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Little Difference Between Legacy and Low-Cost Carriers

 

 
Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Delta or AirTran? Southwest or American? Anybody in New York versus JetBlue? What is it that separates the legacy network from the low-fare carriers?

The airline terms “legacy carrier” and “low cost carrier” could soon become legacies themselves – anachronisms from a time before 2013 when there were differences between the two business models.
The blurring between discount airlines and legacy carriers began with 9/11 and continued through a period of rising oil prices and the 2008 recession.
It was actually a pretty good decade for the discounters, and if you were running one of the legacy airlines, you figured out it pays to be more like them.
But their first attempts failed as the big airlines created their own versions of discounters – remember United’s Ted and Delta’s Song? Then they copied the original product by slashing amenities in favor of fees and even more closely aligning airfare prices.  
On-board, too, legacy carriers are looking less fancy. Complimentary in-flight food in economy class was banned a long time ago, as was in-flight magazines to save weight. Then fees for seat reservations, and still more for a window berth.
Here are the things you used to get for free on the legacy airlines, but no more:
  • Checked-bags (JetBlue and Southwest still offer free checked bags)
  • Meals in coach
  • Blankets and pillows
  • Extra legroom such as exit seat rows
  • Reservations made over the phone
  • Change fees (Southwest does not charge a change fee)
Gap in Airfare Prices Also Narrows
Another legacy/low-cost airline difference that’s disappearing: the wide gap in ticket prices.
Last week we looked at round trip airfares from Los Angeles to Denver for the same dates in May, and here’s what we found:
  • Frontier – non-stop: $210
  • American – non-stop: $210
  • United – non-stop: $217
  • Alaska – non-stop: $262
As you can see, the above prices run counter to conventional wisdom that the discounters always have the cheaper prices.
Tips to Finding Cheap Flights in Changing World
* Shop Tuesdays: Traditionally, airfare sales are launched early Tuesday and by about 3 p.m. eastern time.
* Fly in and out of large airports: Hub airports have more flights and are generally cheaper.
* Compare non-stops to connecting flights: In most cases, you pay a premium of between 20-60% for a non-stop flight – only you can say if the convenience is worth it.
* Be flexible: Often the cheapest flights are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and sometimes dirt cheap fares are available on overnight flights or at dawn. If you are flexible enough to take advantage of these deals, you can save big.
So, What Can Save the Airlines? Customer Service
And not just the obvious basics: the ability to speak to a human being when travel plans go awry. We’re talking about the growing list of experience-driven extras.
Travelers will be more inclined to pay for in-flight and at-gate services like Wi-Fi, drinks and meals, gaming and access to onboard shopping portals if these services are delivered in a friendly and efficient, explanatory manner.

>Read more: The Economist

‘McPassengers’ to be offered extra-wide seats
Airplane manufacturers are making seats for overweight passengers who are too big to comfortably fit in normal sized seats.
Airbus is offering airlines the option of installing extra-wide seats on A320 jets to cope with what it describes as ‘trends in demographics’.
The extra-wide seats will measure 20 inches across instead of the standard 18 inches, and will likely be installed only as aisle seats.
Window and middle seats will each lose an inch of width to generate the extra space to accommodate larger passengers.
Airbus is selling the idea as an innovative way to ‘meet passenger needs’ – even though two-thirds of passengers will have to make do with less space.
Last week we wrote about Samoa Air becoming the world’s first airline to institute a ‘pay-by-weight’ system, where the weight of a passenger and their luggage determines fare price.
Even If You’re Not A Celebrity, You Can Pay To Be Treated Like One At The Airport
Times used to be, breezing through airport security in front of everyone else and skipping lines during the boarding process was just for the wealthy and celebrities.
But then airlines started granting fast-track access to anybody with the right credit card or who was willing to shell out a few extra dollars.  Since regular people are bypassing lines in security and buying up priority boarding access, airlines are trying to woo their true VIPs with elite experiences that can make a passenger feel like a celebrity, without having to actually be famous.
It’s important to keep them happy, as in many cases a large chunk of revenue comes from the smallest set of passengers.
In one example of these super elite systems, American Airlines built a private check-in lobby in LAX where the special people are greeted by name, handed a preprinted boarding pass, and then brought to the front of the security line via elevator.
After getting through security, VIPs aren’t left to fend for themselves in crowded terminals, with lounges-within-a-lounge, like Delta’s Sky Club in New York.
American is even reconfiguring jet bridges to have the coach passengers board through the middle door on some planes, so not to traipse through first class on its transcontinental flights.
American’s Five Star Service costs between $125 and $275 for the first passenger, depending on the airport. Each additional adult is $75; children are $50 extra. Delta’s VIP Select, only available through the airline’s corporate sales department or travel agents in the know, costs $125 for the first person, $75 for the second and $125 for each additional person, regardless of age. These fees are in addition to the price of a ticket.
The Ultimate List of Airlines That Serve Free Alcohol

As the airlines nickel-and-dime us for everything, we were surprised to learn that some airlines actually serve free alcoholic beverages onboard — and not just to first class passengers.
If you’re back in coach, there’s no reason you can’t have a glass of wine with your dinner.
Thanks to the website Maphappy, you can find a complete list of airlines that serve complimentary cocktails.
Clarification
Last week we wrote about the recent denial of review by the US Supreme Court which should clear the way for the DOT to issue its long delayed rule requiring timely disclosure of hidden fees.  Here is the link to that decision.

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Final Word
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