I was watching this TV show and it said that currently low-cost airlines e.g. Ryanair/Easyjet make more cumulative profits than more expensive long haul airlines such as British Airways and Virgin airlines. This confused me because long-haul flights are more expensive and from looking at the type of aircraft British airways uses, those flights can carry more passengers than a 2 propeller Ryanair flight. So can someone please tell me how low-cost airlines are making more profit than long-haul airlines!!

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    $\begingroup$ “2 propeller Ryanair flight”‽ Ryanair does not operate any aircraft that would have propellers! $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic, because while it asks about aviation companies, any answer would be economical and we have economics.stackexchange.com for those. The question is also somewhat unclear: we would need exact statement from the documentary, because small differences may matter. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ Well, cumulative profits are merely a matter of size. If you make thousand flights and the competitor makes twenty, you will make more in total even if the competitor makes ten times more on each. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 11:41
  • $\begingroup$ @JanHudec Ryanair operates a few ATR-42 aircraft. Technically, a "2 propeller" aircraft. Although, for the OP's clarification, it would be more acceptable to call it a "twin turboprop". $\endgroup$
    – Jimmy
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ Ryanair website: 'Ryanair only use Boeing 737-800 aircraft.' IIRC, the ATR's were sold off long ago. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 16:25

1 Answer 1


It is hard to say for sure - profits will always be relative and in many cases not clear to anyone without advanced economics/accounting qualifications. However, there are a number of differences in terms of customer experience and service that can make a lot of difference to profit. Examples might be:

  • Crew size - it usually states that the crew on a no frills airline are there for customer safety rather than service - on a legacy carrier they are (technically) there for both so there are more of them
  • What's included - rather than charging separately for things like seat selection, baggage and meals, a 'frilly' (as opposed to 'no frills) carrier will bundle them together, earning less than an airline that charges them separately. Note - BA and a few other airlines do charge separately for seat selection
  • Operating efficiency - a no frills aircraft typically spends less time on the ground being turned around, so this expensive asset is utilised with a higher percentage air time
  • Seat pitch - a smaller seat pitch means two or three additional rows of seats in an aircraft - so greater profits per flight
  • Less straightforward pricing models - in many cases, a 'low cost' airline charges more for a ticket than a standard airline, hiding behind clever yielding of fare and additional costs added on later in the booking process. In the travel industry I have seen time and again people being fooled by the term 'low-cost airline'

I am sure there are many more. The operational efficiency of individual aircraft can be quickly worn away when a 'frilly' airline is required to compete with a 'no frills' on a similar route. Also, some 'flag carrying' airlines, which tend to make much greater use of joint ventures and codeshare agreements than no frills airlines, sometimes fly routes because it is a requirement of a larger deal - and if that is not very profitable (or even loss-making) it can drag down overall profit.

  • $\begingroup$ This answer is neither complete, nor correct. It fails to mention the actually significant operational differences (they have something to do with the uniform fleet, the type of operation or both), gives too much weight to things that are unlikely to have it (in most cases there is no difference in crew size (one FA per 50 pax is enough for service) and I doubt there is any significant difference in turn-around times either) and the explanation of pricing models is just wrong—low-cost airlines usually have simpler pricing models; they are just different. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ My statements on crew size are based on my personal experience - on an Easyjet A320 I flew on a few years back, there were two cabin crew. A shorthaul British Airways flight around the same time that was either an A320 or a B737 had at least six crew for the economy section and probably another couple for the business class cabin. $\endgroup$
    – Andrew
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ Requirement is one cabin crew per 50 passengers. Unless the Easyjet flight was half-empty, it did have 4 cabin crew. You may not have met them, but they had to be there. If BA might have had more it's possible (maximum appears to be 7; there are no more seats for them), but that does not translate to other, even frill, airlines. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 17:31

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