Startup air service FlyLouie is now offering flights between Allegheny County Airport (AGC) and Westchester County Airport (HPN) outside of New York City, giving Pittsburgh-area commuters a new way to handle the stress of commuting bypassing Pittsburgh International Airport altogether and traveling amidst the luxury of private aviation. Days prior to departure on one of the company’s flights last week, two Jewish women, Julia Takeda, FlyLouie’s CEO, and Emily Marks Kirshenbaum, who oversees the company’s revenue and growth strategy, were in the Steel City describing FlyLouie and its by-the-seat charter options for short-haul travel.
The idea is born of inconvenient travel, explained Takeda. Between the mass consolidation of the four major carriers, the number of daily commuters and the underutilization of planes, “the data brought us to Pittsburgh,” she said.
When Takeda first arrived here in August, she found a “vibrant city with all these reasons to come to.”
Complicating matters were expenses and commercial practices, explained Kirshenbaum. “It costs more for me to get to Pittsburgh than it did to go to London from New York on premium economy.”
What FlyLouie does is restore dignity to travel, she added. Passengers can arrive 15 minutes before departure, park for free and walk onto the plane without any of the “hassles” commonly experienced. FlyLouie customers avoid security lines and bag check, are able to bring mid-sized dogs for free and can change names and dates “free of charge.” Date-change requests can be made “on a space available basis up until 12 hours before departure,” and passenger name changes are possible “up until four hours before departure,” according to the website.
Placing “customers first” means valuing travelers’ time, said Takeda. “We can practically guarantee people on-time takeoff and on-time landing.”
On average, patrons will save “about two hours per trip,” she said. “You can take the inconveniences of all commercial travel and can throw them out the window.”
FlyLouie began operating 16 weekly flights between Pittsburgh and New York on Jan. 7.
“People really want to see us succeed,” said Kirshenbaum. “We are excited to be in Pittsburgh and want to have long term relationships” with the parties here. “We’re thinking of making our hub in Pittsburgh,” said Takeda.
Takeda’s great uncle, Lou, emigrated from Europe in 1919, built a business in South Dakota and enabled family members to travel to the United States. “Lou led the way,” she said. He helped us “create a life and safe passage,” added Takeda, who named the company and her son after the great uncle.
Last week, a 22-minute Uber ride from Squirrel Hill to West Mifflin deposited a passenger at Allegheny County Airport approximately 20 minutes before the scheduled 8:35 a.m. FlyLouie departure. Instead of snaking through a crowded terminal, the passenger arrived mere steps from the plane, presented identification and was offered coffee, water and snacks. Chris Poole, who served as the co-pilot, described the features of the King Air 350 turboprop. Inside the twin engine plane were eight seats, plus two in the cockpit. Traveling on the flight to Westchester were David Alan of David Alan Clothing, a Pittsburgh-based premier concierge bespoke menswear company; Darin DiNapoli, an Emmy Award-winning director, editor, producer and motion graphics artist; Chancelor Humphrey, who captures lifestyle and creatives “from Pittsburgh and beyond” on Instagram at @KeepPittsburghDope; and the captain, Justin Ireland from Danbury, Conn.
Moments after boarding, the flight departed. Bottled water, white chocolate macadamia nut CLIF Bars, roasted salted peanuts, smoked almonds, plain potato chips and Pamplemousse LaCroix were among the many items at hand. USB outlets were available beside the leather seats for easy charging access.
DiNapoli was impressed with his first time flying private. “Overall, riding on this airline is like taking a car in the air. It’s very comfortable feeling. It’s cozy and very convenient. I didn’t have to wait to get on and don’t have to wait to get off,” he said.
“For me the convenience is the biggest thing,” said Alan. “This is a great product.”
By comparison, a return commercial flight from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Pittsburgh International offered a decidedly different experience. A car service through New York traffic and construction at the airport arrived at 10:50 a.m. for a 12:47 p.m. flight. Then came TSA security screening, a flight delay, gate changes and, finally, a 1:12 p.m. departure. (It landed in Pittsburgh at 2:56 p.m.) The commercial flight cost $554.30. Fly Louie’s cost $537.
“I flew 80 percent of FlyLouie’s flights this past summer,” said Ireland. (Fly Louie offers seasonal service between New York and Nantucket from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend.) His biggest takeaways were the company’s “safety record” and “quickness.”
There is no doubt FlyLouie provides “convenience,” but most impressive may be the customer service, said Alan. On the morning of his flight from Pittsburgh, the clothier arrived at the airport and was uncertain which hanger to go to. He called 1-833-FLY-LOUIE. Takeda answered and walked him through where to go.
“To me that’s what startup mode is,” having the CEO be the customer service hotline, said Alan. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.