Object of the Week

This Is Secretly the Perfect Time to Launch a New Airline

After more than a year of travel being ground to a halt, timing is everything

Rob Walker
Published in
4 min readMar 18, 2021
Photo illustration: Save As/Medium; Source: Breeze Airways

Object of the Week is a column exploring the objects a culture obsesses over and what that reveals about us.

A year deep into a deadly pandemic that crippled the travel industry — U.S. passenger traffic is down by half — does not sound like the best time for a startup airline to take delivery of 60 brand-new planes.

But maybe that assumption is wrong. Maybe, in fact, a few dozen crisp new jets, painted in snazzy metallic blues, are a perfect physical symbol for a category that seems, surprisingly, poised to take off again.

The soon-to-launch airline is called Breeze Airways, a budget carrier based in Salt Lake City and founded by David Neeleman, an industry vet famous for launching then-innovator JetBlue more than two decades ago. Breeze has been in the works since 2018, and was still code-named Moxy when it announced two years ago that it had ordered a batch of Airbus A220 aircraft. By February of 2020, the total order was pegged at 60 planes, to be delivered in a little over a year.

Of course, it was just a few weeks later that the world went on shutdown in response to the spread of Covid-19, and air travel ground to a near standstill. Existing carriers lobbied for — and received — what would eventually turn into about $50 billion in government grants to stay afloat without massive layoffs. Breeze, which had planned a mid-2020 launch (using a number of older Embraer E195 jets subleased from Brazil’s Azul airline), postponed its plans, disclosing few details.

But this week the New York Times reported that Breeze will announce its routes and start date in the next month or so — and has already taken delivery of its first new A220s. By chance or by design, that’s happening at the precise moment when air-travel optimism has been soaring again, at least on…