LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:
Virgin America is not the only low-cost airline using innovative marketing to boost revenues. To talk about how low-cost carriers are faring, we invited David Field to our studios. He's U.S. editor for Airline Business Magazine. Welcome to the program.
DAVID FIELD: It's good to be here.
WERTHEIMER: Now the discount carriers are coming out of a horrible year. I believe that several went bankrupt last year. Things looking better for them now?
FIELD: Things are looking better simply because fuel is way down. They've resumed some of their network growth. But, to use that horrible phrase, they are not out of the woods yet. No one in the industry is.
WERTHEIMER: Some of them are, I understand, profitable, though?
FIELD: Marginally profitable. No one's making real money right now. Spirit, however, made a very slight profit in the fourth quarter. Spirit has two main lines of business. One is ethnic travel. They've got huge numbers of Latin Americans who live in South Florida who fly Spirit to go home and to come from Colombia, to come from Peru and visit, and their whole families, whole extended families. On top of that, Spirit has folks going to the beaches and the resorts of Latin America and the Caribbean.
WERTHEIMER: How about big carriers, United, American, Delta?
FIELD: Of the three major carriers, Delta is doing the most in terms of developing a brand. They're one of the few airlines that has an active blog, they and Southwest are the two major carriers. Up until two or three years ago, Delta was an airline that you would write letters to and not email to, because they weren't sure about email. And it was just, you know, old, old guys in a Southern country club. And it is now an airline where a lot is going on.
WERTHEIMER: Well, so, bottom line, are fares up or down?
FIELD: There are an awful lot of discounts right now. The airlines launched a number of sales which are deeper than they usually are, and they last a lot longer. They're lasting up into May and June, and usually a January fare sale only goes up into March. So they are an awful lot of cheap fares out in the market. Some are promotionals, and some are just regular fares. You have to have the devotion to find the cheap fares. You're not going to find it in the first two lines of the search on the computer.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
WERTHEIMER: Well, as the airlines are paring back on flights and services, I understand they are still going ahead with some big technological changes, in- flight Internet service, which has got to be expensive.
FIELD: It is, but the people who make and sell in-flight entertainment are very eager to get their products placed. This is simply being able to plug in your computer or your Blackberry. It's not cell phones. There's still the question of, you know, what are you going to do about the loud mouth who calls up his broker and starts screaming? With the Internet, there's only one social issue. It's the very embarrassing issue of pornography. Airlines and flight attendants are a little bit concerned. I think it will be resolved in favor of assuming that most travelers are sort of grown-ups, and I hope that's a proper assumption.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much.
FIELD: It's my pleasure.
WERTHEIMER: David Field is U.S. editor for Airline Business Magazine.
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