General information on low cost airlines
Low cost airlines and their fares deeply changed the flight sector. A low cost (or no frills, or low fares) is an airline company that offers flights at very competitive prices (Cheap Flights) by not offering or by selling most of passenger services (like on-board meals, seats bookings, etc.). Cheap flights were born in USA in 1971 with Southwest Airlines, and started spreading in Europe at the beginning of the ’90s with Ireland’s Ryanair.
Statistics and history in brief
To point out the strong growth of low cost flights we will show a few stats: in 1994 about 3 million passengers flew low cost, most of them with Ryanair, and in 1995 they reached 17,5 million.
In 1995 British Airways founded their cheap flights division named Go, operating from London Stanstead airport in 1998. The same year Go started operating form London Luton as well. In the year 2000, Go was sold to EasyJet.com with an operational loss of over 21 million Pounds. In 2000 KLM also entered the low cost world with Buzz, which was bought over by Ryanair in 2003 with very high losses. Currently EasyJet.com and Ryanair are among the most successful European low cost airlines, and operate over several hundred routes.
Today’s market situation sees a strong and constant growth of the cheap flights sector, new routes being opened every day by all main airlines, In the future a strong growth of low cost companies it is foreseen also in the long range flights segments.
Why low cost flights are such
Low cost airlines are very flexible and efficient organizations with a cost structure that is very different from the one of traditional airlines. Cutting many costs allows them to offer very competitive prices.
Costs are optimized mainly in the following areas:
– Tickets sales are direct, Internet being the main channel. By shortening the intermediation chain, costs can be deeply reduced.
– Smaller and cheaper airports are used, that are also less jammed by traffic.
– On-board services and crews. No meals are served. Fewer crew members are used, and airplanes need less cleaning.
– Full usage of aircraft capacity. Airplanes always fly full charge and fly more often to amortize costs. They have faster load/download times (25/35 minutes vs. 2 hours of traditional companies).
– Newer and all equal aircraft. Low cost companies fleets are made all of the same make of planes, all new ones and easy to service, in order to have them all at maximum efficiency.
Characteristics of low cost companies
To operate cheap flights, airlines must have specific characteristics to allow them to keep prices as low as possible. The basic ones are:
– A single passenger class, with free choice of the seating place.
– A single airplane make (in order to optimize service costs), such as Airbus A320s or Boeing 737s (for instance: Ryanair uses Boeing 737 series, EasyJet favors both Boeing 737s and Airbus A319s).
– Airplanes have more seats (for instance, Lufthansa’s Boeing 737s carry 132 passengers, EasyJet’s ones carry 148).
– Lower weight allowance for both hand carried and stored luggage.
– No free meals or beverages are served on board, but they are available to buy.
– Crew members fulfill multiple tasks (mainly stewardesses and stewards).
– Intensive use of airfleets. For instance, EasyJet flies an average of 10.7 hours a day, while British Airways flies 7.1 hours. Airport stops are shorter (with a faster turnover, usually 25 minutes between flights), and flights are shorter too.
– Connections are made using convenient secondary airfields, often far away from town centers, without slot restrictions, little air traffic and lower airstrip fares.
– Straight peer-to-peer connections without luggage transfers to other coincident flights (separate check-in and check-out), no coordinate flight plans with other airlines.
– Expenditure savings trough direct ticket sales, especially trough the Internet and outsourced call centers, automated check-ins and, occasionally service fees.
– Certain offers (as low as 0.99?) are only valid for in-advance bookings or are limited offers, for a relatively low number of seats.
– Lean management (savings on staff). For instance, Germanwings in Cologne employs no more than 50 people.
It isn’t easy to be low cost: flops
There were new low cost companies that flew only a few months, or even only a few days, like Ireland’s JetGreen Airways, that stopped all activities in May 2004 after only one week without paying back about 40.000 already sold tickets.
– V Bird flew from October 23, 2003 to October 8, 2004 from Düsseldorf.
– VolareWeb, low cost daughter of Italy’s Volare went bankrupt on November 23, 2004. On October 30, 2004 they stopped at once their flights between Germany and Italy. In June 2005 they started to fly again, mainly to domestic destinations and a few European ones.
Several more or less known flops were: Minerva, Gandalf, Azzurra, Air Sicilia, ItalAir, Air Libertè.
When to book
It is usually better to book your cheap flights in large advance, at least 15 days before leaving. Better offers are for departures from Mondays to Thursdays: Better to avoid leaving on week ends. Always buy return tickets and be ready to take off at unusual times (early mornings or late evenings).
Canceling or modifying bookings
Before booking read thoroughly the company’s regulations about cancelling or modifying bookings! Usually cheap flights tickets not used on the booked flight are not payed back as recession rights for long distance travel do not apply to this kind of sales. About changing departure dates, every company have different regulations, which you better always check on the company’s site. Usually changing dates is not convenient. It is better to loose your old ticket and buy a new one.
How to pay
To shorten intermediation chains, thus offering competitive prices, low cost airlines use favor Internet and call canters (these may apply a small overcharge). Therefore be ready to pay via credit card (payments are secure, to verify be sure that Internet addresses change form http: to https:).
Cheap Flights Confirmation and check in
If you book on line, you will receive a confirmation mail at the e-mail address you specified. For telephone bookings at a call center, you will receive confirmation via fax, e-mail or, eventually by regular mail. In the last case, certain companies ask for a small overcharge if sending via messenger mail. If you are e-booking, that means if you buy your ticker on line, you receive confirmation via e-mail. It is enough to print it out and to show it at the booking counter at the airport.
Secure on line payments
On line payments are preferred by low cost airlines. To guarantee discretion in data transfer on the web, credit cards use the most advanced SSL (Secure Socket Layer) technology. When paying, if your browser uses SSL you just select Protected Mode and your data will be protected. If the browser has limitations, you can use Unprotected Mode. We recommend to get hold of the latest version to be able to carry out without problems all transactions.
Watch out for taxes and extras
Unfortunately, in offers of may low cost airlines there is a not yet regulated very bad habit of give only a partial price, not including overcharges and extras. So don’t be fooled by offers at 0.01 cents, always calculate global prices including taxes, overcharges and fuel costs. Sometimes there are huge differences in price.
Get organized for transportation
Low cost companies usually fly from secondary airfields that can be very far from final destinations (there are almost 70 miles from Stanstead to London), so make sure you know your way out (costs, timings and transportation time) and get organized to reach your destination.
Luggage transport is another point to pay attention to when flying low cost to avoid spending more on extra allowances than on tickets. Extra payload is usually very expensive and companies are very strict about it. So pay extreme attention to luggage overweight regulations and “weigh well” your suitcases.
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