Discount airlines; are they worth the savings?

Despite complaint rates being high, passengers are booking fares on ultra-low-cost airlines.

Almost everyone loves to save money, or at least to spend less money than they have to.  That is the thinking behind a new class of airline carriers, being called ultra-low-cost carriers.

You will recognize the names, which include Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant Air.  They have seen a rapid growth in business by offering travelers a low-cost alternative to the air fares charged by larger big name airlines.  And the companies are seeing their profit margins among the best in the business, according to an article on chicagotribune.com.

But for many travelers, the frustration over lack of frills is making the money saving a little less exciting than they expected, with inconvenience and uncomfortable seating becoming the norm with the low-cost carriers.

Most are charging for things that many consider standard on the larger airlines.  Charges for carry-on luggage, soft drinks and even a charge to print a boarding pass at the airport are making some passengers less enthused about the no-frills airlines.

Passengers that are flying a low-cost airline are about 20 times more likely to file a complaint than flyers on airlines such as Alaska Airlines and Southwest, two companies that have the lowest complaint rates in the industry.

Each month in 2015, either Frontier or Spirit has recorded the highest complaint rate, as recorded by the government, and Allegiant would have the third-from-the-bottom rate if it were a large enough carrier to be included in the official figures.

The biggest complaints are the airlines on-time rates, with Spirit Airlines recording 34 percent of its flights at least 15 minutes late so far in 2015, with less than 50 percent on-time in June.  The company says a four-day period of bad weather accounted for the low rating in that month.  Frontier is just ahead of Spirit for next-to-last place.

Certainly, one cause is the number of planes and pilots employed by the low-cost carriers, which leads to less flexibility to respond to delays caused by weather conditions.  Fewer routes also make it necessary to repair planes rather than replace them for a particular flight, since there are fewer planes, and repairs can be time consuming.

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