The airline flies only to secondary, less-crowded airports that have lower fees and can turn Skybus planes around in less than 25 minutes.
Major carriers typically have their planes at the gate for about 45 minutes to an hour. The longer the plane stays on the ground, the less passenger revenue it generates.
Skybus also flies new,fuel-efficient Airbus planes, which keep maintenance and operation costs down. Its labor costs are among the lowest in the industry. It has one of the lowest hourly rates for flight attendants, but they get a 10% commission on what they sell on the plane.
With the commission and stock options, the overall compensation is higher than competitors', Skybus said.
"The result is that we have a cost structure that is so much lower than anyone else," Diffenderffer said. "That's why we can have fares that are half as low and make money."
Airline consultant Boyd said he was skeptical that the airline could survive, contending that low-cost carriers such as Southwest are going the other way by beefing up service and amenities.
"Once you start nickel-and-diming things and having flight attendants hawking food, passengers might not want to try it again," Boyd said. "It's novel, but most pipe dreams are."
Moreover, the eye-popping fares often have caveats that could create ill will. For instance, the 1-cent deal from LAX to Guatemala on Spirit Airlines was available only on certain days and didn't include a bevy of taxes that totaled $84.70.
A flight to Guatemala recently was available for 1 cent, but the return 1-cent fare was sold out. The next-best fare was $109.50. In the end, the total round-trip fare was about $200, or about half the prevailing fares at other airlines.
Even with the super-low fares some passengers wondered whether they had indeed saved as much money as they had initially thought.
As Andrew Jones of Thousand Oaks carried his 9-week-old infant son through airport security at Burbank airport, he began mentally adding up other costs, such as the $99 DVD player he bought before the flight for his 3-year-old son because the airline has no entertainment system. And then there was the $20 charge for checking in an infant seat and two pieces of luggage as well as snacks on board.
With the anticipated savings, the Joneses also decided to check into a hotel instead of staying with their family in Wheeling, W.Va.
"We saved $700 on the airfare," he said, "but at the end of the day, it'll probably come out about the same."
Where you can save money
Cheap airlines flying in and out of Southern California:
(Extra charges for everything including checked baggage, drinks and meals. No seating assignment, no in-flight entertainment system.)
Skybus Airlines (Burbank)
Spirit Airlines (LAX)
(Baggage check, nonalcoholic drinks and snacks free. Some have in-flight entertainment systems.)
Southwest Airlines (LAX, Burbank, Orange County, Ontario, San Diego)
JetBlue Airways (Long Beach, Burbank, Ontario, San Diego)
ExpressJet (Ontario, Bakersfield, San Diego)
AirTran Airways (LAX, San Diego)
Frontier Airlines (LAX, Orange County, San Diego)
ATA Airlines (LAX, Burbank, Ontario, San Diego)
Sun CountryAirlines (LAX, San Diego)
Source: Times research
Here's a sample of extra charges you might incur on Skybus Airlines above and beyond the cost of your inexpensive ticket:
$5 - For each of first two checked bags ($50 for each additional )
$10 - Priority boarding pass (for first choice of seats)
$15 - Pillow (you get to keep it)
$8 - Blanket
$2 - Bottled water and soft drinks
$5 - Alcoholic beverages
$2 - Trail mix
$5 - Breakfast sandwich
$10 - Lunch sandwich
$10 - Meatloaf plate
Source: Times research
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