I’ve been traveling literally since I’ve been born, was ripping up Europe unsupervised by high school, backpacking around the world for a year and wintering in South America in my 20s, and decided to move abroad permanently by the time I was in my late 30s. Through it all, I’ve taken hundreds of flights – and that very well could be approaching 1,000 or more before my globe-trotting days are numbered.
And with all of it, I still don’t know a hot damn thing about how the airlines work. I mean, on paper, it doesn’t add up. Some of the big carriers charge like $1,000 roundtrip just to fly from Orlando to Denver or San Francisco to Atlanta, for example, complete with shitty service, frequent add-on fees, and bad attitudes. However, some of the discount airlines like JetBlue, Southwest, and Easyjetstill operate seemingly efficiently, thriving with routes all over the country for less than $100.
The same is true in most of the world, where discount airlines save the day. Even here in Asia, some local airlines like CebuPacific can be so obscenely cheap that I flew for $11 once (the airport taxes and fees were more than the ticket).
So what gives? How do discount airlines operate, get a leg up on the big carriers, and still stay in business?
I came across a cool infographic recently that breaks down a few facts about LFAs (Low Fair Airlines. This information seems to focus on European companies like Easyjet, Aer Lingus , and Ryanair , but they do feature Southwest, too, and I’m sure the info is universal to discount carriers anywhere.
First, let’s look at the average fare of these low-cost airlines:
Aer Lingus $94
Now, let’s compare that to the average fare of bigger and better-known carriers in Europe:
Air France $267
British Airways $324
So how do they do it?
Have higher seat density for the same plane. For instance, a 737-300 with these airlines packs in 148 seats in a single-class cabin compared to 128 seats for the major airlines.
The LFAs have a faster turnaround time between flights (and an average of only 25 minutes compared to 45 minutes for major airlines) which allows them to fly more – and make up for lower seat prices.
The LFAs also fly out of smaller airports (that charge the airlines much less) and offer more direct flights with short routes, so they eliminate the need for expensive transfers.
They also sell a much larger proportion of their tickets directly, often via their websites, with no need to pay a third-party travel agency or booking site. For instance, Easyjet tickers are booked 95% online on that airline’s website.)
The smaller discount airlines also usually offer a no-frills ticket, so meals, entertainment, baggage, lounges, paper tickets etc. aren’t a cost they have to absorb, but can still charge us for.
Airlines like Southwest and other low-cost carriers also typically maintain a standard fleet with only one kind of airline, so they don’t have to pay more to buy, maintain, clean, and fix various aircraft.
The reality is that the LFAs also have WAY fewer employees, although it may not seem like that because they make the most of them. In fact, EasyJet has an employee-to-passenger ratio of 1-6,772 and Ryanair’s ratio is 1-to-9,679! However, British Airways has 735 passengers for every employee and Air France, 715-to-1.
Add it all up, and the discount airlines save you about 43% less per ticket – well worth it!