The European Open-Skies Treaty of 1992 blew the lid off the system in place before, where national government would restrict access to their airspace to expensive 'flag-carriers', such as British Airways or Lufthansa. This enabled airlines to fly anywhere they wished in the European Union without government approval. The de-regulation of Europe's skies enabled a European airline run like Southwest to become a reality.
Ryanair was the first airline in Europe to try this model, and now have many imitators offering low fares across the continent. These are boom times for cheap air travel in Europe, with fares on some routes as low as €10 (£7, US$12) one-way including tax.
Points to consider
- Discount airlines are often much more strict about their fares. For example, while in "fat" airlines they usually allow some baggage over the weight limit, WizzAir will charge you €6 for each kg over the limit. Also, some airlines have lower limits than the usual 20 kg. A few kilograms of weight can double your ticket price. Check your terms carefully and weigh your luggage before a journey.
- Be prepared that food is usually not served during the flight, or it is available for a fee.
- Most discount airlines try to lower airport fees, so they often use smaller airports, sometimes quite far away from the city they state they fly to. For example Paris Beauvais Airport is some 90 km from Paris, bus costs about €13 one-way and it takes about 1h15 to get to Paris (TAXI would be €130-150 one-way).
- Following competition from discount airlines, main carriers such as BA have also cut their fares on competing routes, and are often only about 20% more expensive than discount airlines, a price worth paying if the journey to the airport is cheaper and faster. Sometimes they can even be cheaper than discount airlines, especially during public holidays.
low cost airlines
There are 62 low cost airlines in Europe, and this number is rapidly changing. Here are a few of the biggest.
- Air Berlin operates a huge network between Austria, France, Egypt, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia, Greece and the UK. They book through tickets. One of the very few low-cost-airlines which serve free beverages and food on their flights, even short ones. They offer connective-flights as well, i.e. via their hubs in Nuremberg, Germany (NUE) or Palma de Mallorca, Spain (PMI). Works in an alliance with Fly Niki and Germania Express.
- Air Baltic have a wide variety of cheap fares from Riga, which can be used as a transit point. E.g. it is cheaper to travel Odessa-Riga-Kiev with airbaltic than Odessa-Kiev directly with regular-fare airlines.
- Blue 1 operate routes between northern Europe (Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden) and seven different cities in Finland.
- Blue Air operates six routes, as of 2005 September, between Bucharest and Barcelona, Maastricht, Lyon, Milan, Rome, and Madrid.
- BMI Baby, a subsidiary of bmi, have bases in Teeside, Cardiff, Manchester and Nottingham East Midlands. They operate domestic flights to Scotland and Northern Ireland, and also have a small number of flights out of Gatwick.
- Centralwings operates out of Poland (Warsaw, Krakow, Katowice) to several European destinations. It is a child airline of LOT Polish Airlines, the national operator, using their fleet, and thus is probably safer (eg. bankruptcy less likely), but more expensive than others. Booking by Internet and phone, as well as by some travel agencies (additional fee apply).
- Condor operates out of major airports in Germany (doesn't use obscure airfields) and sells tickets starting at 29,00 Euros one-way within Europe, putting it into the discount airline bracket as well. Offers free food and beverages catered by Lufthansa.
- Corendon operates out of Turkey to Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands
- FlyBe operates out of the UK to many European Destinations
- FlyGlobeSpan based in Scotland (Glasgow, Edinburgh) with cheap flights over Europe and a few cheap flights to Canada
- FlyNordic operates from Stockholm to mostly Scandinavian places but also to Europe
- German Wings operate a large network out of German airports Berlin, Cologne-Bonn, Hamburg, and Stuttgart.
- Hapag-Lloyd Express operate a large network out of Stuttgart, Cologne/Bonn, Hanover, Hamburg and Berlin.
- Iceland Express operates out of London Stansted, Copenhagen & Frankfurt to Reykjavik.
- Lauda Air operates out of Austria to many European destinations.
- jet2 operate out of UK airports Belfast, Blackpool, Edinburgh, Leeds/Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle to destinations throughout continental Europe.
- Maersk Air Maersk is now part of Sterling airlines with Scandinavian based routes and will redirect the weblink to their site.
- Meridiana operates out of Italy to many European & Italian destinations.
- Monarch operates out of several UK cities
- Niki operates out of Austria to many European destinations. Also gives away free beverages and food. Has an alliance with AirBerlin.
- Norwegian operates out of Norway.
- Onur Air operates a Turkish domestic network.
- Sky Europe operate out of Bratislava, Budapest, Krakow and Warsaw. Sales online, in some travel agencies and in airports.
Probably they don't do this often, but it happens that SkyEurope change its schedule a week before departure, so the flight is 8-10 hours earlier/later than in original reservation. Options they give are: rebooking (for free in this case) or refund (sidenote: buying another ticket week before the flight can be 10 times more expensive then the refund). Anyway, flying low-cost airline, you agree to take that risk.
- Smartwings operates out of Prague.
- Spanair operates throughout Spain and to a few other European destinations. Owned by SAS and a member of Star Alliance.
- Snowflake operates out of Copenhagen and Stockholm. Snowflake is the discount version of SAS.
- Sterling operate from Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, Oslo, and Copenhagen. On the Scandinavian routes Sterling often compete with SAS by offering the same service at much lower prices, but not give air miles.
- Thomsonfly Operates from many UK airports to destinations across Europe and Northern Africa.
- Transavia (former BasiqAir), Operates out of Amsterdam to many European destinations.
- Vueling operates out of Barcelona (Spain) to many European destinations.
- Wizzair operates from Poland and Hungary
- Wind-Jet operates out of Italy to many European & Italian destinations.