Are You Legacy or Low Cost?

Frontier’s recent announced changes to its elite program got me thinking about this gradual and ongoing trend toward two distinct types of carriers:

Legacy Carriers
Offer different cabin classes, elite benefits, and some, if not many, amenities that are included in the ticket price. The legacy carriers also employ experienced crews and operate an extensive route network.
Ultra Low Cost Carriers
Offer discounted base ticket prices, but few, if any, elite benefits and will charge you separately for every single service/product – nothing except getting you from here to there is included in the ticket price. Employ less experienced crew so as to save on costs. Generally have much smaller route networks.

If we suppose this might be the future of air travel, we have to ask ourselves why? And more specifically, why hasn’t one airline been able to operate both types of carriers listed above successfully?

Why can an airline be only one or the other? Can there be no middle ground in this conflict?

As is so often the case, the question has already been asked, and largely answered. Over on the forums, back in 2010, Goblin211 asked his fellow aviation enthusiasts why they thought United’s low cost carrier – TED – didn’t work. Though he asked specifically about TED, the conversation quickly evolved into a more general discussion as to why the legacy carriers could never seem to make a low cost brand work:

There has not been one airline within an airline to suceed. Ted, CO Light, DL Express, AA sub-fleets, etc. have all failed. Be a LCC or premium carrier! The hybrid model has not worked in the States. ~GlobalCabotage

Delta even had two ill-fated attempts – Delta Express with some smokey old 737-200s, and Song with the 757-200s.


On the other hand, British Airways created a likeable and stylish airline, Go, which made money and was sold to 3M for a profit. What did BA do that Ted, CO Lite, Song did not? ~cedarjet

Someone please correct me if i’m wrong but Go Fly was a true subsidiary. DL/CO/UA’s “LCCs” were LCCs by offering and name only. They were operated by mainline pilots, a/c (all pulled from the mainline fleet btw) were fixed by mainline mechanics-staffed by mainline F/As… ~FlyASAGuy2005

That in a nutshell is why TED failed. They went after the low fare customers that the LCC’s were stealing away but maintained the high mainline cost structure. ~airbazar

That is just a sampling of quotes from this older, but still fascinating conversation.

Why do you think this two-model-within-one-airline approach hasn’t succeeded – at least not in the U.S.? And which model do you tend to favor?

Read the thread in its entirety: Why Did United Pull Ted?

Image: “I am Ted” by Alan Levine. CC BY-SA 2.0.


  1. Ted wasn’t a low cost carrier, it was a low revenue carrier. As a couple of those comments said, with the high cost legacy setup that Ted used. There was no chance for it to make money by selling tickets at a lower price than the legacy planes which cost the same amount to operate. If US carriers had true LLCs that were entirely separate entities with only a holding company in common, there would be a chance for a legacy carrier to have an LCC offshoot work, but unions will never let that happen.

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