Aha!, ExpressJet’s New Reno-Tahoe Based Airline

Aha!, ExpressJet’s New Reno-Tahoe Based Airline

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In 2020, regional airline ExpressJet ceased operations. The airline is now making a comeback, as a Reno-based airline named “aha!”

The history of ExpressJet

For context, ExpressJet is a regional airline in the United States that launched operations around 35 years ago, in the mid-1980s. Back in the day the airline was owned by Continental Airlines, though that changed over time. Most recently, ExpressJet operated exclusively for United Express, which is United Airlines’ regional carrier.

However, in mid-2020 United Airlines made the decision to cut ties with ExpressJet, The airline instead decided to consolidate all 50-seat regional operations with CommutAir, a competitor to ExpressJet. This was largely prompted by the pandemic, which caused United to downsize its regional operations.

With United Airlines being ExpressJet’s only customer, suffice to say that the airline was in trouble, and had to wind down operations. Well, fortunately that wasn’t the end of ExpressJet.

ExpressJet returns as independent airline, “aha!”

ExpressJet is making a comeback as an independent airline named “aha!” Flights are now on sale for travel in the coming weeks. The name “aha!” stands for “air, hotel, adventure.”

The “aha!” logo

Here’s how the concept behind “aha!” is described:

aha! is a leisure brand of ExpressJet Airlines. aha! seeks to provide travelers in smaller communities, many who have seen air service reduced over the past decade through airline mergers, with convenient, short, nonstop flights to high-quality destinations like the Reno-Lake Tahoe region. In addition to offering value-priced, nonstop flights, aha! will soon partner with resorts, casinos and attractions to “bundle” value-priced vacation packages.

The airline will be based at Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO), and it’s “designed for travelers to enjoy Reno-Tahoe’s regional bounty,” including “exciting casino resorts and live entertainment, a diverse art and dining scene, and the world-class ski-golf-outdoor activities around Lake Tahoe.

As was the case at ExpressJet, “aha!” will fly 50-seat Embraer E145 aircraft.

“aha!” livery and seatmap for Embraer E145

Where will “aha!” fly from Reno-Tahoe?

ExpressJet’s new “aha!” leisure airline will initially fly from Reno-Tahoe (RNO) to eight destinations, as follows:

  • Ontario, CA — starts November 4, 2021
  • Bakersfield, CA — starts October 25, 2021
  • Medford/Ashland, OR — starts October 31, 2021
  • Eugene/Springfield, CA — starts November 1, 2021
  • Pasco/Tri-Cities, WA — starts October 24, 2021
  • Redmond/Bend, OR — starts November 5, 2021
  • Eureka/Arcata, CA — starts November 9, 2021
  • Fresno, CA — starts November 10, 2021

All of these routes will initially be operated 3x weekly, or at least that’s the plan as of now.

“aha!” routemap from Reno

My take on the new airline “aha!”

I’m not exactly sure what to make of this, though a few thoughts:

  • Kudos to ExpressJet for not just giving up after losing its contract with United Airlines, but rather trying something unique as an independent airline
  • Earlier this year we saw the launch of Avelo Airlines and Breeze Airways, and all three of these airlines are dedicated to operating flights in previously underserved markets, so that’s awesome for consumers
  • Startup “aha!” has the benefit of operating lower capacity planes than Avelo and Breeze, so they’re easier to fill, but the challenge is that the Embraer E145 has much higher per-seat operating costs than the planes operated by the other two carriers, so that will pose a challenge
  • I’m curious to see how the “aha!” business model evolves over time — the airline seems pretty committed to Reno-Tahoe, so how many underserved markets can the airline find?
  • The “aha!” name is just really strange — I can’t imagine an announcement for “aha! flight 237 to Reno,” and I also hate the awkward grammar when writing it out

Bottom line

A new airline named “aha!” will be launching operations in October 2021 at Reno-Tahoe International Airport. Specifically, the airline is part of ExpressJet, which is a regional airline that used to operate for United Express. However, United Airlines ended its contract with the airline in 2020, leaving the airline without business.

It’s cool to see that ExpressJet has reinvented itself, but this is no doubt an odd one.

What do you make of the “aha!” business model?

