Mike MorisiA new business is bound to have growing pains, and while Virginia-based PeoplExpress has had a few aches and pains since takeoff on June 30, the low-cost carrier with the familiar name is weathering the storms, learning from its mistakes and listening to its customers. Mike Morisi, founder and COO, talked with senior editor Gay Nagle Myers about the carrier's expansion plans, fleet additions and the role that communications plays in building customer confidence and trust.


Q: Where does PeoplExpress now fly, and what gateways will follow?

A:
We began flying on June 30 with flights from our Newport News, Va., base to Newark, Pittsburgh and Boston. Since then we've added Atlanta and West Palm Beach. Service to New Orleans starts Aug. 28 and St. Petersburg on Aug. 29. There's more to come, at least one more gateway before the end of the year. We have three 737s with two more coming in October. Each carries 136 passengers.

Q: That's a fast start with a small fleet and not much wiggle room if a plane needs repair or a pilot a nap.

A:
We had an odd situation on Aug. 11 on our Pittsburgh-Newport News route. Two pilots were unable to fly: One accidentally hurt his eye as he was leaving his hotel room, and the wife of another had a medical emergency. We're still a small airline, and no backup crew was available. It was the perfect storm of catastrophes, which resulted in extensive delays and one flight cancellation. Our call center was overwhelmed, and customers were not getting information in a timely manner.

Q: What did you do?

A:
I turned to our Facebook page, explained why the delays were happening, apologized to 81 passengers on the affected flights and spent more than $20,000 for hotels and meals for our stranded customers. Some passengers took the delay in stride, while others did not. We don't yet have agreements with other airlines to help our passengers if there is an emergency. There were definitely lapses in how this was handled.

Q: What measures were put in place after that incident?

A:
We are adding more ground operations staff, we have additional pilots in training and we are beefing up our website, www.flypex.com, so our customers can book multiple flights and check in online. Our operations team is developing a better system to deliver timely flight status information for passengers regarding delays or cancellations. We learned a lot from this event, and we're working hard to ensure it won't happen again.

Q: You first announced plans to resurrect the PeoplExpress brand in February 2012, but you ran into a few regulatory roadblocks along the way.

A:
We did, but now we have partnered with Vision Airlines, which operates our flights on its 737-400 aircraft, which carries the logo of the popular 1980s carrier but with a fresh green livery. We have 100-plus employees, we offer low fares, few frills and an a la carte service model. We're committed to being affordable and accessible. Add-on fees let our customers decide what they want to pay for. This is a fairly common practice now in the industry, but the PeoplExpress difference is in the level of service we provide, our schedule reliability and our can-do attitude.

Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly. 
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