Since deregulation of airlines in the mid 90’s, the ‘new’ airlines have often been as second rate, a different kind of animal that the established carriers everyone became reliant upon. However, the tide is turning and the budget carriers are now becoming the animal in the industry.
Ryanair has been the pioneer in flying you to the places you don’t really want to fly to, many miles from your final destination point. Frankfurt Hahn, Dusseldorf Weeze, Barcelona Gerona, Venice Treviso, Glasgow Prestwick are all great examples of airports sometimes 100’s of kilometres away from the advertised city. At the same time other airlines were popping up, but finding it difficult to capture the business clientele with a ‘no frills’ and basic service, just getting you to the destination you needed to get to. easyJet even in the early days offered services to Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Amsterdam, although sometimes had a reputation that it was just for stag and hen parties.
They started then muscling in on the ‘charter’ airlines, fitting the niche of high volume traffic to leisure destinations at first in Spain such as Malaga, Alicante and Palma, before branching out to Italy, Portugal, Malta, Croatia, Greece and Turkey. This has been the mainstay of low cost traffic over the last 15 years, but now the tide is starting to turn, and these former budget options are gaining ground on business traffic with a softer and more approachable attitude.
easyJet started the ball rolling with allocated seating, as well as a more business friendly options such as appearing on GDS systems and easy to chance flight reservations, which are helpful when arriving to an airport early. Ryanair followed this summer, going down the same paths as easyJet did with the allocated seating, more business friendly routes, appearing on GDS systems and combine it with a less harsh approach. Starting with it’s key bases, in the case of easyJet that is London Gatwick, Milan Malpensa and Paris Charles de Gaulle the schedules have been designed to appeal to the business traveller, with multiple rotations available per day – Barcelona, Madrid, Amsterdam are all good examples, with further important European links such as Brussels and Strasbourg also linked to the UK capitol. Ryanair has also gone down a similar path in Dublin and London Stansted, their two biggest bases fleshing out the rotations to primary airports – again Barcelona being popular, but also strengthening the ties to Ireland, Rome, Athens and Scotland.
It isn’t to say that the two of them are moving away from leisure traffic, they are just reducing their reliance on it. Having more business traffic through the winter months will help utilise otherwise empty aircraft flying around the European skies. Building where it makes sense on leisure traffic seems to be the name of the game – especially noticeable in the Greek market which is only available through the summer months.
British Airways has always been the king at Heathrow, linking to all the major capitals of Europe with multiple frequencies. Strong in Spain thanks to the partnership with Iberia, but also Nice, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Athens, Rome, Milan, Vienna, Budapest – all are served from the biggest airport in the UK. Gatwick has historically been the leisure airport. BA used to work with franchise partner GB Airways, who flew to all the usual points in the Med and Canary Islands, before it was sold to easyJet. However, over the last couple of years British Airways has made a comeback to the leisure market and it’s not just from Gatwick.
Heathrow firstly has seen an increase in charter traffic with the likes of Mark Warner and Sardatur acquiring aircraft over the weekend, a quieter time for traffic for the airline. This has led them to launch their own services that mainly cover ‘upmarket’ destinations such as Santorini, Mykonos, Ibiza, Gran Canaria and the recent addition of Krakow which has been timed to perfectly fit the weekend crowd.
The trend can also be seen at Gatwick, with the airline going head to head on the ‘budget’ carries on the traditional leisure routes. Malaga, Faro, Tenerife, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Paphos, Naples, Dubrovnik, Malta and next year Funchal, Dalaman, Bodrum and Kos.
So while the likes of easyJet and Ryanair are going after the cost conscious business traveller, British Airways is going after those who want something that is perceived to be nicer when travelling on their own holiday.
The battle is well and truly on. Who will you choose?