(Tip of the hat to @IshrionA)

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  1. Wilhelm

    Naming themselves after an eighties band? Will we also see Depeche Mode, Bananarama and Dire Straits next?

  2. flyI!

    " Atlantic Coast Airlines lost its contract with United around 2003, then relaunched as Independence Air with a base at IAD."

    I still have a "flyI" bag tag on my old backpack, probably with my DC area address circa 2004.

  3. Doug

    I think AHA is going to become an Ah O! in a few months.

  4. Chris

    This also isn't the first time ExpressJet has tried to go it alone in a self-branded operation...

  5. Willmo

    Knowing me Reno, Nevada.
    Knowing you West Coast cities.
    Aha

  6. Jeff

    Didn't ExpressJet try operating out of Ontario 10 to 15 years ago and ceased those operations within a year? They continued their UAL Express flying out of Houston though.

  7. polarbear

    I was expecting to see SJC route - which was dropped by Alaska.

  8. jcil

    Hope they didn't pay their consultant more the one dollar for that lame name for their new airline.

  9. Endre

    The tail logo of Aha! looks similar to what AF’s Hop! used to have on their tails.

  10. JC

    Reno is a well kept secret, free from the arrogance of Vegas as well as most of the bogus fees. Atlantis, Peppermill, Grand Sierra, Eldorado, and Silver Legacy are all first class properties with excellent restaurants and easily accessible (5 minutes) from the airport. Lake Tahoe's many world class ski areas are 30 to 45 minutes away. Aha! is flying from cities that are likely to have many people who avoid Vegas like the plague...

    Reno is a well kept secret, free from the arrogance of Vegas as well as most of the bogus fees. Atlantis, Peppermill, Grand Sierra, Eldorado, and Silver Legacy are all first class properties with excellent restaurants and easily accessible (5 minutes) from the airport. Lake Tahoe's many world class ski areas are 30 to 45 minutes away. Aha! is flying from cities that are likely to have many people who avoid Vegas like the plague but want to enjoy a fun getaway with sun and affordable quality eateries. If they explore the River Walk or the newly renovated South Virginia St. Midtown area they are in for a real treat.

    1. Never In Doubt

      Reno is a low rent dump.

      The cities that aha! flies to are backwater opioid/meth zones.

      Checks out!

  11. CHRIS

    Any word on their codeshare flights with Baltia and Family Airlines?

  12. uldguy

    The last carrier to hub at Reno was Reno Air. They flew under the radar for awhile until they started flights to Minneapolis/St. Paul. Northwest, an airline that had the word "BULLY" tattooed on its wings and who was headquartered in the Twin Cities, wasn't about to take that sitting down and quickly established a hub of their own in Reno.

    Reno Air didn't last long after that and eventually became part of American. As...

    The last carrier to hub at Reno was Reno Air. They flew under the radar for awhile until they started flights to Minneapolis/St. Paul. Northwest, an airline that had the word "BULLY" tattooed on its wings and who was headquartered in the Twin Cities, wasn't about to take that sitting down and quickly established a hub of their own in Reno.

    Reno Air didn't last long after that and eventually became part of American. As for the Northwest hub at Reno, that didn't last too long either. With Reno Air out of the way, NWA packed its bags and went home.

    Unless there's a whole lot of people in Medford, Pasco, and the rest just dying to repeatedly go to Reno, this little adventure won't last long either.

    1. Al

      It was a shame that Reno Air didn't last long. It was a great little airline. Besides RNO, SJC became a base for them as well. Flew them a lot up and down the California coast.

  13. Al

    Back in the early 90's a small airline started up in Reno called Reno Air. It was an airline that I miss very much and was a good alternative to Southwest. Hope Aha! does well and is as good or better than Reno Air.

  14. Diane Johnson

    They should come to Idaho

  15. flyinryan

    I live in Reno, and Incline Village Tahoe is about a 40 minute drive from RNO. As you pointed out, there are no more commercial flights to South Lake Tahoe, and the only other airport in the vicinity with commercial service is SMF, which is a 2+ hour drive from RNO or anywhere in Lake Tahoe. Hence, RNO is known as Reno-Tahoe Airport.

    I'm happy to see any airline add service to RNO, it's a growing area and RNO will need more service in the future.

    1. polarbear

      how many skies can fit in ERJ-140 cargo hold?

