From Legacy to Low Cost: How Different Types of Airlines Work

Do you ever wonder why some airlines' tickets cost so much less than others, or why some charge more for baggage and seat selection? Every business in every industry is a little different than its competitors and airlines are no exception. Within aviation, airlines are generally grouped into three categories: legacy (or “network”) airlines, low cost carriers (LCCs), and ultra low cost carriers (ULCCs). While no two airlines are exactly alike, almost all of them fall into one of these categories.

Ultra low cost airlines like Allegiant, Spirit and  Frontier have the goal of offering the lowest ticket price possible. Their tickets can be described as “no frills” and things like bags, seat selection, and onboard food and drinks generally cost extra. They are extremely cost-responsible in their operations and management, which allows them to offer the lowest airfares. By not including the cost of a bag, snacks, drinks, in-flight entertainment, and other amenities in the ticket price, these airlines can often offer extremely low fares and high value. ULCC’s generally cater to people going on vacation or enjoying other forms of leisure travel, but each one does so differently. Frontier and Spirit almost exclusively fly between very large markets, with at least one roundtrip flight per day, and they don’t mind adding routes that other airlines already fly. Allegiant’s core model is to fly from small- or mid-sized communities (just like us) to very popular leisure destinations a few times per week. Many consider this a relatively new airline business model, but it’s more or less a refining of the low cost carrier model that some airlines have been using since the 1970s.

When we say “low cost carrier” the first airline that pops into your mind could very well be Southwest Airlines, as they’ve been flying since 1971 and touting low fares and friendly service as they’ve grown into the nation’s largest domestic airline in terms of the number of passengers carried. These days, however, the LCC category has become a bit less defined than it once was. The term actually has more to do with an airline’s operating costs than with its ticket prices, which are simply a result of the low operating costs. Frontier and Spirit were once LCCs but transitioned to become ULCCs. Other airlines in this category like JetBlue and Virgin America are regarded as low cost carriers by some and not by others. Some would say that the traditional LCC’s like Southwest and JetBlue have slowly transformed into carriers whose fares aren’t always “low” but are never “high” and include some amenities in their ticket price. As these airlines have matured, they’ve grown into having large networks with far more connecting traffic and have added passenger comforts like in-flight entertainment, which raises the cost to operate.

Last but not least, the network airlines are the mega-brands that have been around in one form or another since the dawn of commercial aviation. American, Delta, and United are the three U.S. network airlines. These are the most “evolved” airlines and have global route networks, huge hubs, huge fleets and multiple types of aircraft. With aircraft ranging from 50 to nearly 400 seats, network airlines can get you from Asheville to Shanghai, often in just one stop. They carry a wide array of passengers, including leisure and business passengers traveling domestically or internationally.  They have sophisticated products that cater to business and international travelers. First-class cabins, club lounges, in-flight entertainment and Wi-Fi have become core products for this group of airlines. They’ll happily connect you to Florida for vacation, as well as London or Boston on a last-minute business venture.

As the industry and the consumer both continue to evolve, so do the airlines. Throughout history, airlines of all types and sizes have come, grown, evolved, changed and gone. Once mighty legacy airlines like Pan Am have gone under and others like Piedmont have become part of the lineage of today’s airlines through mergers. The only constant is that regardless of your budget and destination, there will almost always be an airline built to cater to you.

A runway is important to Western North Carolina! Take a journey with us to learn why.

They say a mile of highway will take you a mile but a mile of runway will take you anywhere. When your plane takes the runway at Asheville Regional Airport, takeoff thrust is applied and after approximately one mile of acceleration, you gracefully begin to soar airborne. You didn’t just depart for Atlanta, Charlotte, Florida, New York or Chicago. You just entered the vast, global air transportation network. You could be headed to the other side of the state or the other end of the globe.

At a glance, a runway may appear to only be pavement with different colored lights and paint, but a runway is the greatest gateway to the world a community can possess, and a massive economic engine as well (to the tune of half a billion dollars in this case). At AVL, our runway allows our community to do business all over the world. It allows residents of Asheville and western North Carolina to easily venture to any point on the planet they please. Like a highway, a runway is also omnidirectional, both physically and figuratively. That same runway that lets you jet off to London for business or glide into Palm Beach for vacation also allows business travelers and visitors from far away places to come to our community. It lets them invest in our region — our families, businesses and quality of life — by bringing their own business here, visiting WNC to shop or sight-see and to experience this amazing region we call home.

