Low-cost and full-service airlines: Blurred differences

Flight Photo: Shutterstock

Low-cost airlines are often more punctual and have newer planes while full-service airlines don't always give full service.

Everyone knows that the civil aviation industry has changed beyond recognition in recent years, with ever-increasing numbers of low-cost airlines flying to destinations that most of us have never heard of, and at far lower prices. These changes, however, have not completely seeped into our consciousness, and the airlines are making it their business to confuse us even more with respect to the type of flight and what we can expect to get for our money.

There are three types of flight in the civil aviation industry. The first is regular scheduled flights operating according to a fixed timetable throughout the year and carried out by full-service legacy carriers, such as El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. (TASE: ELAL), Lufthansa, British Airways, United Airlines, and so forth. In the event of delays or cancellations, it is easier for a passenger to deal with a full-service airline, which also has a local representative.

The second is charter flights, which take place outside the regular timetable, and are also seasonal. These flights are conducted in peak seasons, usually to nearby destinations (the Mediterranean in the summer or ski destinations in the winter), and are usually sold as part of a vacation package. These flights are conducted by small airlines providing services to regular airlines or tourism providers. The airliners used for them are usually narrow-bodied airplanes with no business class or tourist plus seats. The company operating the flight has no direct contact with the passenger; it merely provides flight services to the provider or tourist wholesaler, which sells them (for example, Flying Carpet, Israir Airlines and Tourism Ltd., Aviation Links, etc.).

The third is low-cost flights. These airlines, which first became prominent in recent years, offer cheap prices that do not include added services, which must be purchased for additional payment (such as luggage, food, reserved seating, check-in, etc.). There is only one class of passenger on these flights. These airlines include easyJet, Wizz Air and Ryanair.

Low prices and expectations to match

In one sense, the models defining the type of flight create a kind of order. Passengers know that they will pay more for a full-service flight, with more likelihood that the flight will take off on schedule, at a reasonable hour, and from a central terminal. They also know, or at least expect, to receive a meal on the flight, and that the airplane will be an advanced model. On charter flights, on the other hand, passengers have lower expectations, so they will probably not be really surprised if the phone rings a day or two before the flight to announce that it has been moved from the morning to the evening, or vice-versa. They know that they are paying less, and they therefore lower their expectations about the experience awaiting them with respect to the quality of the seat, food, and entertainment, if any.

Expectations on low-cost flights are even lower. There is virtually no expectation about the flight experience beyond the desire and need to reach the destination. Actually, taking off on time and getting a glass of water without paying for it will not be taken for granted. We have gotten used to it. Does this match the current situation? Not completely. For one thing, low-cost airlines are more careful about taking off on time, because any delay incurs unnecessary expenses. For another, airliners on regular flights are not necessarily more modern; on the contrary, a young air fleet is significant for low-cost airlines, because newer airplanes consume less fuel.

It therefore appears that the above categories of flights are convenient mainly for the airlines, especially the regular airlines, which can allow themselves to charge higher prices than low-cost airlines.

There are cases, however, in which the regular airlines are starting to behave like the low-cost airlines, and not just as part of a pricing method that makes it possible to buy a flight ticket and baggage separately, but also with respect to the product in general. What does this mean? Take the case of S. and her husband, who flew to Madrid with Air Europa. They preferred paying more, because they assumed that it was a regular airline, and "that had advantages." What they were not sure about was whether or not the suitcase was included in the price, and they were glad to discover that it was. They were surprised to discover, however, that although it was a regularly scheduled flight for which a modern Dreamliner was used, they had to pay for a meal (because Air Europa decided a year ago to eliminate the meals that were included in the price of the flight only on the route between Tel Aviv and Madrid, for cost reasons, of course. The company said in response, "Live most airlines flying to Europe, Air Europa charges for food and beverages on its flights between Tel Aviv and Madrid. At the same time, all of the flights between Madrid and Latin America feature full service for passengers, including food and beverages").

Cost-conscious airlines are creating frustrated passengers

Air Europa is not the only one. An El Al business class passenger recently contacted "Globes" and told about the great frustration he experienced on the airline's flights to various destinations in Europe, including Berlin. He said that even though his flight was a regularly scheduled one on El Al (El Al eliminated its UP low-cost brand), it took off from Terminal 1, which was designed for low-cost airlines, and which lacks the business lounge and variety of businesses available for passengers flying from Terminal 3.

Actually, the flights to the five former destinations of the now-defunct UP all take off from Terminal 1, and this is no coincidence. The airport tax charged by the Israel Airports Authority for airlines flying from Terminal 1, the low-cost terminal, is $11, compared with $24 paid by airlines taking off from Terminal 3. El Al saves money by using Terminal 1, but leaves its passengers frustrated. It is true that business class passengers can decide to go to Terminal 3 with a shuttle, sit on an armchair, sip their drink, and then return to Terminal 1 before the takeoff, but this arrangement is not suitable for everyone, and that is not by chance. El Al said in response, "El Al operates according to the instructions governing the flights at Terminal 1."

Other airlines have found their way to new categories. A year ago, Air Transat VP commercial Gilles Ringwald described the Canadian airline to "Globes" as a "vacation airline - something between low-cost and charter flights." He said at the time that the airline was offering "full service, including refreshments and food, but we have no business class seats, so we're not a legacy airline. You could call us a low-fare airline."

What can we conclude? First of all, ignore the framework and categories that we are use to. As always, be careful to check what the ticket includes, and especially what it does not, before you buy it.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 27, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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Flight Photo: Shutterstock
Flight Photo: Shutterstock
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