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11 Different Types of Airlines Explained

American Airlines

An airline is a company that focuses on providing air transport for passengers or freight, or a combination, as a service. There are many different types of airlines, each designed to cater to different market segments and local and international needs.

Airline types can range from freight to paying passengers, medical, private, and government-owned enterprises. The types of airplanes used in an airline will vary depending on the transport focus and volume of the service provided and the routes and destinations typically serviced by the company.

Airlines have become a necessary part of our global transport system, making previously inaccessible places accessible. Airlines’ service has transformed how we see our world and the time taken to reach distant locations. The types of airlines in the air transport market are driven by local and international needs for commuting, vacationing, and freight requirements.

Types Of Airline Services

Airlines have been around for longer than many people realize, with the first airline being established in 1909.

This airline was operated by a German company called DELAG and flew airships rather than fixed-wing aircraft. Airship transport lost popularity due to safety issues and limitations on speed, weather, and carrying capacity. Fixed-wing aircraft took over the role as the aircraft of choice for airlines.

As the service evolved, the need for different types of airlines resulted in the development of air transport services that focused on different market sectors.

Initially, airlines were privately owned but transitioned to mostly government-owned between 1940 and 1980. During the 980s, airline ownership transitioned to be a mixture of government and privately owned companies.

Many people mistakenly assume that the definition of an airline is a people-carrier-only service, but this is not the case. Airline services are any air transport where a fee is charged to transport people or goods.

1. Low-Cost Carrier Or Budget Airline

Aircraft are expensive to purchase and maintain, and the flight crew must be highly trained to maintain air travel safety standards.

These costs, combined with fluctuating fuel prices, make fighting costs a constant see-saw battle for airlines. These challenges saw the entry of low-cost carriers or budget airlines into the market, offering consumers lower ticket prices but fewer onboard conveniences and comforts available to the passengers.

Budget airlines have less comfortable seating and pack the seating closer together to maximize the profit margin per flight. There is less staff onboard to service passenger needs, and no food is offered during the flight, eliminating the need for more staff, kitchens on the aircraft, and catering service costs.

The aircraft used for budget airlines are generally smaller jet-engined aircraft or larger turboprop passenger aircraft.

These flights are popular among the public, especially if the flight is not a long-haul route. Most people are happy to put up with a little discomfort and less convenience for a flight that is only an hour or two long.

2. Full-Service Airline

A full-service airline is the opposite of a budget airline and includes all the comforts and conveniences more typical of historical services offered by airlines.

Full-service airlines would include the following.

  • In-flight entertainment
  • Meals
  • Beverages
  • Checked baggage
  • More spacing between the seats
  • Cabin conveniences such as pillows and blankets

Full-service airlines generally focus on long-haul flights and international flights, where passengers are willing to pay extra for the additional comforts during a long-distance flight.

The aircraft used for full-service flights are usually large jet-engined aircraft which have high running costs, contributing to the higher prices charged for tickets on these airlines.

3. Regional Airlines

Regional airlines are smaller airlines that are also called feeder lines because they perform as feeder airlines to mainline airline centers or hub airports where larger airline flights can be boarded.

Regional airlines were also historically known as commuter airlines because this service was often used by businessmen commuting from one city to another for a business meeting and flying back home the same day.

Regional airlines also service smaller communities where large airports are not available, practical, or warranted by the demand for air traffic.

Many regional airlines are small companies that operate under contract or license to large airlines and carry their branding, call signs, and operating codes.

Regional airlines typically operate smaller jet-engined aircraft or large turboprop aircraft and usually carry 100 passengers or less. The passenger service offered by regional airlines is a scheduled service with regular departure and arrival times, with the scheduled frequency, depending on local demand.

4. National Airline

National airlines are not designated as such because of the routes they fly but rather because the airline represents the country of origin.

National airlines are usually government owned and operated and carry the flag of the country they represent. As a result, national airlines are sometimes called flag-carrier airlines because they represent the national government of their country of origin.

Flights from national airways are often given priority and privileges at airports not extended to other non-government-owned airlines.

National airlines mostly operate as international carriers, but many of these airlines also offer regional services using smaller aircraft, and smaller airlines are contracted to fulfill the role.

National airlines will often survive economic downturns that put other airlines out of business because the government will offer the airline financial bailouts to prevent the airline from going out of business.

5. International Airlines

International airlines are any airlines that operate internationally. These airlines must comply with international regulations for the country of origin and destination.

Most countries that accept flights from other countries will have bilateral agreements that govern these flights and rules by which both countries must abide, as well as the airlines that fly these routes.

The bilateral air travel agreements between countries usually defer to the International Civil Aviation Organization for international safety and air traffic standards to which both countries agree to comply.

The governments of the two countries in the agreement will usually have the power to designate which airlines from their countries are allowed to fly the international routes. Some countries restrict these routes to the national airlines, but other countries allow other airlines to operate these routes if the demand is sufficient.

