How Low Cost Airlines Do It?

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Easy Jet

It is hard to give a straight answer to the question, how budget airlines offer low airfares compared to the so called full service airlines.

There are several common ways that budget airlines use to lower airfare prices. These ways target the operating cost of the airline or how much money the airline spends conducting its business. The lower the operating cost, the lower the ticket price. It is not that the airline will earn less profit when selling tickets for less.

In this article, we will try to look at the most common ways budget airlines use to get you on their low cost flights. There are low cost carriers in every continental region which proves this business model is very successful regardless of the demographic or geographic conditions.

Budget airlines first appeared in Europe, and to this day, they’ve remained most successful in Europe. We will take a look at the European budget airlines to dig deep into their secrets.

Have you seen the airfare prices to selected cities in Europe on some of these budget airlines like easyJet and Ryanair? You could definitely fly for 10, 20, 30 or 50 euros almost anywhere in Europe. European low cost airlines are so successful and big that they can offer prices that are half or even one third of the price for the same destination on a full service airline. For example, if you fly from Sofia, Bulgaria to Berlin, Germany on a full service airline such as SAS or Alitalia you have to pay about $250 departing in mid-December. Ryanair, however, offers the flight via its website for $134. So how do they do it?

As we’ve said one of the most essential tactic is by reducing the operating cost anywhere and everywhere possible. By having a lower operating cost, the airline can offer airfare for less.

New airplanes and fuel cost

Law cost airlines acquire or purchase newer planes in quantities that would allow them to bargain a sale price for bulk airplane orders. Lower cost on new planes mean less payments every month for the airline. New aircraft incorporate not only the latest technology in the industry but most importantly, they are much more fuel efficient then older planes. Even though fuel efficiency is important to any airline, in the case of budget airlines, they can save tons of money on fuel, and that is a major off-set expense when it comes to the flight cost per passenger. This is also the reason law cost airlines tend to have younger fleet then full service airline.

Flying the same type of aircraft

Have you noticed that budget airlines operate typically one type of aircraft? WOW air, for example, operates the Airbus A320 and A330 family as well as EasyJet, while Ryanair operates the Being 737 family.

The one type of aircraft model allows for relatively easy training on pilots, on-board crew members, ground crew, maintenance, and airport staff. The airline staff has to be trained on only one type of aircraft which in turn saves significant amount of money and time for the airline.

On-board comfort and amenities

Budget airlines aim at the common folk passenger who might mot be able to afford to travel with full service airlines, or who doesn’t mind the lack of on-board amenities be it complimentary or at a fee.

Budget aircraft have one type or class of cabin, typically economy, so no need for expensive boarding managements systems – everything becomes streamlined.

Don’t be surprised if your seat feels cramped, it doesn’t have a comfortable head rest, arm rest, or the seat is not reclining. Non reclining seats require less maintenance. Often, the space between the seat in front of you will feel tight. The more seats in the cabin, the more paying customers on board.

Seats in some airlines lack seatback pockets. With no seatback pockets there will be less time needed for the on-board crew to turn around the plane after passengers deplane as they don’t have to pick up as much trash or check seatback pockets.

On board Food and Beverage service is almost never free. It is in fact one of the biggest money making tools for the airlines, and especially so for the budget once. In fact, some airline will offer lottery tickets or other merchandise making flights look like street markets.

Cutting corners on staff

On-board crew often will have to perform multiple tasks. For example, flight attendants will be asked to clean the cabin instead of having a cleaning crew to come on board after passengers deplane. The cleaning process comes down to picking up visible trash, but anything smaller then that, it remains. Passengers have sent us photos of unsanitary cabin after they get on-board on budget airlines.

Flight attendants may also be ask to assist ground crew with boarding at the gates. So think about it! No cleaning crew and no need to staff for extra people to assist during boarding. By cutting staff and positions, the airlines can save money.

