Room For One More?

There’s nothing like a healthy dose of competition to drive prices down. Norwegian Airline’s soon-to-be-launched assault on the highly lucrative transatlantic route has already had one effect; forcing the bigger airlines to set up ‘no frills’ subsidiaries of their own so as to offer their own cheap flights across the Atlantic.

Norwegian Airline’s new transatlantic fleet will take off next month and their brand new aircraft, sporting a distinctive red and white livery (including a picture of the late pioneer Freddie Laker), will soon – hopefully – be a regular sight above us carrying passengers from – albeit smaller – Irish and UK regional airports to the US for as little as £69.

What will seem strange for the passengers (apart from all that extra spending money they’ll have in their pockets), is that they’ll be flying in single aisle planes; they might have experienced them on short haul flights before but not long haul.

The key to Norwegian’s hoped-for success on this route will be using Boeing’s new 737 Max 8  and a new long-range version of  the Airbus’s A32. both aircraft represent the next generation of highly fuel-efficient narrow-body jets that can cover long distances.

The 737 Max 8 will only carry enough fuel to allow passengers to get to the US East Coast (which is far enough for shoppers heading to New York at Christmas) but the launch of the A321 LR in 2019 will have an additional 500-mile range, so offering the opportunity to fly even longer distances from continental Europe to the US and Canada.

Given that the transatlantic route is the most lucrative one in the world, Norwegian Airlines can expect a fierce response from the established players. But this will be to the benefit of passengers who’ll be offered more choice of routes and cheaper air fares.

Both Aer Lingus (part of International Airlines Group) and JetBlue, a US-based airline,have signalled their interest in using the A321 LR. Interestingly this would represent JetBlue’s first foray into the transatlantic market and you’d expect them to start by undercutting their rivals. Happy days if you have relatives in the US.

Norwegian, along with other low-cost players, such as Canada’s WestJet and Iceland’s WOW Air, has already forced the legacy airlines into setting up their own low cost airline subsidiaries; presumably in the hope that passengers using their own‘no frills’ airlines can, over time, be persuaded back on-board their full service airlines. (Given that BA has now started charging passengers for their on-board food, they’ll be waiting for some time).

Two months ago International Airlines Group, owner of British Airways, launched Level, a low-cost brand that will fly from Barcelona to four destinations, including Los Angeles and Oakland, San Francisco’s second airport. Meanwhile Lufthansa is expanding its ‘no frills’ subsidiary called Eurowings, and Air France-KLM is also launching a lower-cost airline called Boost.

Can the market support all these new players and is their sufficient demand amongst passengers for low cost transatlantic travel (don’t forget, you’ve still got to get through US immigration)? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, let’s salute the ‘no frillers’.



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