EasyJet, Air Asia, and of course, Ryanair are examples of the world’s biggest low-cost airlines, with Ryanair often selling flights for less than $15, but if their flights are so cheap, how do they make their money?

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The first thing you have to know about ultra low-cost airlines is that everything is about cost-cutting. No matter how much money you’re saving as an airline, Ryanair will always go for the cheaper option, even if it’s just a matter of saving a few dollars. Examples of this include how Ryanair gets cabin crew to go and scan passenger’s boarding passes when the plane is on the ground. Ryanair mainly saves their costs by hiring fewer staff. That’s why when you check-in for a Ryanair or EasyJet flight, you have to do it either online or at an electronic check-in desk. Some airlines even charge you a fee if you don’t check in online because the airline is spending money to pay the staff.

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Credit: easyjet.com
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Airports

Ever been on an EasyJet flight and landed at London Heathrow? I bet you haven’t because big and busy airports like Heathrow are expensive to fly to. That’s why airlines fly to smaller airports, often further outside the destination city. Both EasyJet and Ryanair have a massive hub at London Gatwick airport, and that isn’t even in the same county as London and it’s 30 miles away from central London! Looking to fly to Paris with Ryanair? You’ll be landing at Paris Beauvais airport, which isn’t even in the same region as Paris and takes you over 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to Paris on the train. Low-cost airlines take small airports in the middle of nowhere, re-brand them as their own, and direct hundreds of flights there every month. This often means that the airlines all have the power as if an airport doesn’t comply with their terms, an airline can just leave, and then the airport would be nothing. This entire airport strategy is based on the fact that people are willing to give up a little bit of time to save lots of money, and it works almost every single time. This is why people traveling on business trips rarely fly with low-cost airlines because they need to be in a place efficiently.

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London Gatwick Airport, Campus Development • Aviation • Work •  Pascall+Watson
Gatwick airport is EasyJet’s biggest UK hub (credit: pascalls.co.uk)

Passenger experience

Generally, if you’re choosing to fly on a low-cost airline, you know that you definitely won’t be having a comfortable journey. In fact, flights rarely cost $15 with Ryanair, because you always have to pay added charges. Want hand luggage? That’s an extra $10 per person. Want food? That’s an extra $7 per meal. In fact, some British comedians joke about how Ryanair might even be paying to watch its adverts in the future. European low-cost airlines have something called Duty free, which means that you can buy things for less onboard the aircraft because there aren’t any taxes; at Ryanair, you can even buy lottery tickets onboard it’s planes.

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Dozens hurt as Ryanair flight loses cabin pressure - BBC News
Airlines often save tonnes of money from the actual plane its-self.
Credit: bbc.com

der Low-cost airlines also save money in the tiniest places onboard the actual plane. Ryanair’s seats don’t recline on board, and low-cost airlines often don’t have seat-back pockets because making them cost money. You will never find inflight entertainment on low-cost airlines because seat-back entertainment screens cost a considerable amount more than without. I have spent a 7 and a half hour flight without any form of entertainment because the airline was small and didn’t want to spend more money. Instead, where TV screens usually go, there is often the safety information because people steal safety cards and it costs more to print new ones.

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Routes

The main principle of Low-cost airlines is that they fly 24/7. Whilst traditional airlines like British Airways and KLM have main hubs, where a plane returns every time it flies to a different destination, airlines like EasyJet have several hubs spread across Europe, and sometimes further afield. This means that if an airline wants to get a plane somewhere, they can just send it there without having to go back to the Main hub. A Wizz airplane could fly 5 round trips in a day when a British Airways plane would only fly 1 to the same destination.

Wizz Air sticks to bold expansion plans despite air travel collapse |  Financial Times
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Low-cost airlines are some of the biggest in the world, with higher profits than most other airlines. Low-cost airline’s entire business model is based on the fact that most people are willing to give up a small bit of comfort and time, to save hundreds of dollars on flights. Low-cost airlines being so cheap has to lead to things like the Ryanair challenge, where you fly to literally anywhere, with nothing, simply because it’s cheap. Whilst traditional airlines try to fly passengers to existing destinations, passengers who fly low-cost will go to new and unknown destinations simply because it’s cheap.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article.

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Sources

  • airlineroutes.com (Cover image)
  • BBC.com
  • Wendover Productions on YouTube

By Sam Jakobi

I am a young Avgeek who has been interested in aviation since the age of around 3 or 4. I run a very small youtube channel in which I review flights and explain common things in the aviation industry.

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