AURA: The Coolest US Startup Airline Ever (Though It Probably Won’t Get Off The Ground)

I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about a startup airline, though I fear that their chances of success are probably quite low.

Let’s take a look at AURA, which bills itself as “America’s first five star flight experience.”

What is AURA?

AURA is a new airline startup that hopes to fly by 2019. They’ll operate a fleet of CRJ700s featuring only 29 seats.

This includes eight WAVE seats, which will be in a 1-1 configuration.

While the seats aren’t fully flat, they go nearly flat.

Then there will be 21 FIRST seats, in a 1-2 configuration. These seats feature 44″ of pitch, making them significantly more spacious than typical domestic first class seats.

AURA planes will feature wifi, complimentary food and drinks, and more. They advertise a “book the cook” service for WAVE passengers, where you’ll be able to select what you want to eat in advance. Furthermore, they claim that the food is “never frozen” and is “cooked onboard,” which I’m somewhat suspicious of, given that we’re talking about a regional jet.

Those in FIRST will get fusion tapas, and both WAVE and FIRST passengers can enjoy sushi and sashimi.

AURA flights will depart out of private hangars rather than commercial terminals, to save everyone time. Furthermore, AURA says that the same flight attendants will operate the same flights every week, so you can get to know them better.

Where will AURA fly?

Initially AURA says that they’ll operate in the following markets year-round:

  • Atlanta to Miami
  • Atlanta to New York
  • Chicago to Atlanta
  • Chicago to Miami
  • Chicago to New York
  • Los Angeles to Chicago
  • Los Angeles to Denver
  • New York to Miami

All city pairs will be served at least twice daily. Furthermore, seasonal routes will be launched to ski, event, and holiday destinations, like Sundance, SXSW, etc.

How much will AURA tickets cost?

AURA will operate on a membership basis. While you don’t have to be a member to fly with AURA, members do receive a 50% discount. AURA claims that eventually they’ll charge $250 per month for membership, but through July 31, 2018, they’re charging $100 per month to be a member. While that’s a significant discount, I’m not sure I’d buy into the concept yet, since they haven’t even announced a launch date.

Here’s the pricing for members and non-members:

While this won’t be for those looking for the cheapest possible ticket, the value seems excellent for what you (theoretically) get, at least for members. They’re promising a great experience, and in many cases this pricing is on par with what airlines charge in first class, or possibly only a little bit more.

What are the odds that AURA ever launches?

When I first saw this I of course said to myself “this sounds like Baltia, there’s no way in hell this is ever happening.”

But then the other side of my brain kicked in and thought that surely there’s some room for innovation in the US aviation market. We see such little innovation among US airlines, so I should be rooting for an airline like this to succeed. The more I thought about it, the more I think something like this could actually work… though maybe not under the current concept.

I have concerns with AURA:

  • Based on looking at the management team behind AURA, it doesn’t look to me like there’s all that much airline experience there
  • While I can appreciate that they wanted to fully develop their concept, I feel like they’re too focused on selling an experience that seems unrealistic, like promising non-frozen food, sushi for all, etc.; I’m not saying that’s impossible, but rather that they seem so focused on the details that it almost hurts the overall believability of the concept
  • It looks to me like this is more of a tech/membership company, like JetSmarter, than an airline, because AURA won’t actually be operating the planes, but rather Presidential Aviation will; there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, though I generally have less faith in a concept the more parties are involved

I’d love to see someone like David Neelman behind a concept like this (though he’s working on another US airline startup). As the US domestic flying experience has gotten worse and worse, and as we’re seeing more fuel efficient aircraft, surely there’s a market for a more civilized experience.

But again, unfortunately we just don’t see any innovation in the US airline industry. It’s much easier to turn a profit packing people into a plane like sardines and charging them for everything, than it is to come up with something unique.

In the case of AURA, we’re seeing a CRJ700 with 29 seats rather than the usual 70 seats. That means AURA would need an average of 2.4x the revenue compared to a comparable plane to make up for the lost seats (I get this is an oversimplification). Surely there’s a market for that.

Bottom line

When I first heard about AURA, I thought “wow, how cool” and “there’s no way this is ever going to work.” However, who knows, maybe the US airline industry has gotten to the point where it’s time for some innovation.

Like I said, I’m not convinced AURA as such will work, but I do think that maybe there’s eventually room for a similar concept. Ideally it would be an actual airline start-up, rather than a company that’s essentially trying to sell memberships and is using a third party to operate the actual flights. This isn’t that far off from what JetSmarter has done, and they’ve had some shady business practices.

So I’m rooting for AURA, but if not AURA, I’m rooting for some other seasoned airline industry person to launch an actual airline, perhaps operating CSeries aircraft (since they could operate transcons) in a premium configuration. I realize it’s probably not happening, but that won’t stop me from dreaming.

