A plane lands at Los Angeles International Airport.
A plane lands at Los Angeles International Airport. - 
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KAI RYSSDAL: Next time you book a flight with one of the big airlines, say Delta or United, be sure to read the fine print. Your flight might actually wind up contracted out to a regional carrier you've never heard of. A regional carrier that may not have the same safety standards as the big guys do.

The National Transportation Safety Board spent some time going over those contracts today, as Marketplace's Jennifer Collins reports.

JENNIFER COLLINS: This is how these contracts work: So I'm booking a flight from Newark to Buffalo here, the flight says Continental but it's operated by Colgan Air.

Bill McGee, a Consumers Union travel consultant, says one out of two domestic flights is operated by a regional carrier like Colgan.

BILL MCGEE: Now the real concern is that consumers are not aware of this.

Regional carriers generally pay pilots less and have worse safety records than major airlines. The crash of a Colgan flight last year is one reason the National Transportation Safety Board is looking at these carriers and possible safety measures like longer breaks for pilots.

Richard Gritta, a professor of finance and transportation, says consumers will notice changes -- one way or another.

RICHARD GRITTA: Any time you say, well, we're going to schedule longer breaks, then of course the cost of flying goes up and of course the price goes up.

Still looking for a cheap -- and safe -- flight to Buffalo, I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

For more on these airline contracts: "NTSB forum looks at safety of airline partnerships"