The LCC Dilemma


Two stories in the news today that draw attention to the growing trend of the LCC – Low Cost Carrier.  LCCs are often referred to as Discount or Budget airlines but that is  the point that people sometimes forget.

Story #1

LCC Sunwing passengers on a flight returning from Varadero Cuba to Toronto were forced to endure 20 hours of discomfort as their return flight was delayed.  Cooped up in a small airport with no food or water and, most importantly, no information turned their holiday to horror.

Story #2

Air Canada Rouge, a new LCC, is actively seeking hundreds of flight attendants to expand its bases to Vancouver and Calgary as it prepares to expand its fleet from 16 to 33 aircraft.  Rouge operates flights to leisure destinations that used to be handled by the mainline carrier. Fares are cheaper but service is reduced to make up for that.

Sunwing, Rouge, Air Transat, Canjet and, to a degree, WestJet fly thousands of passengers every week drawn by the promise of cheap fares.  Affiliated with travel package providers they offer families the chance to get away – to the sunny south in winter and Europe in Summer.

How do they do it so much cheaper than the established mainline carriers?  They’re lean and they make their profit from the tour companies.  They charge enough to get you there and back while covering their basic costs.  The tour companies and resort owners pay them a fee per passenger that supplies the gravy.  Simple concept and it works very well as long as your expectations are low and everything works like clockwork.  Anyone who has travelled by air knows just how often everything works like clockwork.

Sunwing has 32 Boeing 737-800 aircraft (Wiki) and they’re busy.  Technical problems with the plane in Varadero were cited as the original cause of the delay.  More news than that is hard to get because Sunwing representatives are not answering calls from media outlets and no one representing the airline was talking to the passengers in Cuba.

I’m not picking on Sunwing.  Quick Google searches will give you 100s of horror stories like this.  It comes down to this.  You get what you pay for.  Low Cost = Low Service.  Usually that just means that the food selection is poor or not free.  Sometimes, however, it means you get to spend 20 hours stuck in a hot uncomfortable terminal a long way from home.  And before anyone mentions how passengers on mainline carriers were treated at YYZ during our recent ice storm., remember that was a once in a decade event, LCCs have these problems far more often.

Once again, you get what you pay for.