Europe's Low-Fare Airlines Continue Aggressive Expansion Into U.S.

by Barbara Peterson
Europe's Low-Fare Airlines Continue Aggressive Expansion Into U.S.

Move over Norwegian:  More European based airlines are increasing their service to the U.S. to capitalize on increased demand as well as the advent of new longer-range single-aisle jets.  

Airlines like leisure carriers Thomas Cook Airlines and its corporate sibling, Condor, are adding flights to U.S. with flights to Manchester and elsewhere.  Other players include XL Airways, which has merged with boutique business class line La Compagnie; Edelweiss, a Swiss low-cost contender, and Level, the new discount clone from British Air parent IAG , which is operating flights to the U.S. from Barcelona.  

The latest contender to enter the fray is Primera, a Scandinavian low-fare airline that, like Norwegian, began as a budget line within Europe.  It recently said it would launch daily nonstop flights between Newark and London Stansted next April, followed by a second round of flights from Newark to Paris and Birmingham. 

Boston will be added as a second U.S. gateway for those same European airports, also next spring.  All flights will operate with new narrowbody Airbus A321 “Neo” jets, which are more fuel-efficient and can fly longer distances than older models. The carrier also is making a splash with fares as low as $99 one way,  but it’s following the la carte model of lines like Norwegian and Wow, where customers have to pay extra for bags and seat assignments, and meals need to be arranged in advance. 

Other European lines are taking a different approach.  Thomas and Condor, for example, include a free checked bag, complimentary meal and some onboard entertainment in the overall ticket price.  And some of those prices can be almost as low as Norwegian’s, recently,  Thomas Cook said it would add year-round, thrice weekly service between New York JFK  and Manchester, at introductory fares of $99 one way. 

Both Thomas Cook and Condor offer a premium cabin (which Norwegian does on some flights) and operate widebody jets such as the Boeing 767 and the Airbus A330.  The two carriers now serve 17 gateways in the U.S., four of which were added this summer. 

And watch for other more traditional European flag carriers to adopt some of the aspects of their low-fare brethren.   TAP Air Portugal, for example, recently rolled out a new coach class product, called, quite literally, Discount, which is similar to U.S. airlines’ Basic Economy:  it’s lower than the existing cheapest economy ticket,  but doesn’t include checked bags or advance seat assignments. 

And TAP also has ambitious plans for its transatlantic network; it’s ordering a fleet of A320 Neos that will enable it fly to many more markets in the Eastern U.S., according to a carrier source. 

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