The Nation; Airline Ticket: $10; Pillow: $15

Ultra-low-cost carriers cut freebies to keep fares low. Some flight attendants are paid partly on commission.


How low can airfares go?

Try $10 for a one-way ticket from Burbank to Columbus, Ohio. Or $9 from Los Angeles International Airport to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Better yet, there is a 1-cent fare for flights from LAX to Guatemala.

Yes, those are actual fares offered by a new generation of carriers that are redefining budget travel by taking "low-cost, no-frills" service to new heights.

Such as $15 for a pillow. Or two bucks for water. Don't want a middle seat? You can pay $10 and you can jump ahead of the line to board a Skybus Airlines plane.

And the flight attendants are paid partly on commission based on in-flight sales.

"It's the extreme example of a la carte flying," said Michael Boyd, an airline industry consultant.

Even so, flights on these cheapie airlines, now officially dubbed ultra-low-cost carriers, can be a bargain and quite a trip even if you missed out on grabbing one of the limited number of $10 teaser fares.

"The seats were comfortable and the flight went pretty well," said Allyx Kronenberg, a Santa Monica resident who paid $105 for her round-trip ticket on an inaugural Skybus flight from Burbank to Columbus last week. "But you do have to pay for everything."

These flights have been around Europe for several years, but they are now making a splash in the U.S.

Skybus offers 10 seats on every flight for $10, with the vast majority of the fares ranging from $50 to $175 one way. That's about half the cost -- or less -- of other airlines flying to Columbus.

Spirit Airlines, which flies out of LAX, has promotional fares that range from 1 cent to $24, including the $9 tickets to Ft. Lauderdale and Detroit.

The Skybus fares were so much cheaper than other carriers' that Shahla Salamat decided to fly her family to Columbus and then drive eight hours to Atlanta for her cousin's wedding during Memorial Day weekend.

Renting a car and driving that distance with her sister and three sons -- Andres, 8, Antonio, 4, and Adrian, 2 -- was worth the estimated $2,000 savings, the Chino Hills resident said.

"It's kind of crazy, I know," Salamat said, explaining how she chose the $200-round-trip fares on Skybus.

The cheapest alternative she could find from Los Angeles to Atlanta was $600.

"But when you think about the savings," she said, "it doesn't sound too bad."

The savings were so substantial for the Salamats that they didn't mind paying $2 for bottled water.

Passengers are not allowed to bring food or beverages onto the plane. Besides, Skybus had warned them ahead of time in a stark reminder on the company's reservations website: "No, the drinks aren't free. Give us a break -- some of you paid $10 for your seat."

Skybus says it will gradually expand its network to such places as Oakland and Seattle as it gets new Airbus A319 planes, which are on order. The airline hopes to be profitable within a year, even with its rock-bottom fares.

"We don't think the same way as everybody else," said Bill Diffenderffer, Skybus' chief executive and former attorney for now-defunct Eastern Airlines.

"Major carriers are going to say Skybus is going to have terrible service because you have to buy everything, but what makes passengers happy is having low fares and on-time, nonstop flights to their destinations. They don't need all that free stuff."

In many ways, Skybus doesn't seem much different from Ryanair, an Irish carrier that has shaken up European air travel by offering dirt-cheap fares with virtually no amenities or service. It is now the largest European airline.

Diffenderffer said that Skybus initially considered modeling itself after Ryanair and U.S. low-cost behemoth Southwest Airlines. But then it decided to start from "scratch and try to improve on everything."

To generate additional revenue, it will allow a company to paint a logo on its planes for $500,000.

To keep costs down, the airline doesn't have a telephone service center. Everything, from booking a flight to changing or canceling a reservation, must be done on its website.

This content continues onto the next page...

We Recommend