A few weeks ago our staff reported that on a Southwest airlines (one of the biggest budget airlines in the USA) after the plane arrived at the gate one of the pilots walked out the cockpit, took a trash bag and started to clean up trash along with the flight attendants while the passengers were still deplaning.

The time budget airlines set for an aircraft to get ready for the next flight is often no more then 30 min. Within this time frame, passengers have to deplane, bags have to be offloaded and the new bags have to make in the belly of the plane, the on-board crew quickly has to clean up the cabin and make necessary preparations to welcome the next passengers.

The longer the plane is on the ground, the more money it looses since passengers do not pay for the plain to sit at the airport but to fly.

The Airports

Low cost airlines often will fly to smaller, regional airports. They avoid the big, major airport hubs like Heathrow or Frankfurt, for example, as these airports are expensive; from gate fees, landing fees to passenger fees.

Ryanair, for example, flies to Gatwick, Luton, and Stansted airports which are London’s smaller regional airports.
One or a few budget airlines can dominate such small airports. They can be the only airlines flying out of these small airport.

Low cost airlines can dictate and negotiate on what best terms to use the small airports including landing and take-off fees. What if the airport doesn’t agree? The airline or airlines may leave and this airport will not have any major business or even has to close.

Certainly, low cost airlines can fly to bugger airports but would do it at less busy times and when delays are much less likely to occur.

Flying point to point

One plane for a single day will service multiple destinations continuously as keeping the time spent on the ground to the bear minimum and stay in the air as much as possible. It is very much like a bus in the sky which makes stops at different destinations.

If a delay accrues at any one destination, all consequent scheduled stops inevitably have to be delayed or even cancelled. In such circumstances full service airlines will try to provide a replacements aircraft while budget airlines won’t.

Full service airlines operate flights via their hub airports. So if you want to fly from point A to B on a full service airline, most likely you have to connect via that airline hub airport. To the contrary, law cost airlines will try fly you directly. However, the airlines may not have regular service to certain destinations and may only fly 2 or 3 times a week, and even cancel flights if there aren’t enough passengers. The demand will dictate the supply.

Getting on-board

The budget airline Southwest in the USA adopts the model of not offering reserve seating, so everyone is free to choose whatever seat while boarding. In theory by not assigning a seat the airline believes that the passengers will board the plane quicker. Yeah, it is all about the less time the aircraft needs to spend on the ground.

The Customer service

Some budget airlines would not allow for connecting flights because it adds cost for ground crews to transfer bags, requires creating more sophisticated booking systems, and most importantly, the airline has pay for passengers in case of missed flights due to delays or cancellations which will again add operating cost.

Law cost airlines tend to hire less experience crew members so they can pay them less. It is not that the crew misses training on safety but rather has less experience and can be paid less then average.

With some airlines bringing a checking-in bags or trying to print your boarding pass at the airport can spell problems or at least incur additional fees. An airline may charge you an airport check-in fee, if you haven’t printed your boarding pass prior to arriving for your flight. Check-in at the airport is handled by electronic kiosks, and often there is no one you can talk to if you have a question. This is yet another way of saving operating cost.

Forget about the jet-bridge at the airport – it costs money. Expect to be shuttled to you aircraft by bus and walk the steps up to the cabin.

These are some of the most common ways budget airlines use. Now you can judge for yourself how worth is every dollar you spend on a budget airfare. Consider, that you may be paying less at the outset of things, but additional fees for check-in at the airport, for printing your boarding pass at the airport, for food and drinks on board, and so on can add up to your ticket.

Counting on on-time arrival and departure of law cost airlines is questionable. Expect flights to be delayed or cancelled beyond the reasons of bad weather.

What we recommend? Be informed before your flight! Get to know the policies of any airline you travel, especially the budget airlines. Read the fine print. Certain restrictions, conditions, and fees may apply.

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Ian Powers is a travel blogger and nature enthusiast. Ian has over 20 years of aviation travel experience.

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