The world according to low cost flights

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Meeting in London this week were representatives from low cost airlines across the world. They converged for the 8th Annual World Low Cost Airlines Congress. The first thought that comes to mind is why is this only the eighth annual meeting? The impact of these airlines on our travelling and holiday habits has been substantial in the last twenty odd years. Ever since Southwest Airlines in the US virtually invented the concept and made it work successfully and commercially, (I remember Sir Freddie Laker’s Skytrain but you can’t say it was successfully financially) other airlines have copied and refined the idea. So much so that, the older airlines like BA, Aer Lingus, Air France, Lufthansa and the others have had to think what they offer passengers.
Gone are the days when everything was included in the price – except perhaps fuel surcharges. Now there are a host of costs to think about so that even the traditional airlines charge for credit card use and, some, for hold baggage.
But low cost airlines like Ryanair, easyJet, Air Berlin, Norwegian, Wizz, Germanwings have enabled fares to drop and, more importantly, allowed holidaymakers to travel to places they wouldn’t have considered. New destinations for short or weekend breaks cropped up like Prague, Vilnius, Tallinn, Riga and Gothenburg. All of a sudden the world had become smaller. All of a sudden traditional airlines lost money, (or even more money since many were crazily run) went bust or had to adapt. Aer Lingus has become a low cost airline some would say. Others would use a newish buzz word in the industry – hybrid. British Airways launched Go, didn’t know what to do with it and sold it off. Now Singapore Airlines has a successful low fares offshoot, Tiger Airways as does Qantas with Jet* and soon there will be ANA in Japan with Peach.
But with the growth of these low cost airlines – you can’t call them new anymore – has come customer ire as we try to understand the rules of flying as they exist today. And we have had to adapt to the new world as well, a new world where we pay for the very basic service and then pay on top for anything else we want. We may not like it but, by now we are just about used to not believing the headline price we see. Daft, publicity seeking comments from Michael O’Leary – the man who has built Ryanair into one of the largest and most successful airlines even through the economic downturn – have helped us travellers to view these airlines with some contempt. Which is unfortunate given what I wrote earlier about how the world has opened up due almost solely to them.
The next move has to be long haul. Air Asia X flies us to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia from Stansted. Carolyn McCall at easyJet says she has no pan to go into long-haul but O’Leary does harbour the idea of flying to New York albeit may not not be under the Ryanair banner. Jet* links Australia with South East Asia but that is as far as we have evolved. Will someone resurrect the ghost of Sir Freddie and his Skytrain and offer us cheap transatlantic and Caribbean flights?
Not soon if the people speaking and attending this congress are to be believed. The concentration seemd to be on playing to their strengths, keeping costs low and weathering the downturn in the economy.

Tony Fernandes, founder of Air Asia and QPR owner

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