Aha! Ceases Operations, ExpressJet Liquidates

Aha! Ceases Operations, ExpressJet Liquidates

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A once large regional airline has just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and intends to liquidate.

ExpressJet files for bankruptcy

Atlanta-based ExpressJet Airlines has today filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and intends to enter into a court-supervised liquidation in the coming weeks.

For context, ExpressJet launched operations in the mid-1980s. Back in the day the airline was owned by Continental Airlines, though that changed over time. Up until the start of the pandemic, 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.

This left the regional carrier in a tough spot. At its peak, ExpressJet had more than 450 planes, so it was a massive regional operator. Obviously regional airlines largely rely on the major carriers to stay in business, and being dumped by your only customer isn’t great.

ExpressJet got creative, though, and decided to launch a standalone airline. Specifically, aha! was a Reno-based airline that launched operations in late 2021, and the airline flew 50-seat Embraer E145 aircraft to destinations across the west. “aha!” stood for “air, hotel, adventure.”

ExpressJet used to be a huge regional airline

aha! ceases operations

With ExpressJet liquidating, aha! has also ceased operations. After all, aha! was the only actual business ExpressJet had left. Here’s how Subodh Karnik, CEO of ExpressJet, describes this decision:

“A combination of conditions led us to this decision. Despite the valiant efforts of our employees to overcome challenges, and despite great support by our cities and airports – especially Reno-Tahoe and the community there, we arrived at a point where termination of operations was in the best interest of our stakeholders,” he added.

ExpressJet gave the following reasons for liquidating, and ultimately for the failure of aha! as a standalone airline:

  • Growth, a core element of its business plan, was hampered by lack of availability of aircraft and the inability to swiftly establish passenger servicing infrastructure in smaller airports
  • Lower revenues, from factors including the impact of COVID-19 variants and the inability to implement hotel bundle offers — foundational to aha!’s “air hotel adventure” plans
  • Fuel prices and other cost inputs exercised an unexpected toll on finances

Customers of aha! have been told to contact their credit card companies to request refunds, and it’s stated that ExpressJet is unable to help with alternate travel arrangements.

aha! was ExpressJet’s standalone regional airline

Bottom line

ExpressJet intends to liquidate, and with that, Reno-based aha! is also ceasing operations. ExpressJet had been around for decades, and at one point was a massive airline, with 450+ planes. It’s sad to see the airline now liquidating.

I commend ExpressJet for trying to get creative with the launch of aha!, though I can’t say I’m surprised that this Reno-based experiment wasn’t the saving grace for the airline.

What do you make of ExpressJet liquidating?

Conversations (26)
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  1. GS in PDX Guest

    Big surprise. Not a well thought out business plan I would say, particularly basing the airline at RNO, and trying to copy Allegiant with a bundled travel product. (did they realize that Allegiant is also based in Nevada, at Las Vegas? And how about Southwest, which has one of it's largest hub operation at Las Vegas?) How much actual O&D traffic for that area? Add to that the huge competition in the Western US market...

    Big surprise. Not a well thought out business plan I would say, particularly basing the airline at RNO, and trying to copy Allegiant with a bundled travel product. (did they realize that Allegiant is also based in Nevada, at Las Vegas? And how about Southwest, which has one of it's largest hub operation at Las Vegas?) How much actual O&D traffic for that area? Add to that the huge competition in the Western US market - see the 2 carriers I just mentioned, plus Alaska, Spirit, and startup Avelo. I am surprised that Avelo is making it work, but probably only because they have a lower CASM with the larger 737s they fly to secondary cities. Maybe not long before we see a similar post noting their demise.....

  2. Greg Guest

    I may be wrong, but I believe that Express Jet worked exclusively for Delta, and not United, as in the article. Doesn't change anything, just an observation.

    1. Anonymous Guest

      Part of the airline worked for Delta. Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA) worked exclusively for Delta and ExpressJet worked exclusively for Continental Airlines, and later United Airlines after Continental and United merged. Around 2010, ASA and ExpressJet merged and continued to work for their respective carriers. In 2018-ish, Delta dropped them and they became exclusive to United.

  3. Orishaoko Guest

    ExpressJet by name only(former employee here). This airline was actually ASA or Atlantic Southeast Airlines that bought ExpressJet that and changed their name to ExpressJet. But even the Leadership really bad decisions from back then is why they are bankrupt today. At first ASA was Delta's largest regional airlines with 250+ airlines and wanted to become this Super Regional Airlines when they bought ExpressJet airlines and was flying United too, then they Started to fly...

    ExpressJet by name only(former employee here). This airline was actually ASA or Atlantic Southeast Airlines that bought ExpressJet that and changed their name to ExpressJet. But even the Leadership really bad decisions from back then is why they are bankrupt today. At first ASA was Delta's largest regional airlines with 250+ airlines and wanted to become this Super Regional Airlines when they bought ExpressJet airlines and was flying United too, then they Started to fly for American Airlines as American Eagle and at thst point we became the largest regional airlines in the world with 502 planes and this really pissed off Delta Airlines (like using parts and engines that belonged to Delta (engines paid by Delta) and installed on United or American airlines birds so they wont take a cancelation, using Delta positive space so they can fix United birds in Chicago O'Hare) so much that in 2017 Delta cancelled their contract; at that moment Delta was their largest and oldest parner. So Delta bought then bankrupt pinnacle airlines and changed the name to Envoy built up the airline.

    1. WNGZ Guest

      Timeline is a little bit off. Delta bought Pinnacle back in 2012 after negotiating with them to shutter the Colgan (United/ US Air brand), combine Pinnacle and Mesaba into 1 group and then moved operations from Memphis to Minneapolis that same year. The Name change happened in 2013. I know this because I lived it.