  16. Brian-EWA

    As someone based at PSC, I'm happy to see another option. Not because I'm itching to go to RNO anytime soon, but because I hope more leisure competition here (we are also one of Avelo's routes, too) will prod AS and DL to add a route or two.

  17. GBOAC

    I'm amused by the name Reno Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe is about 50 miles from RNO so it's not in the immediate area.
    There is a commercial airport (TVL) at South Lake Tahoe which used to be served by several mainline airlines.

    1. Never In Doubt

      More like 30 miles, but distance is irrelevant when your MARKETING!

    2. Eskimo

      I guess you've never flown Ryanair before. Under their naming concept PHL can be New York City.

      Go figure.

    3. TM

      TVL hasn't had commercial service in nearly 20 years. It no longer has an ATC tower and the passenger facilities were converted into South Lake Tahoe city hall. Incline Village, NV 30 miles from RNO. If Tahoe is your destination, RNO is the most logical airport to fly into so it makes perfect sense for the airport to market this. SMF if 2 hours away and in the winter, subject to chain-control and/or road closures on Hwy 50 and I-80.

  18. Goforride

    Keep in mind that United Airlines owns 49.9% of Expressjet and owns or leases its entire fleet, so this probably isn't the end of the story.

  19. Fred frank

    So a company out of Atlanta GA is gonna run an E145 op out of RNO? Sounds like a waste of money, but hey, good luck!

  20. EthaninSF

    RNO is definitely an interesting choice. Granted, I know quite a few people who have decamped from San Francisco to Tahoe during the pandemic - so maybe slight increase in demand. However, the choice of SoCal airports served from RNO is puzzling. Pretty much every major carrier already serves LAX. Southwest also flies to BUR, which is only 90 mins from BFL. I can't imagine that there are huge numbers of people who want to...

    RNO is definitely an interesting choice. Granted, I know quite a few people who have decamped from San Francisco to Tahoe during the pandemic - so maybe slight increase in demand. However, the choice of SoCal airports served from RNO is puzzling. Pretty much every major carrier already serves LAX. Southwest also flies to BUR, which is only 90 mins from BFL. I can't imagine that there are huge numbers of people who want to fly to BFL and ONT from RNO. Looking at fares on Southwest, they are super cheap connecting from ONT to RNO. I imagine if this route was viable, Southwest would be all over it. I thought maybe they were trying to connect passengers from North to South over RNO (like RenoAir of the past), but their website does not seem to sell connections. Good luck, Aha!

  21. Brad

    Did they decide on hub + destinations based on the highest meth and opiate-addicted populations on the West Coast?

    1. Never In Doubt

      No kidding.

      Maybe their research revealed that meth-heads prefer Reno!

  22. russ cruickshank

    Interesting that googling the name leads me only to the American Hotel Association. Further searching takes me to various airlines. One needs to know they are looking for aha! to actually make a booking apparently.

  23. Eskimo

    AHA!!!!
    The expression you say when you thought you avoided CRJ-200 for the last decade just to find out they are flying ERJ145.

  24. Evan

    This is not the first time United has caused the birth of a low-cost airline operated by a former regional partner. Atlantic Coast Airlines lost its contract with United around 2003, then relaunched as Independence Air with a base at IAD. I'll never forget flying one of their RJs from JFK to IAD because the safety announcement was prerecorded by a comedian who slipped in a weird joke about crashing. That airline didn't make it for long.

    1. GBOAC

      @Evan. Independence Air was also the first thing I thought of reading this post. Regional airlines don't seem to be able survive for very long on their own. Not I bet this one

Featured Comments Load all 32 comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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Never In Doubt

Reno is a low rent dump. The cities that aha! flies to are backwater opioid/meth zones. Checks out!

Goforride

Keep in mind that United Airlines owns 49.9% of Expressjet and owns or leases its entire fleet, so this probably isn't the end of the story.

Evan

This is not the first time United has caused the birth of a low-cost airline operated by a former regional partner. Atlantic Coast Airlines lost its contract with United around 2003, then relaunched as Independence Air with a base at IAD. I'll never forget flying one of their RJs from JFK to IAD because the safety announcement was prerecorded by a comedian who slipped in a weird joke about crashing. That airline didn't make it for long.

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