What Is a Full-Service Airline?


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About the author:

Co-founder and Chief Editor at Connecting Flights Guide

Kaspars is a digital nomad and travel blogger who’s been traveling the world extensively since 2013. Since 2017, Kaspars has been writing about the less-known aspects of air travel, things like air passenger rights laws and regulations. He’s really good at simplifying complex concepts and making them easily understandable. Kaspars favorite airlines are Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines.

What exactly is a full-service airline?

In a nutshell, a full-service airline is an airline that goes far beyond just getting you from point A to point B. When you fly with a full-service airline, you can expect a range of perks, such as in-flight meals, complimentary beverages, more legroom, entertainment options, and more favorable baggage rules. A checked baggage, sometimes two, may also be included in the price.

Keep reading to discover more about the topic.


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Turkish Airlines airplane in Riga airport
Turkish Airlines airplane

1. What Is a Full-Service Airline?

A full-service airline is an airline that offers more than just a seat on a plane. Full-service airlines provide a comprehensive range of services, including meals, entertainment, baggage handling, and in-flight amenities such as blankets, pillows, and headphones. Apart from that, their baggage rules tend to be better than with low-cost airlines, too. Unless, you are booking an Economy Light ticket.

These airlines typically operate on long-haul routes, where passengers can expect an experience that goes beyond just getting from point A to point B. Examples of full-service airlines include Emirates, British Airways, Qatar Airways, and Singapore Airlines.

Full-service airlines also offer connecting flights.

A full-service airline is an airline that offers more than just a seat on a plane.

1.1 What Is a 5-Star Airline?

A 5-star airline is an airline that consistently delivers exceptional service in all aspects of the passenger experience. To achieve a 5-star rating, an airline must meet a set of quality criteria established by Skytrax, an international air transport rating organization based in the United Kingdom.

While there are many full-service airlines, only a few of them are 5-star airlines. Here are 3 examples of 5-star airlines:

  1. Singapore Airlines
  2. Emirates
  3. Qatar Airways
On an Emirates flight from Dubai to Bangkok
On an Emirates flight from Dubai to Bangkok

2. Low-Cost Carrier vs Full-Service Carrier

If you’ve ever read air travel discussions, you’ve probably come across the terms “full-service airline” (full-service carrier) and “low-cost airline” (low-cost carrier) more times than you can count.

What are the main differences between the two? While full-service airlines focus on providing a comfortable and comprehensive travel experience, low-cost carriers prioritize affordability and efficiency. The chart below presents a comparison of key characteristics of both types of airlines.

FeatureFull-Service AirlinesLow-Cost Airlines
PricingHigher pricing due to comprehensive servicesLower pricing, focus on affordability
Baggage AllowanceChecked baggage often included in the ticket priceChecked baggage mostly costs extra
In-flight mealsComplimentary meals and beveragesMeals and beverages available for purchase, sometimes only snacks
In-flight entertainmentIn-flight entertainment systems availableLimited or no in-flight entertainment
Seat SelectionSeat selection usually included in ticket priceCosts extra
RoutesOperate on both short and long-haul routesMainly operate on shorter routes, up to 3-5 hours
Connecting flightsAvailableMostly unavailable
Airport LocationGenerally operate from major airports, closer to city centersOften use secondary airports that may be further from city centers

As you can see, while budget airlines offer lower ticket prices, they usually charge extra fees for optional services such as checked baggage, food, and seat selection, which can add up quickly. Full-service airlines, on the other hand, include these services in their ticket price, making it easier for travelers to budget their expenses. For the best deal, it’s a good idea to compare the final price before making a decision and booking a flight.

Additionally, full-service airlines often offer more routes and destinations, making it easier for travelers to connect around the world.

2.1 Is Baggage Always Included With Full-Service Airlines?

While it’s common for full-service airlines to include checked baggage in the ticket price, this is not always the case.

In an increasingly competitive aviation market, many airlines are adopting strategies typically associated with low-cost carriers to reduce costs and increase revenues. One such strategy is to charge separately for checked baggage. This means even when flying with a full-service carrier, you may need to pay an extra fee if you want to check in a bag.

