What makes an airline different from one another?

Linh Ngan
Linh Ngan
05:40:38 - January 05, 2021

Have you ever wondered why the price of flight tickets sometimes varies greatly from airline to airline? This is because they are categorized in different types of airlines, so the service amenities, the operating costs and the airfares will also differ from one another.

In the aviation industry, airlines are usually divided into three major groups, including standard airlines (also known as legacy airlines or network airlines), low-cost airlines (or low-cost carriers, LCCs) and ultra-low-cost airlines (also ultra-low-cost carriers, ULCCs). Recently, there is another type of airline that has gradually become popular, which is the type of hybrid airlines.

Ultra-low-cost airlines

In order to offer extremely low fares, the ultra-low-cost airlines have to streamline most of their in-flight amenities. Passengers who wish to check in hand baggage, choose seats and use in-flight food and beverages are usually charged an extra fee. The ultra low cost means that the utilities and services included in the airfare will be minimized as much as possible and the number of options for paid in-flight services will be greatly diverse for passengers to choose from.

Ultra-low-cost airlines often operate short-haul flights, so most of the in-flight entertainment amenities such as watching movies or playing games on the personal TV screen will not be provided.

Some of the ultra-low-cost airlines include Spirit Airlines, Allegiant Air, Swoop, Sun Country Airlines (since 2017, repositioning from the low-cost airline) and Frontier Airlines (since 2015, repositioning from the low-cost airline).

Low-cost airlines

Currently, the term “low-cost airline” is used to refer to airlines with low operating costs though it was initially used to refer to airlines with low airfares. As more and more low-cost airlines begin to expand their in-flight services and flight routes, the rates are raised up and so “low cost” was no longer used to discuss airfare. The current prices of low-cost airlines fluctuate at an average level and often come with certain amenities on the plane.

Generally, the fleet operated by low-cost airlines are relatively small in size (most use narrow-body aircraft) and do not have any division of service classes. The typical operation model of low-cost airlines is short-haul (usually less than 4 hours) flights, so they are likely to gain a competitive advantage for passengers traveling between cities within the country. However, a number of low-cost airlines have also started to operate longer-haul flights so as to accommodate the diverse expanding demand of passengers.

Some popular low-cost airlines that can be named are AirAsia, EasyJet, Ryanair, Scoot, Vietjet Air and Pacific Airlines – the two representatives from Vietnam.

Standard/legacy/network airlines

Standard airlines, which are also addressed as legacy airlines or network airlines, are the airlines that offer more complete and higher-end services and amenities. By definition, a standard airline will be a member of an airline alliance and offer full services, including in-flight meals and beverages and other in-flight entertainments, compared to the low-cost airlines. Normally, the standard airlines provide multiple classes of services from Economy Class and Business Class to Premium Class.

The airlines classified under the type of standard airlines are the most “evolved” ones that have an extensive global network, and large fleets of aircraft with various sizes and capacities ranging from 50 to 400 seats. In addition, the standard airlines will also have greater frequency flight schedules and private lounges at the airport.

Standard airlines usually are the national flag carriers, such as American Airlines, Lufthansa, Air France, Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines and Vietnam Airlines – the flag carrier of Vietnam.

Hybrid airlines

“Hybrid airline” is an unofficial term used to refer to an airline operating under a low-cost business model but with comparable services and amenities to standard airlines.

The airlines classified into the hybrid airline type are those that focus on in-flight services, typically through classifications of tier-priced cabin classes with different amenities accordingly for each class while maintaining the overall airfare relatively competitive in the market.

For example, JetBlue, Norwegian, Southwest Airlines, Germanwings, Bamboo Airways and, most recently, Vietravel Airlines are all hybrid airlines, with JetBlue, Norwegian and Southwest Airlines repositioning from the low-cost business models.


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