By Mateen Kontoravdis
JSX CEO On Austin Expansion, Future Growth
There’s a unique airline attempting to gain market share on the highly competitive Austin to Dallas route. JSX is joining a long list of airlines adding new services to the growing tech hub Texas capital.
American Airlines currently flies to Dallas/Fort-Worth International Airport up to 11 times daily from Austin, while Southwest Airlines offers seven flights to Dallas’s Love Field Airport every day. Together, the two airlines offered 80,000 seats between the two Texas cities last month onboard over 480 flights.
JSX is the third airline flying the competitive route with twice-daily flights to Dallas Love Field, which began on Sept. 27. This will be the first time that Southwest faces direct competition between Love Field and Austin since 2016 when Virgin America briefly flew the route for six months. JSX offers a daily 10:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. departure from Austin and will fly about 1,860 seats from Austin during its first month of operations.
Prior to the airline’s Austin launch, AirlineGeeks spoke with JSX CEO Alex Wilcox to discuss the expansion and how the airline plans to compete among the two large competitors already flying the route. Wilcox co-founded JSX in 2016 and is a former founding executive at JetBlue.
“Business travelers, more than anybody, value their time and they are willing to pay to get more of it back. That’s the one thing that we provide that the big airlines can’t. That is, the ability to get out of your car and onto the airplane within 20 minutes, basically get on and go without breaking a sweat. If you try to do that on a major airline, that airplane is long gone by the time you get to the gate,” Wilcox said.
JSX is classified as a Part 135 carrier by the FAA, so flights are operated as public air charters. As a result, the airline is able to operate out of fixed base operators (FBOs), bypassing an airport’s main terminal.
“I think it is pretty clear that the Austin market is ripe for picking. There are a lot of people who are frustrated with getting through the commercial terminal there because of all the new capacity that has been dumped in the market and we are excited to offer a very convenient alternative at a fraction of the cost of what it would cost to get a private jet,” Wilcox said.
Similar to Hawaiian Airlines, which first landed in Austin this past April, JSX is already seeing solid results from the perspective of bookings. Wilcox noted that Austin bookings are outperforming the airline’s initial expectations and the airline is satisfied with the fares that passengers are willing to pay for the short flight.
New flights to Austin come as JSX continues to grow its Texas base and flight schedule. The airline is also expanding on its existing flights between Love Field and Houston’s Hobby Airport, growing to four daily flights. Looking ahead, the airline plans to resume its seasonal flights to Destin, Florida next year and continue its charter flights to Lajitas, Texas from its Dallas base.
“We are looking at a couple other intra-Texas and a couple other markets that are not far from Texas as well. There will certainly be more markets and a broader operating region in the coming year,” Wilcox said.
He did not specify any specific cities the airline is looking to expand into, but the focus right now is to continue delivering on the promise to save customers time when they choose to fly JSX. Despite the evolving U.S. aviation landscape with competitors such as Avelo Airlines adding service from JSX’s Burbank, Calif. hub, the airline seems unbothered.
“JSX is focused on its customers, we are focused on the things that our customers value and that is convenience, reliability and a crowd-free travel environment. People that want those things will continue to fly on JSX and I think the rest of the industry can do whatever it wants to do, whether it’s [ultra-low-cost carriers] or full service carriers. We don’t pay a whole lot of attention to that,” Wilcox said.
JSX is the second airline in Austin to fly from an FBO, joining Taos Air, which first commenced flights in 2018. Prior to departure, JSX sends multiple emails reminding passengers that flights do not operate from the main terminal. Upon arriving at the Signature FBO, there is plenty of signage leading passengers to the JSX check-in counter. Within two minutes of being dropped off, I had my boarding pass in hand and was ready for my 10:00 a.m. flight to Dallas.
Passengers who purchase a “Hop On” fare can check two bags, each up to 50 lbs, free of charge. The FBO had plenty of seating and a coffee machine as well. Within a few minutes of the aircraft arriving from Dallas, boarding commenced. There were just 11 passengers on the flight to Dallas, so we were all onboard and ready a few minutes ahead of schedule.
JSX uses its newer Embraer E-145 jets for all intra-Texas flights. These jets are a major upgrade from the Embraer E-135s used on many of the airline’s west coast routes. During the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the airline decided to reconfigure its E-145 jets with an elegant 1-1 configuration, maintaining a 30-seat cabin thanks to the longer length of the aircraft versus the E-135.
All seats on the right-hand side of the aircraft offer a large table and additional under-seat storage space. This is a convenient alternative to overhead bins, which JSX has removed from its jets in an effort to offer a more open cabin.
The configuration is very spacious and I’d easily pay to fly with this seat on a longer route that JSX operates as well.
All seats onboard have access to power ports and offer 35 inches of legroom. For comparison, full-service carriers typically offer 31-32 inches of legroom in the economy cabin.
Additionally, each seat has individual A/C vents and reading lights.
By 10:01 a.m., our aircraft was taxiing to runway 18L for the short hop to Dallas. The inflight service was reduced due to turbulence, but there were still multiple drink and snack options to choose from.
For such a short flight, WiFi is not a huge priority for most passengers, but the airline does operate longer flights where the option would be convenient. According to JSX, WiFi will be arriving onboard its jets this year, but the airline has not outlined any specifics at this time.
Additionally, passengers can earn JetBlue TrueBlue points on all JSX flights. The airline offers 250 TrueBlue points for all flights where an “All In” fare was purchased and 150 points for flights purchased with a “Hop On” fare.
Following a brief 36-minute flight, we touched down at Love Field and parked at the Signature FBO after a short taxi. All checked bags are unloaded and available airside for passengers to pick up as they deplane.
After a brief visit in Dallas, I was back at the airport 30 minutes prior to the return flight. Just like the morning, I had my boarding pass in hand and was ready for departure within minutes of arriving. This time, the FBO was a bit crowded as there was a full flight to Las Vegas departing prior to the Austin flight.
A few minutes prior to boarding, the airline announced a two-hour delay for the flight. While a reason was never given, the JSX staff was very kind, offered phone chargers for passengers, and regularly updated passengers on the flight’s status. Similar to the Austin FBO, there was also a complimentary coffee machine available and several vending machines.
The airline had a spare jet in Dallas, so the delay ended up only lasting about an hour. An agent announced that it is the airline’s policy to purchase food for passengers if a delay lasts longer than 30 minutes. We ended up boarding our flight before the pizza arrived, but multiple passengers used the convenience of the FBO to order UberEats while we waited.
Following the small delay, 18 passengers boarded for the Austin return and we were on our way. Departing from runway 13L, we enjoyed beautiful views of downtown Dallas as we climbed to 18,000 feet.
Weather had improved from the morning, and once we were airborne our flight attendant began taking drink orders. JSX offers an extensive menu for such a short flight, with complimentary alcohol, coffee and sodas. There is also a snack basket with savory and sweet snacks. For a 40-minute flight, the service was beyond impressive thanks to our lovely flight attendant, Felicia.
We flew parallel to I-35, the highway connecting Austin and Dallas, for the majority of the flight, flying over seven times faster than the cars below us.
Just over 40 minutes after departing, we touched down in Austin after another pleasant flight.
JSX had been on my radar for a few years now and I was excited to see them entering the dynamic Austin market. I’ve only heard good things about the carrier and I went in with high expectations. They were met, if not exceeded during my first two flights.
The fresh and unique approach to flying that JSX employs will appeal to many people flying point-to-point as the network continues to expand. It will be interesting to see new routes join the network as the airline’s Texas and broader expansion continues.