Low budget, long distance – the rise of long-haul on budget airlines

JUAN MARTINEZ

November 1, 2023

Low budget, long distance – the rise of long-haul on budget airlines

Tickets from Singapore to Berlin for 150€? Budget airlines are making this possible.

Did you ever book a ticket for a getaway weekend just because the price was ridiculously cheap? Don’t worry. You are not the only one. Price moves travelers from one place to another and in Europe, Ryanair, Wizzair, and EasyJet know that better than anyone else.

These three budget airlines are part of the “Big Seven”, the seven largest airline groups in Europe, which include big players such as the Lufthansa Group (Lufthansa, Austrian, Swiss, LOT, among a few more), IAG, Air France/KLM, and Turkish Airlines. However, unlike the groups I mentioned before, Ryanair, WizzAir, and EasyJet do not have status programs, fancy lounges, or first-class service.

Does it matter? Well, not really. In 2022, Ryanair carried the most amount of passengers in Europe, and today it is the third-largest airline in the world when it comes to passenger traffic.

But this article is not about the zeroes and heroes of the airline industry. It is about a new trend that started just a few years ago, and as time passes by, it seems to be the new standard in traveling. I’m talking about long-haul flights with budget airlines.

Boarding a ryanair flight in Europe
Boarding a Ryanair flight in Europe

What is a long-haul, low-cost flight?

A long-haul flight is a service that allows travelers to cover extended distances. These flights typically involve travel between continents or across large geographic regions. Most travelers consider a long-haul flight to be something between 6-12 hours. If you live in Berlin like me, that would mean any direct flight from Germany that goes as close as the east coast of the US, some parts of northern Africa, and the Middle East.

On the other hand, a low-cost flight involves a bit more than just a low price. For a lower price, you should expect lower service, and lower service also means fewer expectations. Now, imagine these two concepts together, and there you go, a long-haul, low-cost flight.

woman at airport
The image of budget airlines has been changing drastically the past years.

Here are some key characteristics of a low-cost flight:

Budget-Friendly Fares: Low-cost carriers aim to provide passengers with lower ticket prices compared to traditional full-service airlines. This cost savings is often achieved through various strategies, such as no-frills service, additional fees for extras, and streamlined operations.

Point-to-Point Routes: Low-cost airlines often operate on a point-to-point model. This means that they primarily fly between specific city pairs without offering extensive connecting flights or network hubs.

A La Carte Services: Passengers may be charged extra for services and amenities that are typically included in the ticket price of full-service carriers. This can include fees for meals, checked baggage, in-flight entertainment, seat selection, and more. Travelers pay for the services they want or need, rather than bundling them into the ticket cost.

Simplified Cabins: Long-haul, low-cost carriers often have a single-class cabin configuration with fewer seat options than traditional airlines. The seats may be closer together, and there may be fewer in-flight amenities.

Operational Efficiency: These airlines focus on cost efficiency in various aspects of their operations, such as aircraft selection, turnaround times at airports, and fuel-efficient practices.

Smaller Airports: Some low-cost carriers may use secondary or less-congested airports at their destination, which can help reduce operational costs.

Limited or No Frills: Services like in-flight entertainment, complimentary meals, and premium lounges are often limited or absent on low-cost flights. Passengers are encouraged to bring their own entertainment and snacks.

Fuel-Efficient Aircraft: Unlike what you might think, low-cost carriers often use modern, fuel-efficient aircraft that help keep operational costs down. Budget airline VIVA in Colombia was one of the airlines with the newest aircraft fleet a few years ago – unfortunately, they went bankrupt.

No Codeshare Agreements: These airlines typically do not have extensive codeshare agreements with other airlines, which can limit passengers’ options for connecting flights.

Inside a Ryanair cabin
Inside a Ryanair cabin most services cost money.

How is this affecting the whole airline industry?

With new players constantly expanding, all other airlines have to get ahead of the game. Unfortunately, while carriers in the Middle East and Asia are trying to win back their customers with better services and a more extraordinary experience, airlines like Lufthansa, KLM, or United seem to be missing the point.

This year, I flew with KLM from Germany to Trinidad via Amsterdam. The Amsterdam-Trinidad connection had a refueling stop in St. Maarten and was a connection of over 15 hours – one of the longest I had this year. During this time, I received only two small glasses of water (although I’m sure I could have gotten another one if I asked), a small meal at the beginning, and a 2€ sandwich after 12 hours.

But it is not about me and a bad service on one flight. Every day, we hear news about how airlines are cutting services and benefits. Passengers flying BUSINESS CLASS with Air France or KLM do not necessarily get access to their lounges before flight departure, and Lufthansa offers a cookie and orange juice for a flight from Germany to Spain that lasts 3 hours

Established airlines are turning more into budget airlines, and budget airlines are opening new opportunities for travelers. Ryanair and WizzAir are launching new flights every month to even further destinations. Jeddah, Dubai, and Almaty are some of the connections you can book now starting at 50€. These were connections only possible with Turkish or Lufthansa a few years ago and usually cost 400-500€. Don’t be surprised if any of these European airlines start launching flights to India, Kenya, or Central America.

I hope this doesn’t sound like me complaining about the airline industry and the time a tired flight attendant didn’t smile. This is more a realization of why budget airlines are dominating the market right now and why I’m afraid of what Michael O’Leary said about introducing a standing area on the plane, ‘If I introduce it, they will book it.’ The problem is that Lufthansa, KLM, and British Airways will do the same a few years afterward.

Long-haul budget flights are here to stay; the question is, how far will they go?

Read more: Can you recognize these airline logos?

Would you take an intercontinental flight using a budget airline?
Would you take an intercontinental flight using a budget airline?

What long-haul, low-cost airlines and connections are available today?

As of the end of 2023, there are a few budget airlines operating long-haul connections. Some of the most popular ones include:

Norwegian Air Shuttle: Norwegian Air is known for its extensive long-haul routes, connecting Europe with destinations in North America, Asia, and South America. I used their transatlantic service to fly to Argentina from Europe once, and for the 120€ that I paid, I can’t complain about their service.

AirAsia X: Mostly known as the airline that will transport you across South East Asia, AirAsia has some interesting long-haul routes. It has a direct connection from Thailand to Jeddah, as well as several cities in Australia, with Kuala Lumpur to Sydney being the longest one, a flight connection that can take up to 9 hours.

Scoot: I heard about Scoot for the first time while I was studying in Singapore. This was the airline that could take you to the west coast of Australia on a budget. A few years later, Scoot flies as far as Berlin, which is one of its longest connections and one of the most attractive ways to travel from Europe to Singapore on a budget.

Norse: With a strong social media campaign, Norse wanted to establish themselves in the European market. They launched routes from Berlin to New York and Berlin to Miami. They even have an 11-hour flight connection from LAX to London and a summer connection from LAX to Oslo. You constantly see deals from Europe to the USA for less than 200€, and they are a strong competitor to airlines like United or American Airlines, which started charging ridiculous amounts for checked luggage.

French Bee: Even though you might not have heard about this airline before, they have become a strong competitor for Air France. This French airline offers flights from Paris to Reunion Island, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. They also offer a further connection to Tahiti, which can take you there for a fraction of what any other airline is charging right now.

Read more: Are low cost airlines understanding their customers?

Other budget airlines
Other budget airlines that offer long-haul routes belong to larger carriers. Eurowings belongs to Lufthansa and Level belongs to IAG.

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