Low-cost airlines are referred to as such, for the most part, quite incorrectly.
‘Low-cost’ relates to the cost base of the carrier, not the price of their tickets.
It is far better, I believe, to use the term ‘no-frills’ when referring to the actual service provision of certain airlines.
Thus both Ryanair and Air Berlin are ‘low-cost’ carriers, but only Ryanair is ‘no-frills’.
The persistent use of the term ‘low-cost’ by the media permeates into general conversation. It is probably one of the several subtle accelerants in the general race-for-the-bottom that we observe in economy class travel service standards. Many passengers simply cannot discriminate between the no-frills and full-service carriers when they are erroneously and generically referred to as ‘low-cost,’ and either don’t value the ‘frills’ when they are provided, or don’t realise that one ticket price from, say AB, includes them and a competitor price from, say U2, does not.
It is no wonder that the legacy carriers struggle to get their message across without the benefit of lurid liveries and other marketing means that are specifically designed to create the impression of ‘cheap’.
Witness the curious phenomenon of unassigned seating. It’s a purely marketing-driven service standard – it actually takes longer and costs more to board an aircraft this way, but the general scrum and lack of civility ‘looks’ cheap and adds to the impression that costs have been cut to the bone and therefore ticket prices must be the cheapest that they possibly can be. It appeals to the majority mindset who will never bother to check the less vividly-liveried carriers’ websites, on the assumption that the latter must be more expensive.