What do you make of AURA, and do you think there’s any chance they’ll launch operations?

Comments

  1. I would be more optimistic of the concept if they just filled the cabin with First seats. The Wave seats seem to be overkill.

  2. They have no aircraft. They have no contract in place to do the interiors. They refuse to say how much funding has been raised. There’s no LOPA which might speak to the galley space to support the cooked to order meals, tapas, and sushi. Their founder who has no airline experience says he’s going to fly from New York LaGuardia offering private flight (in addition to other NYC airports) with $330 one way fares to Chicago for a first class seat and super service. Yeah okay.

  3. Does no one question the maths? Tak the Chicago to Los Angeles route. There’s 8 WAVE seats and 21 First seats. Crunching the numbers, the plane will have a total revenue of $43,240 *without* any membership involved. now calculate the cost different between membership and non-membership levels on tickets. You will easily make up the cost within a couple trips (AKA round-trip by two oneways).

    So effectively when you partially have members and non-members your mixed revenue per plane is below that $43,240 total earlier because should a member (which they most definitely will) flies more than twice a month, the profit per flight from that membership fee drops each flight. Now consider the cost of fuel, staffing, and other overhead fees…. for a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles. Adding onto that, the cost of retrofitting and renting aircraft. My opinion is that this is a concept for drumming up publicity into their other ventures.

  4. Clarification: By per profit of flight for members, I mean take the amount for a month of membership and divide that by the number of flights. Essentially, they’re just another Jetsmarter “airline” is what I can take away from this too

  5. In my view, this is quite clearly a scam. Those $100 “Founding Keyholder,” deposits will disappear into the ether.

  6. Let me count the ways in which this is totally wrong. First let’s count the number of biz-class only airlines that have come and gone> remember names such as MGM Grand, Regent, Midwest just to name a few domestic airlines that tried and failed.
    Secondly the CRJ series is not a particularly fuel efficient plane.

  7. Given how Jetsmarter is now raising prices like crazy, even a $15k SMART membership fee isn’t enough to keep a float. Thank god I didn’t pay for their 2 year SOPHISTICATED membership at $100k with a free Hublot watch. I’m not going to cry over losing $15k since I’ve lost watches that cost double that.
    $100 membership fee sounds like something to scam the regular folk.

  8. Although this company may not work, a way this concept could come in would be for a big US carrier (Jetblue, Delta, Etc.) to launch a subsidiary which operates a similar business model under a different name. That could save alot of money and time. Delta already has the C-Series on order.

  9. No way can this work. But I’d love it if it does. Then it will be victim of its own success and no space. The numbers that may work require exact demand to meet supply and no more. If demand is higher, pissed off customers will disappear quickly. If not enough demand – out of business.

    Sounds like an idea written on a napkin. Ridiculous amount of startup money required.

    Success – through the eye of a needle with a 747.

  10. Not counting premium transcon routes, I think there is a huge gap between recliner domestic first seats for $500 and chartering a jet for $50,000. It appears AURA is trying to fill that space, which I do believe exists. How many people in the $5m-20m net worth category would be willing to spend a few grand on a great flight experience vs recliner first? I would think a lot.

    Also, I would say that unsustainable business models can last a while. I flew ~50 private jet flights with JetSmarter at a $10k fee, which was clearly not sustainable for them.

    Overall, though, I agree with the many reservations here. JetSuite and JetSmarter seem to be all over this space. And I would doubt they just forgot to check out a few city pairs or plane options.

  11. These companies all want to provide a better flying experience but they all lack any reaccom ability if things go wrong. Time is the most important thing to business travelers and 1-2 cancellations could lose trust quickly

  12. @Hal nice job bragging about your 30k watches that you lost. You might want to pause and reflect on how it’s idiotic both to pay that much for a watch — an obsolete clunky piece of jewelry — and then to lose it on top of that…
    I totally agree that this sounds too good to be true. On one hand, it’s only a $100 deposit — on the other hand, 99.9999% chance it would be gone forever. I think i’ll pass– it would be a bit like playing the lottery.

  13. Who would consider seats that don’t lie fully flat as 5-star (unless the ranking system is out of 10 stars???).

  14. Air Baltia reloaded, total scam. They spent a few hundred dollars on some nice renderings and that’s all there will ever be. These wave seats are completely silly by the way. Your head would be right next to the feet of the passenger behind you.

  15. @daniel There may be a market for this but their pricing is obviously ridiculous. They’re charging as little as $560 round trip, which is similar or less than I pay most weeks for economy on a regular airline. They’re definitely scamming for deposits.

    It does make me wonder if there could be a startup that matches largish companies and consultant firms with premium flight experiences. For example if you could get Accenture and other large orgs with heavy amounts of travel to participate you could probably get them to say “we can guanrantee at least 10 people flying this city pair Monday morning/ Thursday evening”. Price it right and make it simple and maybe a clever tech startup could come up with a model that works for everyone.