It’s for all of these reasons that the runway at AVL is worthy of our care and attention. Right now, we’re in the third of four construction phases that will result in a brand new runway, which translates to new opportunities for WNC. Starting this month and continuing over the next year, you’ll be able to see the construction of the new runway here at AVL as your flights take off and land on a temporary runway that is serving as a literal stepping stone to the future.

Near the end of 2017, you will board a jet at Asheville Regional Airport. When your plane crosses the threshold of the runway and takeoff thrust is applied, you will accelerate down the smooth pavement, passing lights and runway markers, knowing that this mile of runway is taking our community higher and is giving you the power to go anywhere.

Please take a moment to learn more about our important runway project, titled "Project SOAR."

What is that Unidentified Flying Object coming in for a landing at AVL?


At Asheville Regional Airport, we sometimes receive phone calls or emails that sound something like this:  “I saw a large, unmarked white … plane, I think … flying really low around the airport.  It made a loud rumbling sound, and it seems to be circling.  What is it, and why is it here?”

Or this:  “Was that a helicopter or an airplane I saw land at the airport today?  It didn’t look like any airplane I’ve ever seen – it had wings, but it also had propellers like a helicopter.”

Or even this:  “Can you tell me what the low-flying, small aircraft flying in formation were, and why they were here?”

If you look to the skies, on a pretty regular basis around the airport you will see many different kinds of military aircraft.  And this doesn’t make sense to many people – we don’t have any military bases in western North Carolina!

But think about this:  our military service men and women who fly military aircraft must continually train, build their hours in the air, and fly in different types of airspace and environments.  Asheville Regional Airport is a high altitude airport in the eastern U.S., located within mountainous terrain.  We are great training ground for the military.

There are several military bases located within an easy hour or two flight from AVL – from Florida to the coast of North Carolina.  We’ve even seen military aircraft here all the way from California!

So, yes, you are sometimes seeing unusual aircraft in the skies (at least unusual for our area).  However, when you call and ask us what aircraft are flying on a particular day, or where they are from – we may not be able to answer your question.  Flight plans do not have to be filed with us ahead of time, and often, when military aircraft arrive in town, we are as delighted and surprised as you are!    (Note:  The Federal Aviation Administration Control Tower is in contact with all pilots as they maneuver controlled airspace, and request to take off or land at AVL; however, the team of airport workers "on the ground" and in the terminal are not.  It is not uncommon to see employees at AVL with their noses pressed to glass, checking out the cool aircraft that have just arrived.)

Most often, the military aircraft are practicing take-offs and landings, so they land and then immediately take off again multiple times in a row.  These are called “touch and go’s” and are common training exercises.

The photo above is of a frequent visitor to our area – a Boeing V-22 Osprey, operated by the U.S. Marines and the U.S. Air Force.  We enjoy seeing these “UFO’s” when they come, and hope you do, too.

Buddy the Bear: Wildlife at Airports

Our airport is located in the mountains, and as such, we share our space with the critters who call WNC home.  Early this month, we had a “critter visitor” who decided to stay a while.  We named him “Buddy.”  And he’s a black bear.

Buddy climbed a tree near our parking lot one night, and hung out there for nearly four days.  You may have seen his picture on television – our friends at WLOS heard about our bear from some passengers, and gave him his fifteen minutes of fame on the evening news!

What you may not know is that we take our interaction with wildlife at the airport very seriously.  We certainly want to respect our wildlife neighbors, and at the same time, deter them from coming to the airport.  Safety is our top priority, and wildlife can cause unsafe conditions at an airport – especially if they are present in the vicinity of the airfield (or in public areas, depending on the kind of animal in that area).

Buddy the bear is a good example.  When we learned of his presence in the tree, we contacted state wildlife biologists to determine an appropriate plan to ensure public safety.  We were told that the bear would most likely leave on his own, so our public safety department monitored him closely.  Wildlife biologists were on alert to encourage him down from the tree and capture and release him, if needed.  Fortunately, Buddy got bored with the view (and maybe wanted a quieter place to rest), and headed home.

All commercial airports are required by the Federal Aviation Administration to have wildlife management programs in place.  These programs include:  (1) daily inspections of key areas at and around the airport – in which we look for things like wildlife, signs of wildlife and habitat issues; (2) wildlife control measures, such as fencing and habitat alterations; and (3) wildlife deterrent measures, such as use of “scare rounds” and bangers, which are noise tactics used to scare birds and other wildlife away from the airfield.

