Budget airlines. Love them or hate them, over the last decade they have enabled millions of us to afford to fly to Europe for a summer getaway. From city breaks to a week by the beach, they transport more of us from the UK than any other carrier; in fact Easyjet is the UK’s largest airline by passenger numbers. Way back in 2000, low-cost carriers accounted for just 8.6% of the market, but by last year that number had risen to 52% of UK airline passengers. Traditionally they have operated from the UK to mainland Europe’s top destinations. Last week Michael O’Leary – Ryanair’s always colourful CEO – made an announcement which could prove as disruptive for transatlantic flights as the budget airlines have been for European travel, with his intention for Ryanair to launch €10 (£8.20) one way flights to New York. Michael O’Leary said “We can make money on 99-cent fares in Europe”. Before going on to say “not every seat will be €10 of course, there will also need to be a very high number of business or premium seats.”
But do we want ‘budget flights’ on long-haul routes? Being cramped in with little leg room on a relatively short hop across to Spain, Italy or Greece is one thing, but how many of us will put up with it for the seven and a half hours to New York? Then there is the price. Michael O’Leary let us know that for €10 we will be paying extra for everything from baggage to printed tickets, meals and drinks. Factor in the ‘hidden’ costs of taxes and how much cheaper will it be? And will it be worth it?
This week we have been running a poll on our Facebook page to ask whether you would consider flying to the USA with a budget carrier. So far we have had a pretty even split, with 53% voting yes and 47% voting no. So the question goes out for you to debate with us, would you fly to the US with a budget carrier?
First we asked our panel for their views on budget airlines, and whether they would choose to fly to the US with a budget carrier, do you agree?
Gregory Sion, Regional Director for HomeAway UK
“Budget airlines provide more options to travellers when planning their holidays. RyanAir is a fantastically successful business with a very simple offer that has expanded its routes all across Europe. While it may not be the choice for everyone, it certainly provides an efficient mode of travel for regular jetsetters, and for many of our owners who travel to their property frequently. For groups and families it is important to look at the overall costs when booking with a budget airline, including luggage allowances, seating preferences (especially with young children) and the rules associated with being a passenger. Traditional airline carriers have been reducing their prices and competing for years, and it will be interesting to see if this is successful and what impact it has on existing airlines with these US routes.”
Stuart Foster, travel writer and professional photographer
“I think the concept of budget long-haul flights is exciting. I look forward to learning the details of the fare structure. This could revolutionise travel, mean being we’ll be able to plan inexpensive short breaks in cities that were previously only worth going to as holiday destinations. I love the idea of popping over to New York simply to take in a Knicks basketball game and a night out. But I’m 6’4″ and can already imagine the discomfort of travelling for several hours in a budget seat with restricted leg room. Of course the costs for transporting luggage could add significantly to the end cost of travelling. Will that take the fun out of a downtown shopping spree? I’m guessing taxes such as Air Passenger Duty (APD) will be on top of the fares and only a handful of seats will be available for €10? I’ll certainly be keeping my eyes open for further announcements regarding budget transatlantic flights.”
Follow Stuart on his blog www.go-eat-do.com
Firstly, I don’t believe his claim that there would be seats priced at £10 (I think this is a publicity stunt). Secondly, I’ve flown Ryanair once and won’t do it again. Some folks may like being treated like cattle to save money, but I’m not one of them.
See more opinions on our Facebook page
Helen Warwick, Deputy Editor of National Geographic Traveller UK
“I’m always keen to find a bargain and spending eight hours crammed into a plane would feel a whole better if I’d saved money to spend in my destination rather than on travel. To me, travel is all about adventures and experiences — and I can cope with a bit of discomfort if it means I can afford to do more while overseas.
But it’s not just leg room that may be compromised. Avoiding meals or not forking out for hold luggage on long-haul flights won’t be easy on such a long journey, and the ‘bargain’ headline rates, shouted about by Ryanair and the likes of Norwegian may not end up being so cheap after all. What remains to be seen is whether a low-cost, long-haul offering will flourish and if the same model used on short-haul can be replicated. If it comes down to comfort and price though, I’ll always go for price.”