What is a low-cost airline? A simple explanation

Aug 26, 2019 | Aviation management, Learn about tourism

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(Last updated on: 03/04/2020)

Low-cost air travel has exploded in recent years across the globe. Whether you refer to it as a low-cost airline, a low-cost carrier, a no-frills airline or a budget airline, nowadays we are all familiar with the concept: Low cost air travel, with all of the frills removed.

As demonstrated below, the low-cost airline industry has grown considerably in recent years, and the trend is set to continue.

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Low-cost airline travel typically involves short haul travel (less than 4 hours), although some carriers have recently explored the concept of low-cost long-haul. Whilst this does appear to be working in some contexts (Air Asia, Norwegian), most airlines have struggled to get such operations off the ground. Perhaps we are not willing to sacrifice our leg room and complimentary drinks for 12 hour flights?

Low-cost airline

The philosophy of a low-cost airline

A low cost carrier is basically exactly as it sounds. These flights operate without the frills and extras that are on many commercial flights.

Low-cost carriers have been most successful in Europe, where the sector grew from 8 million passengers in 1998 to more than 100 million in 2007. Many regions welcome LCCs with open arms. According to the Airports Council International, every one million passengers that travel through a new European destination result in 1,000 jobs at the airport and another 2,700 in the local and regional area. 

Such towns, however, are often at the mercy of the airlines, which tend to have the upper hand in negotiations and can often dictate conditions. When low-cost airlines withdraw their business from a specific airport due to lack of business or profit, this is known to have detrimental effects on the host community and its economy.

How can a low-cost airline be so cheap?

Low-cost airlines operate on the basis of efficiency. There are a number of ways that they are able to reduce costs and then pass tis saving on to the passenger.

To begin, they will often operate out of secondary or tertiary airports. These are airports tend to be located outside of city centres and are cheaper to operate out of. This means that landing fees and taxes tend to be less. They can, however, be quite inconvenient for passengers, who may have to travel some distance to reach them!

Another cost-saving measure in in weight. Low-cost airlines will often design their cabin interiors according to weight, removing unnecessary items such as additional toilets or galley features. Less weight means less fuel is used, which saves the airline money.

Turn-Around time is the time that it takes for the aircraft to land, disembark passengers, clean and re-stock, board passengers and depart again. Low-cost carriers frequently have a much shorter turn around time than scheduled airline, often undertaking all of the above in only 20-30 minutes. They do this by asking Cabin Crew to clean rather than having cleaners and by having strict targets for airline staff.

Low-cost flights will, of course, stick to all of the legal requirements regarding health and safety etc and these aspects will never be compromised. Instead, they tend to limit aspects that help to make your time in the air more comfortable.

Low cost carriers generally have the basics on the flights and if there are any extras, typically you are responsible for paying for them. These are known as ancillary products. Some examples of ancillary products include-

-food and drink

-duty-free items

-car hire

-hotel bookings

-in-flight entertainment

-lottery tickets

Examples of low-cost airlines

There are many low-cost airlines operating in Europe and the rest of the world. Here are some examples-

-Air Asia





-Jet Blue

-Jet Star Airways

-Azul Brazilian Airlines

-South West Airlines


Have you ever travelled on a low cost carrier? Was it worth the cheaper ticket prices? Do you think there is a future for long-haul low-cost? Comment below!

1 Comment
  1. Harick James

    Thanks for sharing with us.The world is a very small place when powered by heathrow. We power simple airline partnership solutions in a digital world



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Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

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