Low cost, long-haul air travel goes mainstream

Holidaymakers are being enticed further afield as legacy airlines and newer carriers compete for business in the low cost, long-haul market.

The wider availability of budget flights means that travellers can now visit New York or even Singapore for the same price as a trip to the Mediterranean.

These broader horizons reflect a new battleground in mainstream air travel, with the Centre for Aviation reporting the launch of 15 long-haul low cost airlines between 2012 and last summer.

They include all three main European groups — Air France KLM, British Airways owner IAG and Lufthansa — as they bid to target millennial passengers, who are typically more focused on achieving value for money.

Fuel-efficient aircraft

The legacy airlines are keen to bridge the gap between budget and traditional carriers, with Air France recently launching Joon to serve a mixture of long and short haul destinations. The new operation sees flight attendants wear smart casual attire, while its aircraft have wi-fi on board and USB charging points.

The budget long-haul sector has just passed 500,000 weekly seats for the first time, although this still only represents about 0.5% of the global market.

But with fuel-efficient aircraft making longer journeys more attractive and comfortable, many low cost operators are planning rapid growth for 2018. Norwegian is starting direct flights from London Gatwick to Buenos Aires, while TUI has expanded its long-haul capacity with the addition of new aircraft.

Long-haul connections

The trends are being felt across the airline sector, prompting easyJet to launch a new booking platform so customers can connect to other low cost airlines flying from Gatwick to North and South America and the Far East.

Gatwick, which is easyJet’s largest base, is benefiting from this rising demand as it becomes one of the busiest long-haul low cost airports in the world. About 7.3 million passengers travelled long-haul from Gatwick in 2017, with its growth in this part of the market up by 16% year-on-year in December 2017.