The company was founded by Don Burr, and several others, who resigned from Frank Lorenzo's Texas International in order to do so. Burr was influenced by British airline entrepreneur Freddie Laker, whose forays into low-cost air travel attracted much press in the 1970s. Terminal space was leased at Newark Airport's North Terminal. The North Terminal was the primary passenger building at the airport until 1974 when Terminal A opened. Prior to People Express, the North Terminal was used by World Airways, and prior to the opening of Terminal C, North Terminal was used for international arrivals.
People Express was launched on April 30, 1981 with Boeing 737 flights from Newark to Buffalo, Columbus and Norfolk; Jacksonville and Cleveland Hopkins were added a month later. In December PE had 42 weekday departures from EWR to Baltimore/Washington, Boston Logan, Burlington, Buffalo Niagara, Port Columbus, Jacksonville, Norfolk, Sarasota-Bradenton, Syracuse Hancock and Palm Beach plus some flights around the periphery of the hub-and-spokes.
The airline used a simplified fare structure. All seats on a route were offered at the same price except for slightly-lower "off-peak" fares. All seats were in economy class except for "Premium Class" on Boeing 747 flights which featured two class service. Fares were paid in cash aboard the aircraft early in the flight. Passengers were permitted to bring one carry-on bag for free and each checked bag cost $3.00. People Express was the first United States airline to charge a fee for each checked bag. People Express also charged modest amounts for customers wanting food or beverages. Sodas cost 50¢ per can, beer cost $1 per can, honey-roasted peanuts and Rachel's brownies were also 50¢, and the People Express "snak-pak" (an assortment of cheeses, crackers, and salami) cost $2.
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