Flying was once considered a luxury, and only the richer sections of society could afford it. But today, many airlines have reduced costs and now flying is accessible to most of the society. So today we will look at how these airlines work.
But first, a small history lesson:
Budget carriers were first successful in Europe but it is said that the first budget airline was SouthWest founded in 1971 then the idea spread to North America and eventually Asia. Some of the most successful budget airlines are Ryanair, EasyJet, Air Asia, and Southwest. Below you can see images of some of the budge carriers.
The primary idea of a budget carrier is cost-cutting. The first big cost for an airline is aircraft. For example list price, the price at which an aircraft is listed to sell (without discount) of Airbus A320 is $101 million. Budget airline places their order in bulk so that they get discount, and mostly they have some kind of aircraft. For example, Ryanair only has Boeing 737s, EasyJet only operates the A320 family, SouthWest only operates 737s, etc. And also airline tends to buy aircrafts in bulk during the market downfall. For example, Ryanair ordered many of their 737s during the post 9/11 era and many more will during this pandemic. Using only one kind of aircraft also means they need to train their staff on only one kind of aircraft, this, in turn, reduces cost.
Another way of reducing cost is that there is no seat pitch or very little. This means that you can cramp in more passengers and seat maintenance will also go down as they don’t recline. This means that mostly they have only one class i.e economy.
The next big cost for an airline is airport cost. This includes the cost of parking at the gate, ground staff and the cost to maintain the aircraft on the ground. Mostly budget airlines fly to the smaller airport in the big cities or if they fly to a bigger airport, they will use a remote gate and often you will have to board the plane of these airlines by stairs as boarding gates are expensive. For example, Ryanair flies to London Stansted instead of London Heathrow ’cause it is expensive. Often there is very little time that their aircraft will be on the ground. That is because an aircraft is only making money while it’s in the air. Thus, SouthWest uses a ‘first come first’ method, so passengers tend to line up early, and thus their plane spends less time on the ground.
You rarely buy a ticket from a real person when you fly the budget airlines, many have machines from where you can buy tickets and there is nothing free onboard, i.e. no free meals or option of seat selections. This is another way to reduce costs. Most flight attendants who fly for them are at beginning of their career and often receive very little hospitality training. Another way to reduce costs is by not providing any additional facilities. Budget carriers often don’t offer connection as connection means a more complex baggage system which indeed will cost them money.
By following these principles and some other cost-cutting approaches, the budget airline makes more profits than the traditional full-scale carriers, so much so that many airlines started budget airlines of their own, but most failed. For example, Air France created Transavia which operates Boeing 737s, Luftansa created Eurowings which operates A320s and A330s, United created Shuttle which operated 737s and Ted which operated A320s, Delta created Song which operated 757s, and U.S Airways created Metrojet which operated Boeing 737s. Except for some, all failed.
Now let us talk about budget carriers in India. Indigo, SpiceJet, GoAir, AirAsia India and Air India Express are called budget carriers. But they do not function the same as European budget carriers. Many of their functions are not as ‘traditional budget carriers’. One reason for that could be the low level of competition in India. There are only about 4-5 ‘major’ airlines in India. So whichever route Indian budget carriers choose, there is less competition. Thus, you find that many budget carriers flying to bigger airports (for example Dubai International DXB, Changi International SIN, etc.) have more than one type of aircraft (for example Indigo operated Airbus A320 family and ATR-72s and SpiceJet operated 737-800s and Q-400s) and the most important for passenger comfort, these airlines provide seat recline and domestic connections. With time new airlines will emerge and slowly and gradually these airlines will also switch to the European model. Now let’s talk about their fleet.
- Indigo operates the A320 family (both NEO and CEO) and ATR-72
- SpiceJet operates 737s and Q-400s
- Go First operates A320 ( both NEO and CEO)
- AirAsia India also operates A320 NEOs and CEOs
- Air India Express operates 737s
The overall impact of budget carriers on the industry is huge. They brought more people to the air and most importantly provided competition, and in aviation, any competition is good competition (for customers)