Airlines Scramble for Fresh Options for Travelers With the holidays closing in fast, many would-be travelers are finding a surprising wealth of airline options, from planes that boast $10 seats to luxury carriers where $10 might not even buy a drink.

Airlines Scramble for Fresh Options for Travelers

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Well, there may be fewer traffic controllers in the tower, there are definitely more logos on the landing strip these days. Whether it's with $10 seats or luxury sleepers, a bumper crop of new airlines think they've got what it takes to lure your business away from better known carriers.

Scott McCartney keeps track of trends in the airline industry for the Wall Street Journal and writes a column called "The Middle Seat." He says one newcomer is Skybus Airlines. It keeps prices down by keeping its service simple.

SCOTT MCCARTNEY: No frills at all and they're proud of that. Skybus is a very interesting development. They do offer 10 seats on every flight for $10, but all you get for that is transportation from point A to point B. If you want to check a bag, you'd pay for that. If you want a cup of coffee, it's $2. If you want a sandwich, it's $8, I think. Anything extra that you want, you pay for. And one of the really fascinating things about Skybus is they consider passengers sort of a captive shopping audience. They push a cart down the aisle full of perfume and jewelry and things like that that you can buy.

BLOCK: Really? So Skybus is becoming sky mall, pretty much.

MCCARTNEY: Sky mall, yeah. And, and it's really part of the whole trend among airlines to find other ways to get revenue out of passengers. Skybus says it's not nickel and diming if you only paid $10 or $50 to get on the airplane. But there is that fine line that they're walking.

BLOCK: So Skybus, one of the new discount carriers. Let's move a little bit up the scale to Virgin America, a spin-off of Virgin Atlantic, which is flown in Europe. Where would you say they fall on what you get for your buck?

MCCARTNEY: You know, Virgin America's a fascinating development because it's high-end discounting. So they want to be the W Hotel, but they're trying to do it at a $400 ticket price from San Francisco to New York or Los Angeles to New York. They have very sophisticated in-flight entertainment. You can watch movies, music video, live television. You can order food and drink from your seat and it'll show up. And, again, like other discounters, you pay for that.

It's really a sign of, I think, of the maturation of the whole discount airline industry. You have new ventures at both ends of the spectrum - the ultra cheap Skybus and the swank Virgin America. And these guys are taking it to a further extreme than JetBlue or Southwest or Frontier or any of the existing airlines ever did.

BLOCK: Let's talk now about the other end of the spectrum. And that's the luxury category of carriers that are offering what they're calling a private jet experience.

MCCARTNEY: There are now four new airlines flying across the Atlantic. And at coach prices, they're offering business class or better. In most cases, you get a lie-flat bed. You get good meal service. You get plenty of room to stretch out. And that's appealing to a lot of business travelers and leisure travelers who don't necessarily want to pay seven or $8,000 to fly on British Air or Virgin or American or United. But they will pay $1,499 of $2,000 or whatever it would be on Eos or MAXjet or Silverjet or the French one, L'Avion.

BLOCK: But that's not coach fare? Would it - I mean, $2,000 for a ticket, though, would not be considered a coach fare, would it?

MCCARTNEY: It would if you were making sort of a last-minute, unrestricted business trip to London. But if you're going in peak summertime, you know, you may get a coach ticket for $599 or $699 or something like that. On MAXjet, you can trade up to $999 or $1499 and really get a whole lot more room, a much better travel experience than you would get stuck in the back of an airplane.

BLOCK: Scott McCartney, thanks so much.

MCCARTNEY: Good to be with you.

BLOCK: And, Scott, what are you doing for Thanksgiving? What are your travel plans?

MCCARTNEY: I know what it's like out there. I'm staying home.

BLOCK: Okay. Scott McCartney is The Wall Street Journal's travel editor. He writes a column called "The Middle Seat."

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