  16. @ Brett: I don’t think many companies would actually buy into that. They already have contracts with airlines that offer a comprehensive route network and their employees want to earn status and miles with one of the large alliances.

  17. Why the concern about beds? Good grief – the longest flight might be 3 hours. With good food and beverages why a sleep pod?

    If I had any interest in any of the destinations I might be intrigued enough to fly a time or two – what else are bucket lists for? I still remember Concorde.

  18. A beautiful concept that will be an ugly failure (if they actually launch it).

    Airlines either have to aim for high density/volume with low fares, or high service / low density / high fares for the premium segment. Semi-low fares with premium service just isn’t viable. Great for stirring up lively conversation (like this thread), however.

    When they actually procure aircraft, landing slots, and hire crew (unionized or not?), then the buzz will be real.

  19. @Gus, @Hal wasn’t bragging. Sadly, I recently lost a TAG Heuer Moanaco at XS in Vegas. It happens.

    This is a thread about private aircraft — the very definition of XS — so chill a little.

    There’s enough valley $$ to make this work for awhile. I’ll definitely join. If it fails, great. B/C it takes innovation in this space to get a product like this commercially viable.

  20. if you have to brag about the costly watch you lost, you are either full of shit or a total narcissist.
    I like the concept but for a 3 hour flight lie flat seats are over the top. Decent food and beverages are all you need. I do agree that its not going to get off the ground.

  21. Whole thing sounds like a con job to me. Either they are going to take all the money and run or once they launch they are going to drastically increase the cost of tickets. God knows how they will handle irregular operations.

  22. Has anyone noticed the screens beside the windows? And how the “windows” look in the nighttime picture of the Wave seats? It’s not even believable…

  23. @FLD — @Gus and @Dan are right. You and @Hal may not think you’re bragging but you both come off like someone who is both stupid and makes too much money for his own good and who has to make sure we all know it. Some people on here pay to fly first. Some get lots of miles from work. Some horde miles for years for bucket list trips and generally we don’t know who is who. That’s the beauty of it. We’re all equal in our pursuit of a great flight experience…. except the jerks who have to make sure everyone knows they have lots of money.

    On topic, I love that Aura wants to raise the ante above First. Regardless, there IS a market for premium transcons and if they’ve picked markets without premium service, maybe they have a shot. If they get off the ground I’m at least trying it.

    @Nick, DC doesn’t support a big premium market. Too many govies who have to fly the GSA city pair airlines in coach. Too many government contractors who have similar restrictions. And most elected officials won’t even accept an upgrade lest they be seen up front by their constituents. The Trump cabinet (especially Pruitt) has created a different impression, but feds don’t pay to fly first.

  24. I’m not knowledgeable enough to calculate the possibilities of success here, BUT I have flown La Compagnie back and forth to Paris a few times, all business, around 75 seats. Horribly worn-out interiors on the planes, not pristinely clean, very nice food, NOT lie flats but nearly so, AND every time I have flown it, it is completely full. Sometimes I have paid as little as $499 each way from EWR. So, my point is that if AURA raised their fares a bit with the same great quality interiors, I’d go whenever I used their routings. I don’t see it so much as innovation as revolution! The PR is mouth-watering. Best of luck to them.

  25. @AD, I hear the point you’re making and appreciate your thoughtful tone. But people routinely come to this blog and comment about paid CX F or The Apartments they’ve flown on their glorious holiday to SEZ. I don’t think they’re bragging, they are sharing an experience on the topic. Since this conversation is on private airplane travel and its viability, I don’t think the original comment was out of place. Had @Hal done this in the post about getting 20% off on Amazon gift cards, I would have agreed. There’s tons of people who make less than I do, and tons who make more, who routinely comment on this blog. And I’ve always enjoyed the diversity of comments here.

  26. @FLD I think that commenting about a $30K watch is different than commenting about paid flights. Even so, I find the people who say things like i *only* fly paid first are bragging as well. However they’re talking about travel and, presumably, sharing useful experiences. The watch is just a brag. I do see a difference. If this were a watch blog it would be perfectly appropriate to talk about owning or losing a $30K watch. But it’s not.

    Like you, I suspect I’m better off than many who read this blog and poor compared to others, but I don’t know for sure. I really don’t care to know how someone got into first unless they have a sweet deal (miles or money) to share. Then I’m all ears.

    I do appreciate your thoughtful response as well. It’s nice to have a dialogue as opposed to some others here who launch into insults at the first chance.

  27. @Ed – exactly what I was thinking! Perhaps they can get that guy to promote the brand with all his ‘influencers’.

    Only to find out catering will be baloney sandwiches.

