A common discussion in the travel world is about which airline to fly. Many people have their favourites, but which airline should be yours? For most travellers, their favourite airline is the one they had the most pleasant experience with. Today we’re going to make the first step towards deciding which airline is the best for you by exploring the differences between small airlines like Norwegian or Hawaiian, and large carriers like United Airlines or Air France.
Larger airlines come with a larger network, and better coverage of the world map. Usually, larger airlines are able to get you to at least five of the six continents non-stop. Most likely, the larger airline will have more short-haul destinations as well.
Because of the size of large airlines, your connection times are often better than on smaller airlines. The reason for this is really quite simple, more demand = more flights. For instance, a small airline might fly once a day between Paris and Manchester, whereas a large airline flies the same route every 3 hours. This means that on the large airline, your connection time will be 3 hours at most, whereas on the smaller airline… it can be much more.
Larger airlines are usually part of an alliance. With the notable exception of Middle-Eastern carriers, most large airlines are part of a network of multiple airlines, called an alliance. Alliances are meant to further extend the coverage of airlines. For instance, Lufthansa alone will not get you to Australia, but a combination of Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines will. Both airlines are in the Star Alliance network. You’ll be able to book one ticket, on multiple airlines. Nowadays, I cannot even imagine life without alliances. This is one of the main selling points of larger airlines.
Another benefit of these alliances is the ability to collect frequent flyer points or miles. Most airlines have their own system, but in alliances you can collect miles for all flights within the network, instead of just the flights on that particular airline. This makes getting that free business class upgrade that much easier.
On the other hand, there’s arguments for flying small airlines too. Small airlines often use smaller airports, which makes your trip far more relaxed and smooth. No crowds, just you and your fellow passengers. I really enjoy flying out of smaller airports, especially because you can – technically, don’t take this as advice – show up 20 minutes before the flight leaves, and you’ll still make it.
Smaller airlines usually are more flexible in terms of their booking terms as well. On large carriers, one way tickets are crazy expensive compared to their round-trip counterparts. This – usually – is not the case on smaller airlines, where a one-way ticket just costs half of what the round trip ticket costs. This allows you to be flexible in planning your trips without breaking the bank. I believe this to be the biggest selling point of smaller airlines.
Finally, smaller airlines tend to be cheaper than big airlines, but this is only true for routes that are not heavily flown. Routes like JFK – LHR are so competitive that you’ll be able to snag $250 round trip tickets without even looking hard (here’s how). It’s the less travelled routes where the small carriers are worth the money. Small airlines often are focussed on certain regions or routes which are not heavily congested by the big players. This is where booking a smaller airline is a good idea.
There’s no perfect answer. Sometimes, flying a small airline is better. I do believe that most of the times, a big airline is the best way to go. I recommend comparing your options before booking your next flight so that you’ll always have the best trip you can possibly have.