The Rise of Low Cost Carriers

Ever since the mid 90’s the UK aviation market has undergone a rapid transformation.

No longer are we restricted to the monopoly of the legacy carriers (think British Airways BA), now we have a much wider choice. This all came about with the introduction of the “Low Cost Carrier” or LCC as they are known.

Although new in Europe the concept of the low cost airline was not new, and the original and still the largest is South West airlines in the US.

During the 90’s for one reason or another the UK and Europe as a whole saw a massive start up of such LCC’s. Every year several new companies were formed and tried to compete. Early starters included, Easyjet, Ryan Air, GO, FlyBe and Niki Air.

As with any start up industry, not all the early pioneers survived very long, some outright failed, some bought out by the larger carriers and the some merged to stay afloat.

Now in Europe the industry is dominated by only and handful of low cost carriers. Easyjet and Ryan air are the 2 dominant carriers, and are arguably now the two largest airlines (by passenger number) in Europe. Not a bad rise for 2 companies barely 30 years old.

A low-cost carrier or low-cost airline is an airline without most of the traditional services provided in the fare, resulting in lower fares and fewer comforts

So what exactly do you forgo to get these cheaper fares? Well for a start and to defy some myth’s, you do not forgo any safety standards. All airlines operating in European air space are bound by the exact same legal standards and minimum safety standards.

But you do forgo some of the luxuries associated with the more expensive and full service carriers. So here are just a few of things you will give up in the name of travel:-

  • Space  – one of the main ways these carriers keep cost per seat down is squeezing the maximum number of seats on the plane. This means less leg room per pax.
  • Comfort – Another way to keep costs down is to use basic seats with minimal padding. Less weight means less fuel and cheaper fares
  • Food and Snacks – No free sandwich and drinks onboard here, you will be charged extra for food and drink. But as most LCC operate shorthaul flights this should not be a problem
  • Secondary airports – Another way airlines can cut costs is to fly to cheaper “secondary” airports. These may be a little further from you ultimate destination.
  • Check-in staff – Encouraging passengers to check in online a print their own boarding passes, also helps to keep costs at a minimum.
  • Baggage – The basic ticket prices will most likely not included checked in baggage, this will be an optional extra. That you will have to pay extra for.

So you maybe wondering after all of what you miss out, why on earth has this business model gone on to dominate the market?

Well it turns out if you look at the model the other way around, and instead of looking at what you miss out on, you look at what services you are “forced” to pay for with the more traditional carriers.

Imagine if you were told the ticket price for your flight is £29.99, but you have to also buy the following items: Comfy Seat £9.99, Baggage £30, Snack and Drink £5, Check in at airport £12, extra leg room £20.

All of a sudden your ticket price is over £100, but your thinking, I always check in online, ill eat before i fly and i only have hand luggage – Why am I paying for all this stuff, I don’t want it and I don’t need it. Makes sense now doesn’t it.

So these airlines now make a lot of sense and the best part is it allows us all to travel more and see more of the world. For me this is one of the biggest leaps forward in personal travel ever.

I love the low cost carrier business model. At the time of writing there are a few companies trying to perfect this model for the longer range flights, Norwegian Air for example is heavily pushing low cost flights to the US from several European cities.

I certainly can’t wait for this to develop and a few companies to enter the market and more destinations to be served. Then the world really will be opened up for all to see