Save Big, Fly Right on Discount Airlines

Physician's Money DigestJuly15 2004
Volume 11
Issue 13

It's often said that you get what you pay for. Tryto get away cheap, and the quality of the productor service you purchase might be questionableat best. However, a whole new breed of airlinesis turning the tables on that philosophy.



According to reports in and ,low fares do not have to mean low quality. You cannow pay budget prices and still travel in style, thanksto the efforts of several discount carriers.

Pleasant Changes

The turnaround is a colossal and welcomedchange from the attitude many major carriers took inthe late 1990s. According to Wichita State Universitymarketing professor Dean Headley, who coauthoredthis year's University of Nebraska at Omaha AirlineQuality Rating report (, those large carriers made it clear that they werecatering to the premier traveler. However, morerecently the emerging fleet of discount carriers havetold passengers, "We're going to get you from here tothere—with your bags—and we're going to make it aspleasant as possible."


Their efforts are being rewarded. According to thereport, budget carriers JetBlue, Southwest, andAmerica West took three of the four top slots, withJetBlue finishing first. Two other discount carriers,AirTran and ATA, finished eighth and tenth, respectively.But according to the article,many new upstart carriers that are looking to attractnew customers through some impressive in-flightamenities are outdoing even Southwest, one of thepioneer no-frills carriers.

For example, both JetBlue and Song (Delta AirLines' new discount subsidiary) offer 24 free channelsof live TV on seatback screens. Song also features passengervideo games. Frontier offers 24 channels of TV,at a $5 charge. Currently AirTran does not offer videoentertainment, but both AirTran and JetBlue plan tobegin broadcasting 100 channels of free XM SatelliteRadio before the year is out. Song already offers 24 freechannels of audio programming, while Ted (UnitedAirlines' new affiliate) offers 12 free channels, and ATAhas eight channels and charges $2 for a headset.


The nice part about these amenities is they don'tcome with a huge price tag attached. The author ofthe article notes that he purchased aone-way ticket from Orlando to New York on Songfor only $77. The same flight in coach on Delta, hewrites, cost five times as much and included a 50-minute layover in Washington.

Perhaps one of the most pleasant aspects of thesediscount carriers is that the low fares don't meanyou'll be shoehorned into cramped seats. ATA, forexample, offers both leather and cloth seats,adjustable headrests, and from 31 to 33 inches oflegroom between rows. Frontier's seats are also cloth,with 33 inches between the rows. Both JetBlue andSong feature leather seats with 33 to 34 inches ofspace between the rows.

Performance Ratings

How do these carriers rate overall? ATA's 80%on-time performance for the year was close to theindustry average of 81.3%. ATA's denied boardingsperformance, 0.89 per 10,000 passengers, comparedfavorably to the industry average of 0.86. A customercomplaint rate of 0.66 per 100,000 passengers wasalso very close to the industry average of 0.67.

On the other hand, AirTran's on-time performance(78.1%) was among the lowest of the airlines rated. Thecarrier's denied boardings performance of 1.45 per10,000 passengers was among the highest of the airlinesrated. A customer complaint rate of 0.83 per 100,000passengers was also above the industry average.


In addition to the ratings provided by the AirlineQuality Rating report, gave Song fourstars, its highest rating. Frontier and JetBlue followedwith three stars each, ATA received two stars, andAirTran received only one star.

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