At Asheville Regional Airport, we work closely with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to ensure that our wildlife plan is appropriate and effective.  We train staff annually, and we inspect conditions daily.  It is our responsibility, and a part of our focus on safety.

Why should I arrive two hours before my flight? I’ve always zipped right through security at AVL!

If you’ve flown recently, you may have experienced what so many AVL travelers have experienced for years:  you quickly parked, zipped through check-in and walked right up to the security screener – no line to speak of.  You may have made it to your gate just minutes after you parked your car, plopped into a rocking chair and sent your spouse to pick up a latte at the Blue Ridge Tavern.  Nice!

Yes, this experience does exist.  Conversely, though, some travelers’ arrivals at the airport go something like this:

“Oh, my goodness!  Where am I going to park?  There are no spots right up front.  The lot is really full…  Where are all of these people going?”

Fifteen minutes later – after parking and walking to the terminal:

“Oh, geez.  Look at that ticket counter line!  Good thing I checked in on-line.  I’m heading straight to security…. Uh-oh.  That IS the security line – all the way back here near the ticket counters.  Oh, no.  My flight leaves in thirty minutes.  I hope this line moves quickly.  Where ARE all of these people going?”

Five minutes later:

“How many people are ahead?  Gosh – looks like there are about fifty people up there.”

Five minutes later (frustration is building):

“Can this line move faster?  Come ON, people.  Get those shoes off, pull out your laptop – get it ready for the bin…  Move, move, move!”

Five minutes later:

“Come on, come on, come on…  I’ve got a plane to catch!  I hope they hold the plane for me.” (editorial note:  Airlines will NOT hold the plane.)

Five minutes later:

“Ok.  Getting closer – I might make it.”

Five minutes later:

“Alright.  Shoes and jacket in the bin.  Laptop in its own bin.  Liquids in my clear, zip-top bag in the bin.  Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go…  I’ve got to board my plane.”

Five minutes later:

This traveler arrives at the gate and is the last to board her flight.  She just made it.  How does she feel?  Relieved?  Stressed?  Frustrated?  Angry?

In this situation, this traveler (let’s call her “Lisa Latecomer”) allowed barely enough time to go through all the steps necessary to travel by air.  If you count the minutes – from arrival and parking to boarding her plane, the process took about 45 minutes (not bad, really – a reasonable amount of time).  BUT – she almost didn’t make it.  What if those in the security line ahead of her were much slower about preparing themselves for screening?  What if even more travelers had arrived at the same time to go through screening?  (The line could have been longer.)

There are a few things happening at AVL that travelers should be aware of:

  1. More and more travelers are using the airport.  In fact, the airport has served a record number of passengers in the past 12 months (which is great news for the airport, our region … and hey, thank you, travelers, for “flying local”!)
  2. Airlines are using larger planes.  That means more people arrive at the airport at one time to check-in for their flights.  Hundreds more, sometimes, depending on flight schedules.
  3. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has adjusted staffing during peak travel times to screen the larger number of travelers as efficiently as possible.  Even with two security lines operating, only so many passengers can be screened each hour, so when lines are long, waits will happen.
  4. The TSA recently added a body scanner at AVL.  This technology improves efficiency of security screening.
  5. While TSA has not implemented a Pre Check line at AVL (this must be approved by the national Department of Homeland Security), if you are a registered Pre Check traveler, you will not have to remove your shoes, jacket or belt at AVL, which should help expedite the process.

We also know that now more than ever, there are many travelers boarding a plane for the first time – or the first time in many years – and they may not understand their role in the screening process.  These inexperienced fliers may not know that they have to remove their shoes and jackets, pull their liquids from their carryon bag to place in the bin, or other requirements.  And… please know we say this with understanding and kindness… these travelers can definitely slow the security screening process.

So – we’ve decided to help educate them.  Watch for fun signage at the airport that we hope grabs the attention of our travelers, and helps them prepare for screening while they are in line so when it’s time to be screened, the bins are ready quickly and the line moves more efficiently.

Will you have to wait in a line the next time you fly from AVL?  Perhaps.  There are definitely still times when you’ll zip right in with lots of time to spare.  But you can’t count on it.

Instead, come to the airport early (we recommend two hours before your boarding time).  Avoid the frustration and angst created by cutting it too close.  Chances are you’ll enjoy our rocking chairs, our great food (and local beer and wine, too), the view of the runway and mountains, our free wifi, and you can even get a little work done in our quiet business center.

