Cheap airline woes weigh on budget travelers


June 22, 1996
Web posted at: 11:10 p.m. EDT

NEWARK, New Jersey (CNN) -- In the next few weeks, and perhaps months, Kiwi Airlines patrons will see fewer takeoffs and more planes hanging around on the ground. The low-fare airline reduced its fleet from 15 to 11, at the request of the FAA, and canceled nine of its 59 flights Saturday.

The FAA forced Kiwi to reduce its operations after the carrier could not prove that 30 pilots had passed training requirements.

The move came just four days after the FAA forced the grounding of ValuJet. For travelers on a budget, who flocked to both Kiwi and ValuJet for low rates, there are now even fewer flights to choose from.

Waiting travelers

Travel agents say passengers can save an average of $100 per round-trip ticket by flying with Kiwi. Passengers are now bracing for rate increases from the larger airlines to compound their already higher prices.

Travel agents are warning clients to book in advance. Although Delta says it has not raised its prices, its walk-up fares are typically much higher than those for ValuJet or Kiwi. For example, a ValuJet customer who bought a ticket to New Orleans from Atlanta for immediate departure would pay only $196, a bargain compared to Delta's $611 for the same walk-up fare.

"People are going to be more cautious about simply waking up on a Friday morning and saying, let's go to Florida for the weekend, because fares are going to be much higher," said travel agent Fred Boyer.

Travel agents note that travelers usually must reserve tickets at least seven days, and usually 21 days, in advance to get the best rates from larger airlines.


Following the double whammy on discount airlines, some passengers are starting to rethink their priorities. "Maybe it's time to travel with a better airline -- a bigger airline," one traveler told CNN.

Another said, "So you pay a little bit more, but you don't have this kind of hassle."

Those passengers' views trouble executives of the smaller airlines, who have worried about consumer confidence fallout ever since the crash of ValuJet 592. Heightened scrutiny by the FAA may not do much for their business for the time being, but in the long run, some analysts say, it's better for the FAA to get its policy straight on small, start-up airlines.

Other industry insiders say that by applying pressure on small airlines like Kiwi to maintain security for the public, the FAA is simply aiming to restore public confidence in the FAA.


"This is a very intense period for the FAA at this point, and I believe, I would hope that they're conducting similar reviews with all the carriers and not just the smaller carriers," said Kiwi CEO Jerry Murphy.

James Sidler of Best Fares Magazine agreed. "It's much easier for the FAA to go into a smaller airline and hit everything in one fatal swoop than into an airline like American or United, where there's just operations all over the world," he said.

For the FAA these days, safety is the key issue. Until their latest actions are resolved, passengers are left just where they began -- waiting and wondering whether the cost of safety is in the price of a ticket.

Correspondent Michael Okwu contributed to this report.

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