  4. iamhere Guest

    No surprise. For those that booked tickets hopefully they were cheaper than alternatives as one could easily be in this kind of situation.

  5. CD in PSP Guest

    Sad for the employees who tried to make it work despite the odds being very much against them.

  6. Layne Anderson Guest

    As a former Mechanics for them when they lost 69 planes of flying to Republic airways back in 2007 and they opted to keep the planes and try branded flying services from coast to coast with Kansas City and Ontario California as their psuedo hubs. That failed experiment caused them to sell out to Skywest who then spun them off in recent years.
    It appears history repeats itself with the failed stand alone experiment.

  7. JCLAY Guest

    Can't say I didn't see this one coming. Was never a viable business model to begin with, just a handful of planes and based out of RNO.

  8. BB Guest

    The airline didn't stand a chance with Subodh at the helm. Everything he has touched has failed. Look at his resume'. So many great people have been affected by his lack of leadership. If you want your company to fail he is now available for hire.

    1. WNGZ Guest

      When I read saw the announcement that's the exact thing I said. I'm glad i'm not the only 1 who know's this. Yup his track record from India to America is abysmal.

  9. TM Gold

    RNO based flyer here. This obviously comes as no surprise. Weird routes on a notoriously uncomfortable aircraft with very little marketing. I always cringed when I walked by their gate and saw that hideous branding.

  10. Goforride Member

    Interestingly, in the last hour or so, EV has backtracked on saying they are liquidating.

  11. Goforride Member

    What surprises me is the comment that one of their problems was getting ground crew at their outward destinations. I

    That doesn't surprise me. It would be hard to find people that wanted to work just a couple of hours a week, a couple of days a week, in the middle of the day,

    I think that would be wholly predictable.

    I wonder why their hotel packages didn't sell.

    1. BenjaminGuttery Diamond

      Evidently they had trouble even getting the hotel packages to link with their flights. Even above it says an "inability to merge" or something.

  12. Stuart Guest

    A similar fate that fell on Independence Air in the early 2000's. Again involving United as a former regional carrier. But United was brutal and destroyed them with promos out of Dulles that were crazy.

    1. Goforride Member

      Brutal? Promos?

      UAX carriers generally get paid by the departure and have little risk from the price of the actual ticket.

      There was some revenue sharing back in those days, rather than fee-for-departure and so forth, but if that were the case, UA would have taken it in the shorts as well.

    2. Stuart Guest

      You completely missed my point. When Independence formed after breaking up as a UA regional carrier they brought out the new carrier based at Dulles with large ambitions. Fares were great, UA matched them, fine. But the nail in the head was UA’s promotions, especially the one that earned you Intl first class tickets after a few segments via IAD. I think I earned around four in a matter of months. Everyone in DC was...

      You completely missed my point. When Independence formed after breaking up as a UA regional carrier they brought out the new carrier based at Dulles with large ambitions. Fares were great, UA matched them, fine. But the nail in the head was UA’s promotions, especially the one that earned you Intl first class tickets after a few segments via IAD. I think I earned around four in a matter of months. Everyone in DC was after these and it gutted the upstart of Indie…it was quite an effective tool to assure they never got any momentum.

    3. Goforride Member

      Ah, yes. The power of Mileage Plus.

  13. Chris D Guest

    Until I realised “Aha!” was the name of an airline, I was totally confused by the headline :-)

  14. stogieguy7 Diamond

    Unfortunately, this is not a shock. An airline - using only smaller regional jet aircraft - that is based at RNO and which tried to use that as a hub. There just isn't enough demand for this sort of service. It's a somewhat clever idea in theory but really more of a lark in reality. Once fuel prices rose, that was it.

    And, I'm sorry, but the name "aha!" was really stupid. Every time I read it, I hear "Cry Wolf" from the 80's band of the same name.

    1. Goforride Member

      The trouble is, aha! didn't actually use RNO as a "hub."

      The aircraft left RNO in first thing in the morning, went to the outward point, came back, and did another turn before coming back to RNO for the evening. They didn't use RNO as a true hub with north-south connections.

      I wonder why. Reno Air tired that way back when and it didn't work out, but they used MD-80's so they had a lot...

      The trouble is, aha! didn't actually use RNO as a "hub."

      The aircraft left RNO in first thing in the morning, went to the outward point, came back, and did another turn before coming back to RNO for the evening. They didn't use RNO as a true hub with north-south connections.

      I wonder why. Reno Air tired that way back when and it didn't work out, but they used MD-80's so they had a lot more seats to fill. I always thought they was a place for a north-south hub and the West Coast that didn't cost as much to operate as SFO.

    2. stogieguy7 Diamond

      I have to admit, I didn't spend much time considering their business model. Knowing RNO was their base, I naturally assumed (wrongly, apparently) that they used RNO as a hub. Geographically, RNO is in a good location for a regional hub of sorts. But, the amount of O&D traffic makes that tough (and I do recall Reno Air giving it a try). Anyhow, now I'm finding out that they didn't even use RNO as a hub. So clearly, this business model never made a bit of sense.

  15. Goforride Member

    Sadly, going into liquidation, the front line employees become unsecured creditors, so they will be gone today.

    EV didn't fly on Tuesdays, so there are no pax coming to the airport today and finding no one there, but tomorrow should be ugly, albeit only for a handful of passengers.

  16. Goforride Member

    Gee, who could see that coming?

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CD in PSP Guest

Sad for the employees who tried to make it work despite the odds being very much against them.

2
Anonymous Guest

Totally agree

1
BB Guest

The airline didn't stand a chance with Subodh at the helm. Everything he has touched has failed. Look at his resume'. So many great people have been affected by his lack of leadership. If you want your company to fail he is now available for hire.

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