And when you board your plane, you’ll be relaxed and ready to start your trip.

Introducing our new website!

We know you, AVL website visitor.  We know that when you visit our airport website, you come with a utilitarian purpose.  Usually – you are here to check the status of a flight.  Is the arrival or departure still on time?  If not, how delayed will the plane be?

We also know that you often play with a fun gizmo on our website called “Flight Tracker” – you know, it’s the map that shows where the airplanes are located in real time.

You sometimes access our Frequently Asked Questions, or check flight schedules or rates for flights at our booking site.

Yes, these are the most frequently accessed areas of our website – and now they look refreshed, brighter, and redesigned.

Our new website has all the information you are accustomed to accessing, but we’ve also added to it in ways that we hope enhance your experience with AVL.  We invite you to take a look!


The Social Hub

We’ve added a Social Hub. (Get it?  “Hub?” Aviation terminology…)

When you click on “Social Hub” (found in the main menu), you will be taken to an interactive area of the site where you can get “social” with us.  Take a look!  We’re on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube.  We always have some kind of contest in the works – we love to give away AVL gear, gift cards to local restaurants and stores, and sometimes even airline tickets!  You never know what kind of crazy fun we’ll have up our sleeves.

The Social Hub is also where you’ll find information about art and music in the airport.  The artistic vibe of western North Carolina is such a huge part of the local culture, and we are always looking for ways to include a piece of that culture in the airport for passengers and visitors to enjoy.  Artists and musicians in our area are invited to become a part of our Art+Music in the Airport program.

You can also “Make Your Connection” (again, aviation terminology intended!).  We invite you to share your feedback, take our survey or join our loyalty program.


Community Connection

A new page on our website highlights different ways your local airport connects with the community.  We are a big part of western North Carolina, and take our role as an economic anchor organization seriously.  We partner with numerous economic development organizations, as well as Chambers of Commerce.  We engage with local aviation organizations, and also sponsor events that allow us to reach our regional travelers with information about the airport.


The Easy Way.  That’s us.

With our website redesign, our goal was to make the information you need easy to find and easy to read – and all design choices were made with this in mind.  We’ve also incorporated design elements that provide color contrast, meta descriptions and font choices that make navigation of our site easier for visually impaired visitors.

Additionally, this new site is a “responsive” website.  That means the content will change its look and orientation for easy viewing depending upon the device used to access the site (desktop, laptop, mobile phone, tablet).  The size of the screen and its orientation (landscape or portrait) will determine the layout you see.  The most robust and full view of the website will always be on a computer screen.

Thanks for taking a minute to visit our new site.  We hope you’ll connect with us, too.  And, as always, thank you for checking AVL first when planning your next trip!

Behind the Scenes: A look at the Airport Information Technology Department

So, you’re about to embark on an exciting trip, one that begins at Asheville Regional Airport!  We know you have a fabulous destination on your mind (New York?  California?  Italy?  Peru?), and we also know that there are hard-working airport employees who are thinking about many other details that affect your trip.  We thought it would be fun to give a little insight into what happens “behind the scenes” at the airport in one of our departments.   Join us on a descriptive journey of your arrival at the airport, and the ways that our Information Technology team impacts your trip… (more…)

Is that a big jet I see? What happened to the smaller commuter planes?

The airlines are continuing to reduce the number of smaller planes from their fleets, which means the reemergence of larger jets at AVL. Smaller planes worked well when jet fuel prices were very low. However, the price of jet fuel spiked several years ago, and ever since then, smaller planes are no longer as economically viable for the airlines.

American (US Airways), Delta and United continue to offer service on 50-seat aircraft, but the frequency of these flights has declined slightly now that larger aircraft are back in the mix. American (US Airways) and Delta offer two-class service on many of the planes from AVL.   Allegiant (the ultra low-cost carrier with five Florida routes from AVL)  flies planes that seat 150 or 176 passengers.

The trend will continue in which airlines will reduce the frequency of their 50-seat aircraft, replacing with fewer round-trips with larger aircraft. It’s all about economics and the most efficient way to fly from “point A” to “point B.”

So the next time you book a flight from AVL and start to choose your seat, pay attention to that diagram of the airplane on your computer screen. It might be a little bigger than you anticipated.

Construction to the east, construction to the west … and yes, the north and south, too

Asheville Regional Airport is under construction, and no matter which way you look, dirt is being moved, roads are being paved or signs are being erected.  Below is a brief overview of what’s happening at the airport.

