The 3 Major Types Of Airlines + How They Work

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(Last updated on: 03/05/2022)

There are many different types of airlines that are different sizes, have different cultures and have different business approaches.

Types Of Airlines | Travel & Touris... x
Types Of Airlines | Travel & Tourism Tutorial

If you are hoping to learn more about these different types of airlines then you have come to the right place! Here at Tourism Teacher I aim to make learning more about the travel and tourism industry SIMPLE and FUN! I do this through my range of educational articles and on my YouTube channel. And today I am going to teach you all about the three major types of airlines…

What different types of airlines are there?

Different types of airlines come in different shapes and sizes and have different business models. Some airlines are privately owned, meaning that the goal is to make a profit and a few are Government owned or subsidised, meaning that they are supported by the Government and operate as more of a service to the people as opposed to a profit-making enterprise (although they may still make a profit).

The airline industry is also made up of airlines that operate in various regions and are of various sizes.

Major airlines typically operate on a large scale internationally. They usually make the biggest profit and hire the most employees. Examples include Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Qantas to name but a few.

National airlines are airlines that represent the nation. These may also be major airlines. Examples include Air China, British Airways and TAP.

Regional airlines operate only in a particular region, this could be a continent, a part of the world or perhaps just across a select few countries. Examples of regional airlines include Flybe and Air Asia.

The 3 different types of airlines

Now lets get to the important stuff- what are the three major types of airlines?

There are 3 types of airlines that we typically encounter in the commercial aviation industry. Whilst each airline is slightly different, airlines will typically fit into one of the following categories:

  • Scheduled airline
  • Charter airline
  • Budget airline

Below, I have summarised each of these types of airlines and what makes them unique. I have also explained this in a fun and simple way in the video below!

What is a scheduled airline?

Types of airlines

The first category is the scheduled airline. A scheduled airline is an airline that works to a specific schedule. Just like a bus, a scheduled airline will work to a timetable. Seats will be sold to passengers and the flight should operate as planned regardless of how many seats are sold.

Of course, there are always circumstances when a flight may be cancelled or when schedules may be changed, but as a general rule, this type of airline will operate as planned.

Many scheduled airlines are national carriers that represent a particular country. They may be private organisations or they may be owned by the Government.

Scheduled airlines traditionally provide an inclusive package that includes a seat, baggage and meals, although in recent years many airlines have been unbundling their products and selling each of these elements separately. 

Scheduled airlines may also be referred to as full service carriers.

Examples of scheduled airlines

Examples of scheduled airlines include British Airways, Air India, Virgin Atlantic and United Airlines.

What is a charter airline?

Types of airlines

The second type of airline is a charter airline. A charter airline is an airline that works on an adhoc basis. A bit like a taxi service, charter airlines only operate when they are required. As such, if there is not the demand to warrant the flight operating, the flight will not take off.

Charter airlines will often change flight times or change the number of flights that they operate based on demand. The more people that want to take the flight, the more flights that they will likely operate and visa versa.

Charter airlines are often associated with holiday companies. Some tour operators own charter airlines. Many people who book a package holiday will travel to their destination via a charter airline.

Charter airlines may require passengers to pay extra for food and baggage.

Examples of charter airlines

Examples of charter airlines include TUI and Jet2.

What is a budget airline?

Types of airlines

The third type of airline is the budget airline. Budget airlines, also commonly known as low cost airlines, low cost carriers or no frills airlines are airlines that operate on a budget.

A budget airline will typically sell seats for lower prices than scheduled and charter airlines. However, these seats often have less leg room and are less comfortable.

Budget airlines make their money by selling ancillary products to passengers. This includes anything in addition to the seat, such as extra leg room, baggage, in-flight entertainment, insurance, in-destination excursions, credit card fees and more.

Budget airlines have grown considerably in the past couple of decades and they have revolutionised the aviation industry. Budget airlines are some of the most profitable types of airlines.

Examples of budget airlines

Examples of budget airlines include Ryan Air, easyJet, Wizz Air and Southwest Airlines.

Changes in the different types of airlines

Now that you understand the difference between the different types of airlines, I would like to complicate things a little bit- sorry!

In recent years many airlines have adapted their business operations in order to remain competitive in the marketplace. This has meant that not all airlines will easily fit into one of the three types of airlines that I outlined above and it is not always easy to categorise airlines in the same way that it used to be.

For example, scheduled airlines may use ancillary services just as much as a budget airline and budget airlines may offer premium services that are not traditionally associated with no-frills carriers.

Whilst scheduled, charter and low cost airlines do continue to be the three main types of airlines, differentiating isn’t always an easy task these days…

To conclude: Types of airlines

I hope that you are not confident to describe the three different types of airlines found in commercial aviation. If you found this article helpful, here are some more that I think you might like-

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