There are numerous differences between traditional full service airlines (sometimes referred to as major airlines) and their low-cost competitors; the number of low-cost airlines has increased significantly since the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. While the attributes of the two types of airline have blended over time, full service airlines are usually regarded as having a higher level of service and more features.
Cost & Fees
Full service airlines generally charge higher ticket prices; however, increased pressures from lower cost competitors have caused full service major airlines to reduce their prices significantly. In some markets, the full service airlines sometimes offer cheaper flights than their budget-priced competitors, although this is not typical. Traditionally, full service airlines have not charged fees for amenities such as baggage, carry-on luggage, booking charges and other amenities, but many full service airlines have begun charging for things services that used to be free. Full service airlines usually distribute their tickets in as many ways as possible (internet, phone, travel websites, travel agencies) whereas low-cost airlines typically focus on internet sales.
Most full service airlines typically cabins that have two or three classes of service and fewer total seats in each aircraft; seat size and available seat pitch is typically more generous. For example, Delta has 124 seats in its Airbus A319 aircraft, whereas Frontier (a low-cost airline) employs 136 seats in an identical A319. Full service airlines will typically offer more in-flight perks such as a greater selection of food and beverages, in-flight entertainment options and amenities like headphones, pillows and blankets; recently, though, some full service airlines have cut back some or all of these perks, or now charge for them.
Routes and Flights
While low-cost airlines typically use only one or two types of aircraft and fly on mostly domestic short- to medium-haul routes, full service airlines serve regional routes to smaller destinations through their regional partners as well as larger, widebody aircraft on long-haul routes to domestic and international destinations around the world.
Full service airlines largely fly to large primary airports in major cities instead of serving secondary airports with lower cost and accessibility. Full service airlines have one or more large hubs through which most of their flights are routed in order to create connection opportunities for its passengers. Full service airlines are also more likely to have interline agreements with other airlines, use codeshares and be members of large airline alliances.