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Flying cheap: 7 principles of low-cost airlines

Budget airlines carried more than a billion passengers in 2016, a first that helped the industry handle higher demand.

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Flying cheap: 7 principles of low-cost airlines

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Budget airlines carried more than a billion passengers in 2016, a first that helped the industry handle higher demand. More passengers are opting for the cheapest possible fares at the expense of traditional airliners. While full-service airlines are struggling to boost profits, how are low-cost carriers meeting demand and increasing profit while maintaining the lowest fare prices possible? Here are seven popular practices of low-cost carriers.

1. Fees, fees, fees
It’s no secret that since budget airline fares are so cheap and offer so few amenities, that these carriers add fees for anything and everything extra. Ryanair famously made headlines when their CEO Michael O’Leary claimed they intended to charge to use the in-flight bathooms and remove lavatories on some planes to make room for more seats. While that never came to fruition, they do charge a €20 per one-way infant fee. Checked bag fees are standard operating procedure, €10 to €50 on EasyJet or Ryanair depending on the weight and if you check them in online or not, though some low-cost carriers allow one free. The fees increase if you check the bag in at the desk opposed to online and substantially increase for overweight or oversized luggage. Want to reserve a specific seat or extra legroom? That will cost you anywhere from €2 to €20 on easyJet or Ryanair. Bring your own refreshments, in-flight entertainment, or other amenities like blankets and earplugs or be prepared to pay inflated prices.

2. Avoiding the big airports
With almost two thirds of EU citizens living within a two-hour drive from at least two airports, budget carriers save time and money by flying into less-congested, secondary airports. With over 450 mostly small, publicly-owned, loss-making airports in Europe, these airports use subsidies given by their local governments to offer discounted landing and/or baggage fees and other incentives to persuade low-cost carriers to fly there. For example, flying into Paris Orly Airport as opposed to Charles De Gaulle means lower airport fees and less time waiting on busy tarmacs and runways.

3. Uniform, fuel-efficient fleet
Even with cheap oil prices in 2016, the global airline industry spent nearly 120 billion euros, almost 3 times the 2003 total. All airlines use a method called ‘fuel hedging’ to save on fuel by signing contracts locking in the price for certain amounts or durations when oil costs are expected to rise. Additionally, low-cost carrier fleets are typically made up of newer, more fuel-efficient planes. To further save on training and maintenance, their fleets tend to be made up of the same model aircraft. This practice also allows them to save on bulk purchases from aircraft manufacturers.

4. Lighten the load
Another way budget carriers save on fuel is making their planes as light as possible. Almost all low-cost flights aren’t weighed down by both heavy and expensive Wi-Fi equipment and complimentary refreshments for the entire cabin. Instituting weight limits on luggage and fees for extra bags ensure the load remains light. Some even go as far to limit the amount of fuel reserves their planes carry to further reduce weight.

5. Short-haul routes
Nowhere are budget airlines more popular than in Europe, where high demand and close proximity best fits the business model of low-cost carriers. Focusing on short-haul flights mean low-cost carriers maximize the daily usage of their smaller planes and flight crews. Long-haul flights require bigger planes, more fuel and heavier cargo which most low-cost fleets just can’t accommodate, though constantly improving aeroplane technology could make it more feasible in the future.

6. More flight time, less tarmac time
Once again, low-cost carrier success hinges heavily on getting the most out of each aeroplane and they go to great lengths to make this possible. For instance, low-cost flights tend to have no assigned seats and be a single-cabin, meaning the seats are all the same. This coupled with the limits on weight and number of bags ensure the quickest possible load and unload time of each flight. In addition, they tend to fly during non-peak hours as to avoid traffic delays and higher fees levied by airports.

7. The Rise of Automation
Though the use of technology and throughout the airline industry has contributed to rise in usage and affordability, automation is especially important to the low-cost carrier business model in order to streamline efficiency and cut costs. Online self-check-in is pretty much the norm, with some airlines levying fees to check-in at the airport. Other time and money-saving procedures include innovative self-check-in kiosks for boarding passes and luggage tags as well as bag drop facilities where passengers weigh and put their checked luggage on the conveyer belt themselves.