Project SOAR:  on the west side of the airport

The biggest construction project since the airport was built, Project SOAR will result in a new runway, a second taxiway and more than 40 acres of buildable land on the west side of the airfield.  Right now, the land is being prepared for the construction of the new taxiway.  Lots of fill material is being trucked to the site, and we expect the taxiway construction to begin by the end of the year.  To find out more, click here.

To the south:  site preparation for a new gas station and convenience store

The construction taking place adjacent to the south entrance of the airport – across from the WNC Ag Center and Fanning Bridge Road – is site preparation for a land tenant who is building a gas station and convenience store.

To the north:  NC Department of Transportation project

The main entrance of the airport has been demolished, and is being relocated at this time.  Why?  The NC Department of Transportation (NC DOT) needed the land where the entrance was located to complete their reconfiguration of the traffic interchange on Airport Road. This new entrance will be located at the light across the street from The Fairfield Inn and the J&S Cafeteria.

To the east:  the “borrow pit”

Directly across Airport Road from the terminal is what the airport calls its “borrow pit.”  This is a parcel of land designated for future development.  In order to prepare the gas station site at the south entrance,  fill dirt was “borrowed” from this parcel of land to the east of the terminal.  By removing dirt from this land, it is being leveled and prepared for future development.

The math behind the cost of your ticket

By Callie Polk, Marketing and Public Relations Specialist

There are so many factors that go into setting airfare, so we thought we would try to break it down.  Keep in mind – we only know the basics.  The airlines have their own business models that vary, and pricing strategies are pretty confidential!

Airplanes at gate

First of all, it is important to understand that airlines set ticket prices, not airports. AVL has no control over the day-to-day airfare prices, and prices can vary from day to day or even minute to minute.   It all starts when the airline chooses a particular aircraft for a flight route – that determines how many seats are available per flight – otherwise in the industry known as capacity. The type of aircraft also determines how many seats are available in each class (first, business, coach, etc.). Each class is then broken down into a sort of “fare bucket” system where maybe out of 100 coach seats, every 10 have a different set of pricing stipulations.  And these fare buckets vary based upon the markets served, and the best pricing that can be achieved.

So in addition to the base price (which, as we’ve indicated, varies greatly based on routes, seats, origin markets and demand for the service), some other costs come into play that affect ticket pricing:

  1. Ticket taxes
  2. Airport facility use fees (called “Passenger Facility Charges” that are up to $4.50 per boarding)
  3. Fuel costs and surcharges

And then there are the optional services a passenger may elect to include:

  1. On-board amenities, such as Wi-Fi and meals
  2. Selection of seats or better seats
  3. Baggage fees

OK.  So the base ticket pricing is now set.  The next question we often hear is, “Why do fares fluctuate so much?”  The age old answer applies: supply and demand in the market. Based on seat availability and demand, prices can change throughout the day, week or month. Airlines use sophisticated computer software to monitor buyer habits and trends, and to raise and lower prices when the demand is expected to be higher or lower, respectively. These price fluctuations include times of year, holidays and heavy vacation times, and days of the week. Generally speaking, a flight on a Monday, Friday or Sunday can cost more than others because they’re generally busier flight days. Same goes for the time of day – if it’s a prime time to fly (say right after work on a Friday) you might just pay more.

The complexities of airfare pricing are related directly to profit maximization. Airlines are in the business to make a profit – much like any for-profit business, large or small.

In order to do so, they have developed these sophisticated and complex pricing models.   (Again – there is so much more to it, but we’d need an airline pricing expert to tell that story!)

You may wonder – if airlines want to fill their planes, why not lower costs right before the departure date to gather as many passengers as possible? Another piece of this pricing puzzle is that oftentimes, it can be more profitable to sell a few high-dollar tickets to travelers on a deadline (the business traveler) than to sell 20 tickets at lower rates. However, if the coach seats haven’t been filled – an airline might open up a new “fare bucket” for those seats to make sure costs are covered.

Finally, comparing fares at different airports is common.  What does a comparison tell you? It can give you a snapshot of a moment in time.  Remember, fares change.  A lot.  Especially if there are market conditions that dramatically affect supply and demand.   Each airline is monitoring different factors that affect prices at each different airport. And the market is king.

Check AVL first for your travel needs.  And perhaps, if you can, check often.  We monitor fares routinely, and on average, fares from AVL are competitive.  There are even great deals to be found. For more information, visit