Always remember to check the baggage policy when booking a flight – to avoid unpleasant surprises at the airport.

Speaking of carry-on baggage rules, they still tend to be better with full-service airlines than with low-cost airlines, especially in Europe.

2.2 Are Full-Service Airline Flights More Expensive? Always?

Very often, this is true – full-service airline flights are more expensive. The ticket price of full-service airlines usually includes a wider range of services and facilities, thus justifying the higher cost. However, it’s not always the case.

There are instances when full-service airlines offer competitive pricing, especially during off-peak times or promotional periods. Plus, when you consider the value provided by the inclusive services (meals, checked baggage, in-flight entertainment, etc.), the cost difference can sometimes narrow or even tilt in favor of full-service airlines. That’s why we always recommended to consider the total cost of travel, including any additional fees, while comparing flight prices.

Think also of details like departure time of the flight. Sometimes, the cheapest low-cost airline flights leave super early or during the night, when it may also be more expensive for you to make it to the airport. Is the saving worth it?

Ryanair airplane
Ryanair – low-cost airline from Ireland

3. Choosing Between a Full-Service and Low-Cost Airline

The choice between a full-service airline and a low-cost carrier ultimately depends on the individual traveler’s needs and preferences.

For those who prioritize comfort, convenience, and a comprehensive service, full-service airlines are the go-to choice. These airlines typically provide more spacious seating, an array of in-flight entertainment options, and a variety of meal options, often included in the ticket price. The comfort and convenience they offer can make long-haul flights more bearable.

On the other hand, if cost-saving is your primary concern, then low-cost carriers might be more suitable. These airlines often offer significantly cheaper fares, even though they provide fewer amenities. Services such as checked baggage, meals, seat selection, and entertainment are typically not included in the base fare, but can be added for an extra fee.

This a la carte approach allows travelers to only pay for the services they need, potentially saving them money.

However, it’s important to note that the lines between full-service airlines and low-cost carriers are increasingly blurring. Many full-service airlines are adopting cost-cutting measures reminiscent of low-cost carriers, such as charging extra for checked baggage. Conversely, some low-cost carriers are adding elements of full-service offerings, such as assigned seating or business class sections.

As a result, it all comes down to your preferences and the offer. One time it might be better to fly with a low-cost carrier, other time – full-service airline.

4. Biggest and Best: Full-Service Airlines List

Here’s a brief overview of some of the biggest and best full-service carriers from different continents.

Americas

  • American Airlines – Based in Fort Worth, Texas, American Airlines is one of the largest airlines globally, offering extensive network connectivity across North America, South America, and beyond.
  • LATAM Airlines – As the largest airline in Latin America, LATAM offers extensive connectivity across the continent and international destinations.

Africa

  • Ethiopian Airlines – Headquartered in Addis Ababa, this airline is Africa’s largest and offers an impressive network across the continent and beyond.
  • South African Airways – Based in Johannesburg, South African Airways is well-known for its excellent onboard service and extensive route network.

Asia

  • Cathay Pacific – Based in Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific is renowned for its superior service and has extensive connectivity across Asia and international destinations.
  • Singapore Airlines – Known worldwide for its exceptional customer service and luxurious first-class suites, Singapore Airlines also boasts a vast network of routes.

Australia

  • Qantas – Australia’s flag carrier, Qantas, offers comprehensive domestic and international routes, known for its superb in-flight service and strong safety record.

These are the airlines that demonstrate the global reach and service level of full-service carriers, providing travelers with comfort, convenience, and an elevated flying experience. Have you traveled with any of these full-service airlines? What was your experience?

About the author:

Co-founder and Chief Editor at Connecting Flights Guide

Kaspars is a digital nomad and travel blogger who’s been traveling the world extensively since 2013. Since 2017, Kaspars has been writing about the less-known aspects of air travel, things like air passenger rights laws and regulations. He’s really good at simplifying complex concepts and making them easily understandable. Kaspars favorite airlines are Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines.

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