6. Charter Airlines

Charter airlines are airline companies that do not offer scheduled flights to regular destinations. They offer their aircraft on an on-demand basis as a charter instead of a scheduled flight.

The aircraft is usually rented as an entire unit rather than on a seat-by-seat basis. The size and type of the aircraft usually depend on the clientele the charter airline typically services.

They can be luxury aircraft such as Lear jets, small jet-engined passenger aircraft, or large or small turboprop aircraft.

Businesses will often hire these charter airlines for their executives on a needs basis, which is cheaper than the company owning and maintaining its own aircraft.

Sporting teams will also use these charter airlines so the team can travel together without the inconvenience of booking and traveling via conventional airlines.

Celebrities, famous musicians, royalty, and others who want to maintain their privacy will often use a charter airline service for the exclusive service these companies provide.

Charter airlines will usually tailor the flight and the onboard conveniences based on the requirements of the customer and the fee the customer is willing to pay.

Since charter flights do not fly according to a schedule, there is no inconvenience of missed flights. The charter airline will lodge flight plans according to the clients’ schedules.

7. Alliance Airlines

Alliance airlines are a collaboration of airline companies to benefit both airlines. These agreements can include the participating airlines advertising scheduled flights for both companies, including low-volume passenger pickups en route to fill flights and maximize the economy of a route.

Airlines in an alliance will also share flight routes negotiated by both companies to maximize the services they offer across a wider geographical region, sometimes including international routes.

The alliance expands the airline companies’ network, helps reduce aircraft running costs, and increases overall profits with the additional business. The alliance often includes sharing ground staff at check-in stations, catering services, and passenger lounge areas.

Sharing the costs for these services increases the overall profitability of the airlines and allows them to offer lower-priced air tickets to their passengers.

8. Freight Or Cargo Airlines

Freight or cargo airlines are airlines that are dedicated to the carrying of freight and do not offer a passenger service.

Examples of this type of airline are FedEx Express and Cargolux. Some airlines that also have a passenger carrying division may have a dedicated cargo carrying service as an additional subsidiary.

Some passenger service airlines will offer belly-freight to carry cargo on their passenger flights, but these flights are classified as passenger flights, not cargo flights.

The aircraft used in dedicated freight airlines are usually large jet-engined cargo aircraft designed to carry heavy loads. The carrying capacity of these aircraft allows a cargo airline to minimize costs and maximize profit for each flight.

9. Network Airlines

Network airlines are where mainline airlines collaborate with smaller regional airlines. The regional airlines still operate independently and under their own name but work together with larger airlines.

This may be in offering connecting flights to hub airports from outlying airports for the mainline airline passengers or making additional stops on a route to pick up passengers for the larger airline.

The network of airlines benefits the larger airlines in that they do not have to operate smaller aircraft to outlying regions. The regional airlines benefit from the additional business they do not need to market for and from bookings under a larger, recognizable airline brand.

These cost-saving and profit-generating collaborations help airlines survive in an industry that sees many airlines close their doors in difficult times.

10. Mainline Airlines

Mainline airlines are airline services that focus on operating major routes from hub airports. These airlines generally operate large passenger jet-engined aircraft and rely on the high demand for air travel from large cities or popular destinations.

Mainline airlines often enter into alliances or networks with smaller airlines to service a wider range of a distributed population. The mainline will sell a ticket from outlying areas to the main hub airport, and the passenger will then board a mainline flight to the net destination.

The shorter, local leg of the trip will be serviced by a regional carrier with whom the mainline airline has a relationship. Once the passenger reaches a hub airport, they will catch a connecting mainline flight to their destination.

Mainline airlines can offer a variety of flights ranging from domestic flights within a country to international flights

11. Legacy Carrier Airlines

Legacy airlines are airlines that were in operation and had established routes before the deregulation of airlines and flying routes. The deregulations of airlines lifted price restrictions on airlines and the routes they were allowed to serve.

Legacy airlines established their routes while the industry was regulated, which has allowed them to build a reputation and a level of service offered to their often loyal customers. Legacy airlines generally offer a higher quality passenger service, including first class and business class options.

Frequent flyer programs with incentives and special treatment, including exclusive airport lounges, are typical services offered by legacy airlines.

In-flight cabin services, such as meals, drinks, and entertainment, are typically of a higher quality on these airlines than on their counterparts.

Many legacy airlines went out of business after the industry’s deregulation, which forced others to enter into mergers and networks to survive the deregulated airline environment.

Legacy airlines generally outsource their short and medium-haul flights to regional airlines, while the mainline flights are operated by the legacy airline and focused on transcontinental and international flights.

Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines are the remaining legacy airlines.

Conclusion
The airline industry is a competitive, expensive and difficult industry to enter into and maintain a healthy, profitable business.

Many of the economic difficulties have caused airlines to specialize in certain sectors of the market and establish collaborative relationships with other airlines in other sectors to offer a full service to their passengers.

This has resulted in diversity in the type of airlines and the role that each performs in the ever-changing business of providing air transport.

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