Budget Airlines: It's Been A Bumpy Ride

Braniff: Known for aiming to fly anywhere with a landing strip, Braniff was the first (but not the last) major U.S. airline to go bankrupt in the wake of deregulation in '78. Braniff never recovered, but its influence persists: the latest discount carriers all place a premium on style.

Southwest: The original. Founded in '71 by two quirky Texans, Southwest (think wisecracking attendants and ticketless travel) soared in the de-regulated market.

Laker Airways and Skytrain: On Sept. 26, 1977, Laker Airways launched Skytrain--the first no-frills round-trip transatlantic service. Offering nothing but transportation, Skytrain got you from New York to London and back for $236 ($400 less than the going rate). Breakfast was $1.25 extra. Laker soon went belly-up.

People Express: Of all the postderegulation upstarts, it flew the highest--and crashed the hardest. Founded by Donald Burr in '80, PE offered regional flights for the price of an intercity bus ticket. But its unprecedented growth led Burr t overextend; by '86, PE was out of business.

Frontier: This tiny, Denver-based carrier debuted in '94 with two planes. Now it has 46. The secret? Slowly and steadily, Frontier cut costs but kept some frills.

Jetblue: The prodigy. With $130 million in capital funding and the guts to start a hub at New York's costly JFK, David Neeleman announced in July '99 he would bring "humanity back to air travel." Since then his JetBlue has been riding its DirecTV-equipped, all-leather seats straight to the bank--and the "legacies" have been playing catch-up.

Song: Hoping to cut into a leisure market dominated by JetBlue, Delta premiered its own discount carrier in April '03 (United launched a budget rival, Ted, in Feb. '04). With Kate Spade uniforms and a trendy N.Y.C. shop, Song harks back to the heyday of Braniff. But a slow start has earned it the nickname "Swan Song."

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