Air travelers in Europe today have many more cheap air travel options than only a decade ago. The partial deregulation of air travel in Europe in the 1990s allowed the rise of low-cost airlines, and flying even short distances in Europe is often cheaper than taking the train. The days when national flagship carriers dominated air traffic and were regarded as national symbols are gone, and the fierce competition from low-cost airlines has led to bankruptcies and mergers of several large and reputable airlines. But with so many more airlines operating in Europe comes the difficult choice for travelers to figure out how to get the best prices and the services they desire. This article is intended to shed some light on cheap air travel within Europe, while also covering some aspects of traveling to Europe from overseas.
Flying to Europe
London is still the cheapest European destination from North America, but it is not a great gateway for continental Europe. If your final travel destination is not Great Britain, you are better off using a hub in continental Europe for connecting flights. The international airport at Heathrow is so huge and congested, that it is difficult to make connections on time. If you have a connecting flight to continental Europe, chances are that your bags will be delayed, due to the airport’s enormous size and the different terminals that are far apart. In addition, with ongoing terrorist threats and security alerts, security checks at London’s Heathrow airport are a continuous nightmare. But if you stay in Great Britain and then continue to other European countries, you can catch low-cost flights from secondary London airports that take you almost anywhere in Europe at incredibly low prices.
Also keep in mind that booking a direct flight to your European destination is not always the cheapest way to get there. The major European airlines will often take you to one of their hubs, from where you can catch a connecting flight to your final destination. A few years ago I wanted to fly from Boston to Lisbon, but the cheapest flight was first to Frankfurt, and then Lisbon. Frankfurt is a major hub of the German airline Lufthansa, with frequent connections to most European cities. Another option is to fly open-jaw, which means that you arrive in one city and fly out from another on the same airline, and you usually only pay a little bit extra. This is a great way to plan a one-way itinerary in Europe, which saves you additional travel expenses and time.
Starting in March 2008, the Open Skies agreement between the U.S. and the European Union will go into affect after years of negotiations. This partial deregulation of transatlantic air traffic will allow European airlines to fly from any city in the EU to any city in the U.S., and vice versa. U.S. airlines will also be allowed to fly within Europe. This agreement is largely expected to increase competition on transatlantic flights and reduce fares.
Low-Cost Airlines in Europe
Low-cost airlines have exploded onto the European market in recent years, and routes that were traditionally covered by national airlines now face the stiff competition of low-cost carriers. This has prompted several major European airlines to start their own low-cost subsidiary airlines to remain competitive.
Low-cost airlines typically fly to smaller cities or secondary airports, where landing fees are lower and where fewer airlines compete for landing slots. While large airports often operate at maximum capacity leading to delays and canceled flights, smaller regional airports still have room for additional flights, which many low-cost airlines take advantage of. This means that if you are flexible and willing to consider secondary airports or smaller cities as your destination, you can save a lot of money. Low-cost carriers usually offer only one passenger class and often have no assigned seating. Keep in mind that tickets from low-cost airlines are usually non-refundable and that flight dates cannot be changed.
To save cost and make extra money, low-cost airlines charge for food or drinks, and you will find the baggage and weight allowance to be very low, or you might even be charged for every checked bag. Airport taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges are often listed separately from the low advertised fare. Many low-cost airlines sell their tickets almost exclusively online, and few travel agents will be able to book a flight on a European low-cost carrier for you from overseas. If you are flying to Europe from overseas and want to continue with a low-cost carrier, you should do your own online search for a suitable airline and book a flight directly online.