I just had this discussion in my economics of air transport class last night. These are generalizations and in many cases don't apply to all LCCs, but they are prevalent in the sucessful ones.
Most LCCs have lower cost structures than the more traditional carriers. On the operational side here in the US, they employ largely non-union employees and many are trained in multiple roles. They utilize common fleets of aircraft which saves costs in training for any employee that touches the aircraft from lowly fueler (I am one so don't get mad
) to the pilots and mechanics. It saves money becuase they only have to stock one version of a part that is different from model to model, and you don't need many specialized service parts, such as towbars. You only need one model. Another trick they use is operating into less congested, or lower cost airfields that may be a distance away from the downtown area. Southwest is a good example of this choosing Dalas Love field over DFW
and Baltimore-Washington over Dulles. They may also favor a point-to-point service structure. The hub and spoke we all know and loathe is very costly. You need more people and equipment to handle all those flights at the same time. All the planes come in, all the planes go back out. Nobody is working and the gates and equipment sit idle while those planes are flying to the next destination. All those planes bottlenecking at the runway causes delays. Delays cost money. This is a big reason that many majors are starting to "depeak" their hubs.
On an organizational level, the hiarchy of LCCs in the US is much "flatter". While you will still have a board, president or CEO, and the positions that the FAA mandates under part 121 they eliminate many of the higher managment positions. This saves a ton in salaries and bonuses. Employees may also be compensated differently. Many LCCs do not pay as well but may offer other incentives such as a strong profit sharing program, and full health benefits. The executives are traditionally not paid as well also.
All of these features add up to a different corporate culture. Many LCCs embody a team philosophy. The management often empowers their employees and looks to them for suggestions on how to make the airline more efficient. After all, the guy doing his job knows how to speed up the process a little or make it easier to do. This lends to higher morale, as the employee is seen as a vital part of the team and they fail without the job they do. It also lends itself to a more dynamic structure that allows for faster change as demands warrant action. Little things like cancelling a route that is not profitable and switching the resources that were spent to a more productive route are an example. Another would be accessing new technologies such as a new IFE system that might appeal to travelers. Perhaps it's purchasing their fuel at a predetermined cost in the hopes that they will later see a savings as the retail price goes up. There is a smaller chain of command, and decisions can be made faster.