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Pillow? On Skybus, it’ll cost ya’

I haven’t had a chance to fly Skybus, the Ohio-based ultra-low-cost carrier that began service on May 22, 2007. And I’m not sure I want to. If Southwest is a cattle car, Skybus is a no-frills cattle car. That’s central to its business philosophy, since Skybus aims to significantly undercut Southwest’s low fares.

In fact, Skybus’s model isn’t Southwest, it’s Europe’s Ryanair. (It’s worth noting that Ryanair has grown to become Europe’s third-largest airline as measured by the number of passengers carried. It has also been the object of extensive criticism, both from regulators and from the flying public.) As does Ryanair, Skybus keeps costs, and fares, low by offering its services a la carte, charging extra for everything. Check your bag? Ka-ching, it’ll cost you. A meal or a beverage? The same. Pillow or a blanket? Ditto. Boarding is first-come-first-served. Unless you pony up $10 to go to the head of the line. And a toll-free customer service number? Not! Skybus has no telephone call center. Too expensive.

Is there such a thing as too cheap? Perhaps, but so far Skybus is enjoying considerable success in getting traction with flyers.

As Scott McCartney writes in his latest “The Middle Seat” column for the Wall Street Journal, “The carrier also raises the question of just how cheap U.S. travelers will go to travel. So far, many seem to be willing to go very cheap. At a time when bus companies and Amtrak struggle to attract customers, and many travelers still gripe about the loss of in-flight meals and the addition of so many airline fees, Skybus filled more than 80% of its seats all summer.”

And while Skybus’s stripped-down service can’t be compared to the cushier product offered by the legacy carriers, Skybus’s super-low fares — sometimes as cheap as $10 each way — will force airlines competing with Skybus to keep their ticket prices from outstripping Skybus’s by an unacceptable margin.

Oh, and if you’re interested in finding out more about Skybus’s history and philosophy, don’t expect to find the usual trove of news releases and corporate backgrounders on the Skybus website. Presumably to keep costs down, no such business world niceties are observed by the carrier. But there is a solid Skybus company profile already up on Wikipedia.

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