  28. Love how they call it “book the cook” on their website…just ripping a page out of Singapore Airlines playbook. And how do you cook steak onboard???? Or any meat for that matter. No way on earth they will get it raw.

    There is a market for similar sort of options like this. In Cincinnati we have Ultimate Air Shuttle which isn’t as luxurious but has done quite well and been around for a while. People will pay for convenience and some creature comforts on high trafficked routes to avoid a typical airline experience.

    https://ultimateairshuttle.com/

    @Lucky – you should try to get on Ultimate Air Shuttle for a review!

  29. Like mentioned above, basically everything screams “scam”.
    As you said, all the over the top promises make this totally unbelievable. I would bet that all they have really done is to have the renders created and to have a couple brain storming sessions on what to promise customers so they will receive money in advance.

    Somehow the “Fyre Festival” keeps popping up in my head…

  30. Also have you guys seen the advertisement for businesses?
    Only $1,000 if you start paying monthly a year before flights even start compared to $5,000 later on…
    My intelligence feels insulted just reading that.

  31. Two frequencies daily is simply not compelling enough considering they are flying out of several hub airports not to mention the frequent flyer network.

    I am not sue if the high end leisure traveler segment is big enough to support this business model particularly considering the relatively short flight durations.

  32. Not sure what the value proposition is. For most of these routes, domestic first class on any of the majors is available for significantly cheaper prices.

  33. I think you’re overlooking the benefit of flying out of private terminals.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to fly private twice in my life and both times I arrived at the airport and was on the plane within 90 seconds. From the time the last passenger boarded to wheels-up was less than 10 minutes. Of course if they’re flying out of LaGuardia, O’Hare, LAX, etc…. there will be other factors that could delay this but there’s certainly still a premium for not having to show up 90 minutes early and deal with TSA, wait for bags, crowds of people, etc….

    I dont anymore, but I used to fly LGA-ATL 2x a month and if i didnt book several weeks out I could easily pay $500+ for an economy seat on Delta. The appeal of paying $660 r/t for this experience seems like a no-brainer (assuming my corporate travel department could buy into it). If they could fly out of Teterboro it would be even better.

  34. @alex

    I get your point, but it’s only valid because airports are compete crap in the US. I just came back from a whirlwind trip to Melbourne, Tokyo and Zurich and it’s a pleasure to arrive early at the airport and have a great selection of lounges/showers, restaurants and working areas. Obviously these are all longhaul flights so it’s different than domestic travel, but the airport is never the highlight of a trip in the US.

    The wave seat looks like crap though.

  35. I read about Aura few days ago before this post and it looks cool. I’m interested to sign up but I have doubts like what lucky said, it may not happen.. so I’m not sure if I want to donate the $100 for something that may not even happen lol

  36. I noticed they didn’t list any plans to fly in or out of Vegas. Given LAS’s proximity to CA and they are positioning themselves as a premium flight experience, it seems odd they didn’t include Vegas. If there are ever leisure routes that high earners fly but not high enough for private jets, it would be Las Vegas. And McCarran has a pretty good private terminal set up too.

    Anyway, another one here jumping on the bandwagon that this airline will never, er, “take off”.

  37. It sounds too good to be true, but for $100 per person why not. You don’t have to pay anything else until you take the first flight, so pay $100/pp now and in 3 years (they say 1 year, yeah right) *if* they operate routes you can take a couple flights with an awesome experience for relatively low pricing until the airline folds. And if it folds while you’re away, the cities they fly to have enough other airlines you could just rebook and get home. If nothing ever comes of it, $200 to a good cause of trying to drag the airlines up from the race to the bottom approach.

  38. Well, odds of winning for a $100 are higher than the odds of winning with a $100 in Powerball tickets. Not that that is saying much.

    If this is a scam (good odds there), they certainly set the price right. $100 is low enough for almost any frequent flier to give it a shot even though we know it’s probably the same as if we flush the money down the crapper.

    I’m staying on the fence until July 31 – hoping for more info on them to come out. On the 31st, I’ll decide whether I’m in the mood to play the travel lottery game.

  39. Why does this BRAND have to capitalize every CLASS of SERVICE, inclusive of it’s NAME, which is the most RIDICULOUS imaginary airline EVER?

  40. Where do I mail my home printed $100? 🙂
    If I had a Penny for every crook who dreamed of starting an airline, but never got off the ground, I wouldn’t be flying for food at the tender age of 75!
    (The latest one, California Pacific Airlines out of Carlsbad, CA.)
    The 98 year old crooked owner embezzled Millions from stupid investors for the past 15 years. To his credit, he finally did get off the ground with ERJ-135s in 2018. However, he promptly had to shut down his airline due to lack of interest from would be pilots. It seems no one could survive in “high rent” Carlsbad for $50 K/year, without having to feed his/her family on Food Stamps!

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