Here's why JetBlue founder David Neeleman is launching a new U.S. airline in the midst of a pandemic.

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The founder of JetBlue is back with another genius idea: an airline that actually cares about its customers.

David Neeleman is a man on a mission. The visionary leader who put live TV on JetBlue planes and the airline guru who built Azul into one of the biggest carriers in Brazil has a new project this spring.

Breeze Airways CEO David Neeleman
Credit: Courtesy of Breeze Airways

Breeze Airways is his brand-new U.S. airline, launching with a distinctive promise. "We just want to be nice," Neeleman tells Travel + Leisure. "There's too much nastiness out there on the internet and everywhere else — but it costs us nothing to be nice."

The new airline will launch with 39 routes between 16 cities and, according to Neeleman, focus on places that are underserved by major U.S. carriers. Tickets will start at $39 one-way.

"We're going to get you there quicker with a nonstop flight and we're going to do it with a smile," Neeleman tells T+L. 

Breeze Airways employees
Credit: Courtesy of Breeze Airways

Among the primary cities will be Charleston, South Carolina; New Orleans, Louisiana; Norfolk, Virginia; and Tampa, Florida. Other planned destinations will be gradually added to Breeze's route network as it ramps up operations this summer, with all 39 routes served by July 22, according to the airline. (See the full list of cities below.)

"These 16 cities are just the beginning for Breeze," Neeleman said in a statement shared with T+L. "The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nation's air service has meant many secondary markets and smaller cities have seen a significant reduction in flights. There are so many city pairs needing nonstop service around the country, we have a further 100 cities under consideration."

But it's not just the promise of a pleasant, affordable flight that makes Breeze different. The airline has committed to flying most of its trips with cutting-edge Airbus A220 jets, which offer fuel economy and a spacious cabin, despite being slightly smaller than the Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s that are far more typical in the U.S. When the first of those planes arrive in October of this year, they'll have two-by-three seating in economy and a handful of business-class seats.

Breeze Airways plane
Credit: Courtesy of Breeze Airways

For now, Breeze will start out flying smaller Embraer E190 and E195 jets, with a maximum of 118 seats aboard, all in a two-by-two arrangement. Passengers will have the choice of the basic "Nice" fare, which includes a personal item and seat assigned at check in, or the upgraded "Nicer" fare, which comes with an extra legroom seat assignment, a personal item, a carry-on bag, a checked bag, a complimentary drink and snack, and priority boarding, according to Breeze. The airline plans to roll out the "Nicest" fare for its business-class seats, once the A220s join the fleet. 

Rather than a traditional loyalty program tied to miles and segments, the airline will offer BreezePoints that can be redeemed like cash. Nice fares earn 2% back, while Nicer fares earn 4%. Breeze will not charge change or cancellation fees, and it's asking only $20 for each checked bag or carry-on intended for the overhead bin. "Family seating is free for families traveling with children 12 and under," the carrier says. And pets can fly in the cabin for $75, a price below the $100 industry standard.

Breeze Airways plane
Credit: Courtesy of Breeze Airways

At the end of the day, Neeleman says, Breeze is about simplicity, particularly for people living in or visiting cities where airline alternatives are scarce.

"It's going to be a really good travel experience," he says. "People are going to really like it — and they're going to tell their friends and come back and do it again."

All the cities that Breeze Airways will serve in 2021:

  1. Akron/Canton, OH
  2. Bentonville/Fayetteville, AR
  3. Charleston, SC
  4. Columbus, OH
  5. Hartford, CT
  6. Huntsville, AL
  7. Louisville, KY
  8. New Orleans, LA
  9. Norfolk, VA
  10. Oklahoma City, OK
  11. Pittsburgh, PA
  12. Providence, RI
  13. Richmond, VA
  14. San Antonio, TX
  15. Tampa, FL
  16. Tulsa, OK