The People’s Express Flies Again

Christian Pezalla / Alumnus

It’s late April 1981, planes move across the pavement at New Jersey’s Newark airport bearing the name “PEOPLExpress.” This was the start of one of the first U.S. airlines to begin service following deregulation. The airline would continually operate regularly scheduled service until 1987, when it was absorbed by Continental Airlines. Continental Airlines has since merged with United Airlines to form the United Continental Holdings.

With the slogan of “Fly Smart,” a start-up airline has picked up the torch and resurrected People Express Airlines back to life. The new airline is not affiliated with the previous airline or Continental Airlines (now United Airlines,) but will bear the name of the 1980’ carrier. Currently financed by private capital, the new People Express began service on June 30, 2014. The original airline had a similar slogan of “It’s Time to Fly Smart.” The new company will also pay tribute to its predecessor by using the traditional “PEOPLExpress” logo.

Operating from Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport (KPHF) in Virginia, People Express offers flights to Boston, Philadelphia, Newwark, Atlanta, New Orleans, Orlando, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale. In addition to flight departing and arriving its Newport hub, the airline also provides direct service between Orlando, Fla. and Charleston, W. Va. While the new airline is based over 200 miles from the original, service to Newark, N.J. harkens back to the early days of the original People Express, when it and other legendary airlines roamed the sky. Among those legendary airlines were Eastern Airlines, Braniff International Airways, Pan American Airways and Trans World Airlines.

The new People Express operates a single type fleet, comprised of Boeing 737. This is reminiscent of the 22 737-100 and 737-200 aircraft flown by the original airlines. The first People Express also operated 50 Boeing 717 and nine early model Boeing 747. The current fleet for People Express consists of two leased Boeing 737-400 aircraft.

Unfortunately for People Express, initiating service has not been an easy path to fly. After just three month of service, all operations were halted as a result of what it called “maintenance issues.” Complicating matters is the fact that the current fleet is leased from a third-party (Vision Airlines), which also provides much of the flight support. People Express initially said it would resume service in October of 2014, but has since indicated that operations would be on hold longer (though no specific time frame has been provided.)

Contributing to the airline’s problems was aircraft damaged sustained on Sept. 19, 2014 in Newport News. One of the airline’s two aircraft was taken out of service after being damaged by a service vehicle. Details about the current status of the aircraft were not readily available, and it was not clear if the incident influenced the airline’s decision to suspend flight operations.

People’s Express has announced via its website that all currently booked passengers will receive a full refund. The airline had been seeking DOT approval for its own air carrier certificate but withdrew its request earlier this year. The company says it is working with Vision Airlines to restore operations, under Vision Airline’s certification.