Low-fare Airlines, Ten Years After the Crash of ValuJet Flight 592

Low-fare airlines aren't just cheaper. They also are less prone to mishandle baggage, have slightly better on-time records and have about the same accident rates as major airlines, according to a South Florida Sun-Sentinel analysis.

Low-fare carriers knew they had to change, too -- to appear better managed, more efficient and safer. They sought to distinguish themselves from major airlines by avoiding chaotic hubs and offering cheap, last-minute, one-way fares.

Some modeled themselves after Southwest Airlines, known for rapid-fire service and finding clever ways to save money. For instance, it flies only one model of aircraft, the Boeing 737, which reduces pilot training and maintenance costs.

"The presence of a large, low-cost, well-run carrier like Southwest was the bedrock that that segment of the industry was able to rebuild its credibility on," Klaskin said.

Other low-fare airlines such as JetBlue went a step further, providing television screens at every seat. Passengers began to find low-fare carriers provided the same level as, or even better service than, the major airlines.

"Frankly, I don't notice any difference between flying low-cost carriers like Spirit or JetBlue and a major carrier like American," said Mitzi Donoff, of Boca Raton, who takes frequent pleasure trips with her family.

She added that she is particularly impressed with JetBlue.

"They run a smooth operation," she said. "They seem to get you where you want to go quicker and cancel fewer flights."

Lobbying goes on

Many families of ValuJet victims insist airline safety still needs to be carefully monitored.

They have lobbied federal authorities, including Congress, for everything from mandatory baby seats on airliners to properly working rudders.

For the past decade, Carol Rietz has attended every court and safety hearing involving the ValuJet crash, trying to understand why her son Howard, 21, was killed.

"I want to make things so this won't happen to anyone else," she said.

Howard, an architecture student at the University of Miami, had booked a seat on Flight 592, looking forward to spending the summer working as a lifeguard, offering a women's water aerobics class and playing water polo near his family home in Franklin, Tenn.

"He was part fish," said Carol Rietz. "He loved the outdoors; he loved summer."

Just before leaving for the airport to pick Howard up, his parents were notified he died in the crash.

Now, she said, every holiday is difficult.

"I don't celebrate Mother's Day," she said.

Ken Kaye can be reached at kkaye@sun-sentinel.com or 954-385-7911.


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