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All-you-can-fly airline comes to McCarran International Airport


Las Vegans know all about all-you-can-eat buffets.

But an all-you-can-fly airline? Not so much.

Next weekend marks the arrival to McCarran International Airport of Surf Air, which tells customers they can fly all they want for a set monthly price.

It’s an interesting departure from the traditional high-end charter airline model, one that analysts say will require more than the three planes the company currently flies to flourish.

To become a Surf Air member, a customer pays a one-time membership fee of $500, then $1,350 a month to subscribe. For that, customers can fly as often as they want on the airline’s 18 daily flights and can book as little as minutes before departure.

Rates are expected to go up after next weekend, so it’s definitely something more for the business Road Warrior than for Ma, Pa and the kids.

Customers can book only one round trip at a time, but if they buy into a higher membership tier, they can hold multiple itineraries.

Because Surf customers fly from small executive terminals, they aren’t subject to the hassle of security screening. They can literally drive up to the plane (park for free!) and board their flight within minutes.

Surf also sells prospective members on the comfort of the six-seat Pilatus PC-12 turboprop planes that can be configured for in-flight meetings.

Surf Air serves Santa Barbara, Calif., the San Francisco-area San Carlos Airport and the Los Angeles suburban airports in Burbank and Hawthorne. After the airline’s Saturday launch at McCarran, Surf Air will expand to Truckee Tahoe Airport on May 2 with plans to add Palm Springs, San Diego, Sacramento and the Sonoma-Napa Valley area in the future.

You might say Surf Air CEO Jeff Potter is exploring a new frontier.

The former top executive of Denver-based Frontier Airlines, Potter took the helm at Surf about a month ago, after leading Exclusive Resorts, a private-membership destination company.

“It’s a great summation of what I’ve done in my career,” Potter said in a phone interview. “It’s a really fantastic model if executed correctly.”

Potter said the airline had a list of prospective customers that said they’d sign up as soon as Surf flew to an airport near them. He said Las Vegas was high on the list of prospective cities, which is why it was selected as the first non-California destination on the route map.

And it probably didn’t hurt that Zappos’ Tony Hsieh is an investor.

A New York-based aviation analyst said the Surf model can be profitable, but it’s going to take more fleet and more destinations to accommodate anticipated demand. After all, with a schedule of three planes flying six flights each a day, the company is only talking about having 108 customers a day, which wouldn’t even fill a 737.

“They could be creating an expectation that can’t possibly be upheld and I worry about that a little bit,” said Robert Mann, a consultant with R.W. Mann &Co. in Port Washington, N.Y.

Mann also said he expects Surf to tinker with the membership fee over time to make sure it has the right formula to accommodate customers and still make money. He said although the airline might have a long list of prospective customers, converting the interested into members isn’t always easy when it comes to writing the check.

Potter isn’t concerned about the acquisition of more planes since the Pilatus, a quiet single-engine plane built for business travel, are available on the market. He said the company has no plans to add different types of planes to the fleet.

SAHARA BRIDGE DETOUR

Anxious road warriors in the neighborhoods around Desert Rose Golf Course on the east side of the valley howled after reading that one of the east-west alternate routes for the Sahara Avenue bridge demolition and reconstruction project would be Vegas Valley Drive.

Vegas Valley has had its own stop-and-go difficulties for weeks as crews installed a pipeline, narrowing the four lanes to one lane with traffic controlled by flag personnel.

“I live in the area and I’m perplexed,” one frustrated reader shared. “The 25,000 cars or so a day that route through Sahara every day are now being pushed to Charleston (Boulevard) or Vegas Valley. Charleston is already overtaxed and Vegas Valley has work on the streets for a treatment plant.”

Fear not, a spokesman for Clark County’s Department of Public Works said. The pipeline project on Vegas Valley was scheduled to be completed before Sahara was closed on Saturday. Unfortunately, Vegas Valley will continue to be an important haul route for the six-month bridge and golf course refurbishment projects, so flag personnel will still be there to manage construction traffic.

But, at least all four lanes are supposed to be open.

CARRY-ON CRACKDOWN

United Airlines is cracking down on passengers who bring way-too-large carry-on bags on their planes.

The action is in response to survey results that show passengers are aggravated about storage bins being too full and departures delayed by people trying to find a place to stuff their bags.

United, the third-busiest air carrier at McCarran, was eighth among 10 airlines in a recent customer satisfaction survey.

United’s MileagePlus loyalty card owners received an email reminding them that the maximum size for a carry-on is 22-by-14-by-9 inches.

Airline officials denied that the crackdown had anything to do with the company trying to push baggage check-ins, which cost passengers around $25 a bag.

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