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What are Budget Airlines?

By Wanda Albano
Updated May 23, 2024
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A budget airline, also called a low-cost carrier, is a flight carrier that seeks to provide flight service at low cost, sometimes undercutting traditional airlines by more than 50%. Examples of typical budget airlines include Europe's Ryanair, the United States' Southwest and JetBlue airlines, and Southeast Asia's Air Asia and Cebu Pacific.

A budget airline will justify its low fees by seeking to cut costs through a number of ways. Popular practices include adopting an all-economy or all-coach seating format, providing "meal options," to be paid for separately, rather than an included meal service, and using "first-come, first-served" seating, which means that the plane is boarded like a bus and seats go to whomever takes them first.

To cut operating costs even further, a budget airline might also operate regionally rather than globally, fly short flights at a maximum of 6 hours each way, and operate either out of a secondary airport or at non-peak times at a primary flight hub. Although some people complain that there are hardly any amenities given out to passengers of a budget airline, the overall popularity of budget airlines is on the rise.

For many, budget airlines fill a need; they can now opt to fly where the expense might have once been prohibitive. Budget airlines are immensely popular with young tourists, backpackers, college kids, and travelers who simply want to get from one place to another in the cheapest possible way. They are so popular in some parts of the world in fact, that a few cities have airport terminals dedicated specially to these low-cost airlines. Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, and its neighbor Singapore come to mind.

Of course, the budget airlines industry is not without its detractors. A great many people, after having been initially attracted to the low prices, inadvertently complain of discomfort and dissatisfaction and eventually opt for traditional airlines instead. In the United States, here have even been lawsuits filed due to problems arising from delays, overbooking, and poor service.

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Discussion Comments
By popcorn — On May 22, 2011

Does anyone know what the difference in cost is between an economy ticket and a budget ticket? Is it like a 10% price difference or a bit more substantial?

I think if the savings were a lot I would consider flying budget, but if I have to be miserable just to save a few pennies, I don't think it is worth it. I think flying is terrible at the best of time, with the dry air and bad food.

Can anyone recommend a good place to search for budget fairs and learn about what they offer? Or should they just come up in a regular ticket search online?

By animegal — On May 20, 2011

I have flown on budget airlines and they are a great way to save money, but I wouldn't recommend them for any flights over a few hours long.

The seating on these planes are usually very cramped, as they assign minimal leg room to each person in order to fit in more seats. If you think economy class on a regular airline is a tight fit, you haven't seen anything!

Also, the food on these planes tends to be expensive, at $10-20 a meal. It's typical airplane food and for the most part, it is better to bring your own on board.

On budget airlines they also charge for the smallest items. Blankets, drinks, and the headphones. They accept credit cards and cash.

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