Why no blankets? Why no free food? Difference between full service and low cost airlines

If you are used to flying full service airlines or perhaps, seeing the ads of legacy carriers, we might get the impression that all airlines provide similar inflight services such as free food, free overnight kits, free blankets and pillows, free snacks and more, Suddenly when you stepped into the aircraft of your airline, what? No blankets?No pillows? No free food nor snacks? No business class? Small legroom? Well, your airline then must be a low cost carrier!

Photo credits: Gary Sato

So basically, there are two kinds of airlines, full service and low cost carriers. For this topic, we will focus on airlines in the Philippines. So what are the difference? Let us make it simple. Full service airlines are those that will fly you from point A to point B in full comfort. Whereas, a low cost carrier will simply fly you from point A to point B without the frills. Low cost meaning that the fares are basically lower than those premium or full service airline. They also lack the amenities full service carriers have.

In the Philippines, there is basically only one full service airline which is Philippine Airlines but there are a lot of low-cost airlines such as:
  • Cebu Pacific
  • PAL Express
  • CebGo
  • Philippines Air Asia
  • Pan Pacific Air
  • Royal Air
  • SkyJet

AirSwift in the Philippines is a boutique airline whereas PAL Express is actually considered as a low cost carrier except, they have business class seats in some of their aircraft like their A321CEOs.

What are the differences between a full service and low cost airline? We now enumerate the basic differences but usually, low cost carriers do not have business class seats, except for a few airlines like PAL Express and Air Asia X.

Full-Service Carriers:
  • Have full comfort amenities like free blankets, free pillows, free kits, free slippers, and more.
  • Equipped with business class seats and higher.
  • Seats are built for full comfort with individual inflight entertainment systems (IFE), reclineable with full recline into full flat or lie-flat seats (business class and up) and other seat features.
  • Larger legroom
  • Free inflight full-meals and beverage.
  • Comfort and flying experience is a huge factor.
  • Fares are usually higher.
Low-Cost Carriers:
  • No free comfort amenities or you would need to pay to avail of amenities and items such as blankets, pillows, eye mask, etc.
  • Usually all economy seats except for some airlines.
  • Seats are just the basic ones. No IFE. Some do not even recline since they are already pre-reclined.
  • Ample or small legroom and knee room.
  • You pay extra for meals on board.
  • For them, taking you from point A to point B safely is all that matters. Comfort? Pay more.
  • Fares are very affordable and low.
Cebu Pacific Airbus A321 seats. Basic seats that are pre-reclined. Photo from Charo Logarta.

Philippine Airlines Airbus A321 economy class seats. Seats with individual IFEs and good legroom. Photo from PAL FB page.

Low Cost Carriers like Cebu Pacific do all to keep their fares low for more people to be able to fly, so they remove all the frills that may be added cost to them as their purpose is just to basically fly you from point A to B. Blankets, pillows, headsets, overnight kits, etc. all add to the cost of the airline, plus added weight too. More weight + higher fuel consumption = higher costs. To compensate for the additional costs, airlines charge extra. Same thing as inflight meals. For low cost airlines like Cebu Pacific and Air Asia, inflight meals are available for a certain price. As much as possible, they only carry ample amount of food for those passengers who have pre-ordered and only a few who may purchase on the spot. The extra charge on food again is to compensate for the additional cost.

It is simply like buying a car. There are some sub compact cars with different trim levels from a basic car to a premium one. The basic car will just have all the necessary items to get you from point A to B safely like engine, transmission, brakes, suspension, lights, seats, aircon, a basic stereo, a dashboard, basic rims, and all. The price of these basic cars are lower than those premium models. As you add items though to that basic car like a 2-din touchscreen stereo, you add a certain amount to the basic price. When you want LED headlights and tail lights, you add to the price. When you want leather seats, 17"rims, backup camera, auto-climate control, and all, you basically will have to add the prices of each item to the basic car, which will give you already a more premium model, hence, a higher price.

The same concept applies when you fly or when you choose between a full service airline and a low cost airline. A low cost airline is comparable to a basic car which is equipped to bring you from point A to B safely whereas a full service airline is comparable to the more premium car.

​In the Philippines, low cost carriers have dominated the domestic travel market with Cebu Pacific, PAL Express, and Philippines Air Asia taking the lead. With all the low fares our LCCs have been offering, many passengers prefer to choose price above comfort as they can all do without the frills for a less than 2-hour flight.

Last but not least, full service airlines and low cost airlines serve two distinct market. The latter serves a market where comfort matters a lot and they are willing to pay the price for it. Also, full service carriers are the preferred choice of long haul travellers as compared to a long-haul low-cost service, especially for trips that are beyond 8 hours. On the other hand, low cost carriers do serve the price sensitive market where they are willing to sacrifice comfort for savings, where getting from point A to point B is all that matters.

At the end of the day, know what kind of airline you are flying in. Never expect premium services and amenities from low cost carriers, nor do not compare their services. It is simply like comparing a Toyota Vios to a Honda Accord, they serve two different markets. The only similarity they have is SAFETY. Both low-cost airlines and full service airlines both have a high level of safety and they do not cut costs here because cutting costs on safety may mean lives.

So again, do not expect free food, free blankets, IFEs, and business class from low cost airlines. Moreso, do not expect low low year-round fares from airlines that give you free full meals, business class, and all other amenities.

Low Cost Carriers = fly you from point A to B safely without the frills for the lowest possible fares
Legacy or Full Service Carriers = fly you from point A to B safely in full luxury for a higher fare.

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