Skybus: How cheap is too cheap? Christmas morning, two planes of the start-up cheaper-than-cheap-fares airlines Skybus were out of commission. These things happen to all airlines, right? Usually, stranded passengers catch a later flight, or the airline arranges a seat on a competitor's flight. Inconvenient, sure, but not the end of the world.

Then there are the Skybus passengers. You see, Skybus only has seven planes total, so there were no other Skybus flights to move them to. And Skybus, being the cheapest airline, doesn't have reciprocity arrangements with other airlines to provide seats for its passengers in such situations.

Worst, Skybus does not have a customer service department, no phone number you can call for help. All passenger contact is via the internet, not much help when stranded in the terminal.

The company sent e-mails on Christmas morning to warn passengers of the flight cancellations, but many were already on their way to the airport. After all, we are warned to be prepared for hours of pre-flight screenings.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, one family whose return flight to L.A. was canceled could not find a seat on a Skybus flight until two days later, and ended up paying $350 for a one-way with Southwest. Skybus will not compensate them. The Dispatch quoted Skybus spokesman Bob Tenenbaum as saying ,"People need to be aware of Skybus's conditions. If Skybus did things the same way the major airlines do, they wouldn't be able to offer low fares."

Apparently, its competitive advantage is that it gives even less of a damn about its customers than the major airlines do. Although the company is headquartered in my home town, I think Skybus tickets are too cheap for me. After all, I can spend a couple of days sitting in the Columbus airport any time I want, for free. When I pay, I expect to fly.

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