus but their early ops have been much worse than we expected, with most of their problems being from very poor and unrealistic management decisions. He has already sent out almost daily e-mails describing many of their daily mis-steps and problems, I am going to share two of those from earlier this week with you now.

Well yesterday things didn't go so well for the inaugural service to some cities. They added BLI, GSO & FLL. The trip out to BLI apparently went pretty good & the return trip was only about 35 mins late. Then the wheels began to come off. As they were loading the 5p.m. trip to MCI, on the newest plane in the fleet, N522SX, they suddenly stopped loading the bags. I don't know if any passengers were on yet or not. MECHANICAL on the NEWEST PLANE!!!! This was it's 1st day of service. Apparently they then began switching aircraft and used another plane for that trip. It was about 45 mins late. Then they delayed the GSO Inaugural for at least an hour. They stole the plane from the PSM trip, and used it on the FLL Inaugural which left about 2 1/2 hour late, making the RETURN trip to CMH around 03:30 a.m. arrival in CMH. OOOPS!!!!! When I left at Midnight the newest bird was still sitting there with Mtc. working on it, 7 hours later. I don't know if the PSM trip ever did depart or if it cancelled. Their 4th plane in the fleet arrived overnight the night before or early Tuesday morning. It was in the hangar all day & appears to look like plane #3, all white body with same Orange tail. Apparently that one doesn't have an advertiser either. OOPS!

There is an article in todays Columbus Dispatch announcing the new routes & talking about some computer problems they are having. Currently there NO way to check and see if any flight is on time. They have no phone # to call and the program on the computer system is acting up so bad, they shut it down. So you just have to go to the airport & wait and hope it's not TOO late! They are also blaming the headwinds on the long haul flts for the delayed flights. THAT's B.S. since when you track the flight on the computer you see it takes them usually 45 mins to an hour to turn the plane in BUR. The best they've done here is 35 mins. One of our Ramp Agents was up at Wendy's eating dinner & overheard some of the Skybus F/A's complaing about their trips. They said they are always running out of food & drink on the long hauls and then everyone gets upset. Apparently they only load enough food & drink to fit on a cart. Don't know how many carts they have but there are no extras in the galley. SO when they are sold out, people begin kicking the cart as it goes by. They hear the passengers complaing that none of them got the $10 fares. So that's the latest from the Skybus HUB which isn't really a hub since you can't change planes here.

The Wednesday report on Skybus' CMH operation was that when I arrived at work at 3 p.m. the newest plane in the fleet N552SX was STILL broke,22 hours after they discovered it was broken on the 1st Revenue flight. M.A.E. Mtc. was still working in the avionics compartment below the cockpit when I arrived. It finally did depart on the MCI trip 24 hours after it 1st broke. I think the trip departed close to skd but it arrived back here 1:30 late! The trip back from BUR was a typical 50 minutes late BUT they
did manage to do a respectable turn here, UNTIL they shut the door & then it sat for 15 more minutes making the CMH turn about 45 mins instead of the skd 25. The GSO trip was 1 hour late getting in from BLI thus making the FLL trip an hour late, which put it back here around 2a.m. Tuesday night it arrived around 3:30 a.m. from FLL. The PSM trip continues to operate about 30 mins to an hour late 100% of the time. From our general observations, it appears only the Ramp Leads are driving ANY ground equipment near the aircraft. The Ramp Agents just load & unload the plane and push the stairs & ramps to & from the plane. One of ourLeads spoke with one of the DGS Leads yesterday & the DGS Lead was shaking his head about the quality of people they have working the ramp. The 4th plane in the fleet clearly has NO advertisment painted on it. You could see inside the hangar yesterday & it's identical to the #3 plane. That's todays report.

I hope some of you enjoyd reading the above Skybus observations.

Regards

LGA777

Winglets747
06-03-2007, 04:30 PM
Hi Ron,
Thanks for sharing those stories. The first one is from the Tuesday I flew (5/29) and everything seems consistent with my experience.

They're definitely over-utilizing the fleet, which is causing havoc anytime there is a delay. They recently announced a bunch of new cities they'll start to serve in July and August, and again the fleet will be used to the max so these stories will become more and more common.

I heard the galley situation is a mess--some planes barely have any space, others have too much space.

I think they would have been much better served if they just waited a few more months to get their planes and everything else in order.