In the past, when air travel was considered a luxurious mode of transportation, high ticket prices were the norm, and passengers wanted to indulge in all the flight amenities. But over time, a different attitude emerged, and today, it's the driving force behind the immense success of the discount carriers: Business travelers like the basic comforts, but they want to reach their destinations inexpensively--without compromising safety.
It's not surprising, then, that the future holds promise for low-fare airlines, despite negative publicity surrounding last year's ValuJet disaster. "We've started to see the low-fare airlines flourish in the last two to three years," says Terry Trippler, editor and publisher of the book The Buyer's Guide to the Low-Fare Airlines. "For the first time, we're seeing corporate travelers take a serious look at low-fare airlines."
Discount airlines such as Frontier, Reno Air, Southwest, Vanguard and Western Pacific are growing rapidly and constantly expanding their territories. ValuJet, for one, adds about two destinations every month to its network, and according to Trippler, nearly every airport in the country wants Southwest at its gates.
Innovations also keep the low-fare carriers ahead of the pack. Industry leader Southwest turns 737s around in 20 minutes at the gate and was the first to introduce online booking. These airlines were also the first to offer first-come, first-served seating, and they regularly offer special deals, such as Southwest's "Friends Fly Free" promotions.
The future of low-fare airlines seems to be secure. Says Trippler, "I predict low-fare airlines will dominate the domestic travel market in the future."