Was I happy that I fractured my wrist this summer? Nope. Was I glad that I had a very obvious and bulky cast on my arm when I boarded a Breeze Airways flight last week? You better believe it.
My not-so-subtle injury was exactly what I needed to test the kindness of Breeze Airways’ flight attendants. The new airline, which began offering flights from Rhode Island T. F. Green International Airport in Providence to Charleston, S.C., Pittsburgh, and Norfolk, Va., in July is making a curious promise. It claims that it is the nicest airline in the skies. Breeze Airways’ website says it’s merging “technology with kindness” and that flying “should be an accessible and genuinely nice experience for everyone.”
Not since United Airlines invited passengers to “Fly the Friendly Skies,” has an airline based so much of its brand identity around pleasantness and kindness. Although United’s version of the friendly skies resulted in a passenger being dragged off a plane and a dead puppy and a deceased rabbit in the overhead bin, so maybe that’s not the best comparison. More recently, passengers on all airlines have been acting like irrational toddlers by refusing to wear their masks, despite federal laws that mandate they do so. Obviously an airline has no control against anti-masking simpletons or disruptive passengers.
However airlines do have control over the passenger experience. For example: How did flight attendants on a recent Breeze Airways flight from Providence to Charleston treat a man with a cast on his arm (that’s me) who awkwardly boarded with a carry-on? When I walked down the aisle, a flight attendant spotted me and before I even attempted to put my carry-on in the overhead bin, she was offering to do it for me. By way of contrast, I was on a different airline two weeks prior with my injured arm and there were no offers to assist with my carry-on (not even from fellow passengers who simply glared at me). Breeze Airways did not know there was a travel writer on board, and as per Globe policy, there were no freebies.
This display of niceness could have been a fluke. But on the trip back to Providence, a flight attendant intervened yet again and offered to help with my carry-on. I understand this isn’t a life-altering act of kindness, but it’s certainly memorable. Kindness and a smile seems like a smart strategy for Breeze to stand out from bargain competitors such as Spirit, Allegiant, and Frontier.
Another way Breeze is attempting to stand out from its competitors is focusing on underserved markets. Breeze Airways is the creation of JetBlue founder David Neeleman, and he is hoping to carve out a niche for Breeze by avoiding major hubs (such as Logan) and instead offering nonstop service between secondary cities where big airlines have a minor presence (such as Providence). This summer Breeze flew to 16 airports, primarily in the South and Northeast.
This is a low-cost airline with á la carte extras — such as charging you for a carry-on or to choose your own seat. But let’s break it down with our handy Nice-o-Meter and see how Breeze ranks.
Price: When Breeze launched, it did so with introductory fares as low as $39 (as of this writing, fares from Providence to Pittsburgh could be had for $44). But when you begin to add additional amenities, the basic fare (referred to as Nice) can quickly grow. If you want to bring a carry-on, you’ll pay an additional $20 (one personal item is free). The bonus is that checked bags are also $20. So you could board with just a personal item, and check any other bag for the same price as a carry-on. Choosing your own seat will cost you an additional $10 to $20, depending on the flight. Breeze Airways is flying Embraer jets, which have two seats on either side of the aisle. That means if you opt out of paying for a seat, at least there’s no worries you’ll get stuck in a middle seat.
Despite those add-ons, a nice perk is that families don’t need to pay to sit together. Families traveling with children 12 and under can sit together.
If you splurge for a Nicer fare, you don’t have to worry about add-ons. The fare includes more legroom, a carry-on bag, a checked bag, your choice of seat, and priority boarding. Depending on the route and the time of year, the Nicer fare will cost about $50 more, give or take, than the Nice fare.
Price niceness rating: 🙂
Seat comfort: Often a bargain airline means you wind up with seat comfort that rivals that of a prison bench (as always, I’m looking at you Spirit Airlines). But Breeze Airways offers a more humane experience. Nice fare seats on Breeze Airways’ E190 aircraft have 29 inches of pitch (the distance between seat backs). Nice seats on Breeze’s E195 jets have 31 inches of pitch.
In comparison, Spirit and Frontier seats have as little as 28 inches of pitch while American, Delta, and United have at least 30 inches. If you opt for the Nicer fare, your seat will have 33 to 39 inches of pitch on the E190 planes, and 34 to 39 inches on the E195 jets. I tried both Nice and Nicer seats. Naturally the Nicer seats were, well, nicer. I could really stretch out. But even my Nice fare seat didn’t feel especially cramped.
Seat comfort niceness rating: 😄
Check-in process: Breeze has just one check-in desk at T.F. Green, and the staff was friendly. Breeze is focusing on ease of check-in through technology and has a user-friendly app and website to assist with the process. If you don’t print out your own boarding pass or have it on your phone there’s a $3 charge. The airline has the advantage of being at T.F. Green, which means check-in is much less stressful than it would be at a major airport. I always look forward to flying out of Providence.
Check-in niceness rating: 😃
Cancelation policy: Neeleman has taken a cue from Southwest Airlines when it comes to Breeze’s cancellation policy. No matter which fare option you choose, you can rebook or cancel up to 15 minutes prior to your scheduled departure without penalty. You’re then given a credit to use within two years.
Inflight experience: Things get mighty basic after takeoff. There is no Wi-Fi, free or otherwise. There are also no seat-back screens, so prepare yourself for the flight with downloaded entertainment or a book. Your options for beverages during the flight are water — or water. For a snack, you can choose from a bag of Utz potato chips or a very small Kind bar. Breeze flights are all generally short, so chances are you’ll survive on water and no entertainment.
Inflight niceness rating: 😴
When you add up our very scientific niceness rating, the final score is that Breeze Airways does well on its friendliness guarantee. For a low-cost airline, the seats are comfortable, the cancelation policy is top notch, and the emphasis on technology is smart. The cabin experience is not extraordinary, but I suspect bargain hunters will overlook that.
Breeze plans to expand its current route map. It has 80 Airbus A220 aircraft on order. The larger A220 aircraft will be assigned to longer routes that Breeze plans to announce in the coming months. These larger planes will also feature a business-class cabin. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that first class will be called Nicest.
If the airline is able to maintain a happy, helpful staff as it grows, it could very well live up to its seriously nice promises. There is room in the market for a low-cost airline that treats passengers well, particularly clumsy passengers with fractured wrists.