By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency
A combination of old and startup lines means 10 low-fare transatlantic airlines this summer, flying from major gateways and cities that haven’t had transatlantic nonstop flights in a long time — if ever. Some routes are daily, some only a few times a week and a few only a few times over the summer. As of mid-June, you can fly nonstop to 20 European cities airports from 36 North American cities this summer, and most of these flights will operate through the summer. But these low-fare lines are quick to drop an under performing route or add a new opportunity, so you have to check for the dates you want to fly.
Among the U.S. cities where the only transatlantic nonstops this summer are on a low-fare line are Anchorage, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Providence and St. Louis. At the other end of the scale, at least four different low-fare lines compete with the giants at Boston, Los Angeles, New York-Newark, Orlando, San Francisco-Oakland and Seattle. Other gateways include Austin, Baltimore, Calgary, Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Denver, Detroit, Edmonton, Halifax, Las Vegas, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Portland, Quebec, Tampa, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington.
Most of these lines offer two hard products — economy and premium economy — but a few offer economy only and Condor adds a true business class. Most feature bare-bones economy fares where almost everything but getting on the plane costs extra — the fares you see hyped at $99 to Europe — plus one or two more useful economy fares that include what are otherwise extra-cost options such as checked baggage, seat assignment and in-flight meals. Hard products are generally comparable to major airlines, with only a few really dismal choices.
Air Transat (airtransat.com) flies from major Canadian cities to a handful of European destinations. Dismal choice warning: Three of its four 330 variants have nine-across seating — some of the worst crowding in the air.
Condor (condor.com) flies to Frankfurt from more than a dozen U.S. and Canadian cities.
Frenchbee (us.frenchbee.com) flies from Paris/Orly to Tahiti with a stop at San Francisco, where it has traffic rights.
Icelandair (Icelandair.com) continues to do what it has done for decades: low-fare flights to a large number of European hubs with connections — with an optional free stopover — in Iceland.
Level (flylevel.com) flies to Barcelona from four U.S. cities.
Norwegian (Norwegian.com/us) is by far the busiest of the transatlantic low-fare lines, with flights to most of the listed European cities from a dozen U.S. gateways. It focuses on London, which it reaches from 11 U.S. cities. Because it relies heavily on 787s, summer schedules are subject to adjustment or plane substitution due to Rolls-Royce engine problems.
Primera Air (primeraair.com) is flying but may not be able to fill its posted schedules because of delays in delivery of the 321neos it uses.
Thomas Cook (thomascookairlines.com) flies mainly to U.K. destinations. Dismal choice warning: With 29-inch pitch and ultra-tight eight-across seating, this line’s 767s are, as far as I know, the worst cattle cars flying anywhere.
WOW (wowair.us) has copied the Icelandair formula focused on connections in Keflavik. It has been a leader in hyping ultra-cheap fares, but most realistic itineraries cost a lot more.
XL Airways (xl.com/us) flies to Paris from a few major U.S. gateways. Dismal choice warning: XL’s 330s have ultra-tight, nine-across seating.
Except for the few dismal choice flights, you probably wouldn’t find the experience on these low-fare lines any different that you’d find on American, Air France, British Airways or Delta. Schedules are generally displayed by the big online travel agencies and metasearch engines. The major risk is that, with their small fleets, these lines are less able than their giant competitors to recover from a delay or cancellation. I guardedly recommend them, especially when they’re a lot less expensive than one of the giants.
(c) 2018 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.– June 12, 2018