Ride along on Avelo’s inaugural Florida flight from Tweed New Haven

They were traveling with their 9-year-old twins, Robert Jr. and Raquel.

“It’s great” to have inexpensive flights to New Haven, said Mazza, who was heading back this time to go to her niece’s funeral. But they both still have family in Connecticut, love to visit often and were pleasantly surprised to learn they now have an inexpensive option so close to where they want to go, she said.

Before COVID, they were flying back, mostly into New York, every four or five months.

But with the new Avelo service, Levy hopes to be able to return more often, perhaps even just “to go see some Yankees games,” he said.

This reporter, who was on the flight, can’t report how the flights affected or were received by neighbors on the ground.

But the plane — a refurbished-like-new, purple-and-white Boeing Next Generation 737-700 with navy blue leather seats and a “Spirit of the Havens” logo on the outside of the cockpit — took off and landed on time and without any apparent hitches in both directions.

And it’s a roomy, full-sized plane of a type that hasn’t been seen for passenger service at Tweed since United Airlines stopped flying to Chicago in 1996. Booking are available at www.aveloair.com.

Getting through TSA security was quick — much quicker than the New York, Boston or Providence airports and even quicker than Bradley International Airport — and the reward just beyond security, the new, very local G Cafe outlet, which offers what has to be some of the best baked goods of any airport in the U.S., is a home run.

After taking off following a bunch of speeches, a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a firetruck water cannon salute as it taxied onto the runway in Morris Cove, the inaugural flight landed to a similar water cannon salute, three much briefer speeches and another ribbon snip at Orlando International Airport.

On board, there were no meals or flavored, hot or distilled beverages available — and Avelo has no plans to provide them in the future — but the free sugar cookies and mini bottles of water were a nice touch for a budget airline. Avelo spokesman Jim Olson said the free water and cookies werenot just an introductory thing, and while the cookies are being phased out on the West Coast six months after the company’s launch there, the water will remain.

There was no Wi-Fi, which could be a deal-breaker for some prospective passengers who have a need to always be connected. Olson said there is no Wi-Fi currently available on Avelo aircraft on either coast and “no immediate plans to add” it, “given the short length of our flights and focus on leisure travel vs. business.” The New Haven to Orlando flight was listed as 2 hours, 55 minutes.

There was no first-class cabin, leaving the front bathroom enticingly accessible.

The passengers, all masked, seemed happy and comfortable both on the flight to Orlando, which Olson said was 90 percent full, and the flight back, which appeared to be about half-full.

Another reason to be happy: introductory fareswere as low as $59 each way on these inaugural flights and will be as low as $49 each way as Avelo rolls out additional routes to Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Fort Myers, Palm Beach and Sarasota-Bradenton in the days and weeks to come.

The passengers on the inaugural flights were there for various reasons.

Guilford First Selectman Matt Hoey, a member of the Tweed New Haven Airport Authority, just wanted to experience it — although he said he already had reservations to fly Avelo to Fort Myers over the New Year’s holiday.

“I was thrilled to be on the first flight ,” Hoey said. He said he loves that Greater New Haven residents now have “the ability to be in Orlando two-and-a-half hours after leaving New Haven.”

On his first two Avelo flights, “There didn’t appear to be any hiccups,” Hoey said. “The check-in was smooth. There didn’t appear to be any problems. I thought they did a terrific job.

Ride along on Avelo’s inaugural Florida flight from Tweed New Haven

“These people have a lot of experience in the airline industry. They know what works and what doesn’t work,” he said. “I was thrilled just to be part of it.”

Kevin Hawk, a Washington, D.C., high school student with an interest in aviation, wants to ride on every inaugural flight he can. He previously rode the first Breeze Airways flight from Tampa to Charlotte and the first JetBlue flight from Boston to Tampa on a new aircraft.

“I just find it fascinating to be on these inaugural flights,” said Hawk, 16, who is training to get a pilot license and hopes to get a job in aviation someday.

Hawk was by no means the only “aviation geek” on the inaugural flight.

Several others came from as far as San Diego, Missouri, New Jersey and Long Island to ride the first East Coast Avelo flight — and they all found things to interest them and their many tens of thousands of YouTube subscribers.

“Flights are a lot cheaper than they were when American was here,” said Emiliano Padilla, who flew in from San Diego and has nearly 35,000 subcribers to his aviation-related YouTube channel.

Bryce Rea, an aircraft rescue firefighter by trade who came in from Joplin, Mo. — and has 42,400 YouTube subscribers — called the latest chapter at Tweed “unique” in that it was “a new airline, new service.”

Tweed also is a traditionally underserved airport that recently lost its only service. American Airlines discontinued its service to Philadelphia, which had been Tweed’s only commercial service, at the end of September.

While some of the passengers only flew one-way on Avelo so they could get back to where they came from from Orlando, aviation video blogger Quintin Soloviev of Easthampton, N.Y. — who works most days as a plumber and said has nearly 60,000 YouTube subscribers — came back to New Haven.

University of New Haven professor of brand marketing Angeli Gianchandani brought four of her students — who got to meet and talk to Avelo founder, CEO and President Andrew Levy and other officials, as well as Jorge Roberts, CEO of Avports LLC, the company that manages Tweed and is financing a $100 million improvement plan that includes a longer runway and a new terminal on the East Haven side.

Gianchandani said it was exciting because Levy “has created an all-new brand,” she said.

“We’re here because UNH and Avelo are going to be partnering,” Gianchandani said. Avelo will be supporting UNH’s athletic department and UNH will prepare students for Avelo internships and post-graduate opportunities, she said.

UNH board member Mike Quiello, a New Haven native and former Marine pilot who is responsible for safety, security and operational excellence for Avelo, helped to create the partnership. Quiello, who grew up on Wooster Street and previously worked for United Airlines, now lives in Atlanta, he said.

New Avelo Flight Attendant Doree MacDougall of East Haven — who, like lead Flight Attendant Kim Howard, who lives steps from the airport in Morris Cove, is a former LPN nurse — made the switch to her new job after 40 years as a nurse.

“I alway wanted to be a flight attendant,” said McDougall, who lives 41/2 minutes from Tweed off Cosey Beach Avenue and was excited to be working her first flights for Avelo.

MacDougall remembers flying to Florida from Tweed via Philadelphia years ago, and recalled “it was expensive.”

Also on the plane was Avports President and CEO Jorge Roberts, who said he was pleased to see Avelo’s New Haven service “go from planning and economic studies to reality.”

At this point, “the bookings are solid, the enthusiasm is there,” he said.

During the plane’s half-hour or so on the ground in Orlando, Levy, Greater Orlando Aviation Authority CEO Phil Brown and authority Marketing & Air Service Development Senior Director Victoria Jaramillo held a second ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Brown said the Avelo services “opens up Southern Connecticut but it’s also easy access from New York City ... I think what makes this most important is, you have an inexpensive way to fly from New York City and Southern Connecticut” to Orlando.