Former United Airlines partner ExpressJet files for bankruptcy

Airline rebranded itself as Aha! after losing United partnership

ExpressJet, the parent of Aha! Airlines, has filed for bankruptcy to liquidate assets. The filing comes less than two weeks after the carrier announced a new nonstop flight.

The airline said: "Customers should contact their credit card company for a refund on tickets purchased for travel after August 23. Unfortunately, we are unable to assist with alternative travel arrangements."

Aha!, short for "Air-Hotel-Adventure," said it ceased all flight operations Monday due to market and economic conditions. The company laid off a majority of its employees and is in the process of returning its four planes to lessors.

"After considering all available strategic options, ExpressJet, in consultation with its professional advisors, determined that the best course to preserve and maximize the value of the Debtor’s enterprises is through a liquidation in Chapter 11," President John Greenlee said in a court document.

ExpressJet had been a regional carrier for United Airlines, using planes subleased from the bigger airline, until United canceled the contract in July 2020. ExpressJet stopped flight operations in September 2020.

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The carrier then rebranded itself as Aha!, resuming flights in October 2021. It transformed itself into an ad-hoc air charter provider and scheduled commercial airline based at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

Aha! flew to 10 cities throughout California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, with nonstop connections between Reno-Tahoe and destinations including Fresno/Yosemite, Ontario/Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Santa Rosa/Napa Valley, Spokane and Bend/Redmond.

The airline had difficulty scaling operations to spread overhead costs over revenues earned; lower revenue projections as a result of depressed travel demand during periods of new COVID-19 variants; and inflationary pressures, including a 50%-100% increase in fuel costs.

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ExpressJet earned $926,000 in 2021 as a standalone carrier compared to $190.7 million as a United affiliate in 2020. The airline estimated it earned $5.5 million in revenue from January to July 2022 compared to expenses of $23.3 million.