After an 18-month review process, Richard Branson's Virgin America Airlines recently got the operational green light from the U.S. Department of Transportation, allowing Branson to take his low-cost economic model of Britain's Virgin Atlantic across its namesake ocean to the United States. However, Virgin America—which currently only has plans to fly within the U. S.—isn't the only carrier importing itself from abroad. A handful of Europe's low-fare carriers are taking steps to make affordable European flights available to Americans.
travelers have long been accustomed to pricey transatlantic fares from
carriers, but an optimistic look at industry numbers could provide some relief.
In his most recent "TransAtlantic" report, Neil S. Martin notes that
the top nine transatlantic carriers, which include the likes of American
Airlines and Lufthansa, reported slightly bigger—although still weak—off-peak
increases for overall transatlantic traffic. Despite the fact that a large
increase in U.S. travel to Europe is unlikely (thanks to the weak dollar against the
euro), Martin notes that many carriers are adding flights and seats to
transatlantic routes this summer. "Because they're adding these seats,
presumably the fares could go down and make up for the weak dollar,"
Martin says. "It's a little iffy, but that's what happened last year: They
filled them and it was a record summer."
Now, economic European carriers like Eurofly, Flyglobespan
and LTU, are increasing competition with flight services between Europe and
large U.S. cities like New York and Las
Vegas for up to $200 less than major carriers. Of
course, the catch is that most flights are seasonal and some of these carriers
charge fees for services like meals and entertainment. Even so, such airlines
can be an attractive alternative to a couple on a budget or a family looking to
cut costs in some places in order to splurge elsewhere.
"It's the same seat," says Rosario Mariani,
general sales agent in North America for Eurofly USA, which just kicked
off its third season of service between New York's John F. Kennedy
International Airport and various points in Italy. "You're not getting any
more service from a major carrier than you would from us, unless you go
business or first class."
How can carriers like Eurofly keep costs lower than their
major competitors? "We keep an eye on being less pricey than the
competitors," Mariani says of Eurofly's strategy, noting that competition
includes U.S. carriers like
Continental, as well as overseas airlines like Air France. "Our strategy has been
to see what the benchmark is and then price ourselves $150 to $200 below
Another part of the success strategy is to remain focused.
"We are point-to-point," Mariani says. "Our attachment area is
the northeast, so we don't have any agreements for any domestic carrier to feed
us flights. Because I don't share that revenue with other airlines, I can charge
less and keep more of it."
Through November 13, Eurofly is operating nonstop flights
from JFK to Naples, Bologna
and Palermo, as well as Pescara and Lamezia Terme. Because traffic to
Rome is so
strong, the airline is considering extending its services there through the
"For 2008, we're looking at expanding in Italy and in 2009, we may be able to look at
opening other gateways in Canada
Mariani says. "We'll see where the opportunities lie at that time."
Should the carrier ever expand service to the west coast, Los Angeles would be the obvious choice, he
Just two weeks ago, Scotland-based Flyglobespan began
daily service between Boston and Glasgow, Scotland,
as well as between New York and Liverpool, England.
Most recently, the airline inaugurated its nonstop flight from JFK to Ireland's WestAirport in Knock, which serves as a
gateway to Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Galway
and Mayo. The flight operates three times a week and is available through
One-way rates begin at $259, exclusive of taxes and fees.
Flyglobespan currently operates a fleet of 21 aircraft that travel to 31
destinations in Europe, North America and Africa.
Germany-based LTU International Airlines operates
direct flights between Düsseldorf, Germany and Los Angeles,
New York, Las Vegas,
Miami and Fort
Myers, FL. Early last
month, flights from Los Angeles began operating
five times a week and flights from Las
Vegas revved up to twice weekly, with one-way fares
starting at $388 for economy class. In the first quarter of 2007, the airline
posted a sales growth of 12.5 percent and it expects to see a five percent
overall annual growth, due in part to the expansion of LTU's long-haul business
in the U.S.
LTU will start operating new service from Melbourne,
FL to Berlin's
Tegel airport on November 3, says Pierre de la Motte, a spokesperson for the
airline. In addition, some services are transitioning from seasonal to
year-round, mainly due to demand from business travelers.
"We come from more of a holiday background and now we
are looking at business travelers more and more," de la Motte says, adding
that the airline plans to increase its number of business class seats from 18
"That is the reason we have been changing our whole
business model." Further U.S.
expansion plans are in the works, he notes, but details were not ready for
discussion at press time.
What to Expect From Virgin America
Now that Virgin America has received its approval from the
Department of Transportation, the carrier hopes to begin operations as early as
mid-summer, with an inaugural flight departing from its San
FranciscoInternationalAirport hub to New
Within nine months of that first flight, the airline also plans to begin
servicing Washington, DC's
Dulles, Los Angeles' LAX, San
Diego and Las Vegas.
Virgin America will operate 33 Airbus A320s and A319s that
will feature in-flight entertainment systems with on-demand movies, satellite
TV, games, music and online chat rooms. Though an exact date has yet to be set,
the carrier hopes ticket sales to begin early this summer. Agents can sign up
for updates at www.virginamerica.com.