Pól Ó Conghaile: Low-cost transatlantic flights have landed... with catches, of course
Low-cost transatlantic airlines are like buses. You wait ages for one to come along, and then several land at once.
This July, Norwegian takes off from Cork, Dublin, Shannon and Belfast. WOW air will add one-stop flights (via Reykjavík) from Cork to its Irish services this May.
And now comes a new low-cost brand from Aer Lingus owner IAG.
Level (flylevel.com), as the new airline is called, starts flying from Barcelona to LA, San Francisco, Buenos Aires and Punta Cana (Dominican Republic) this June: remarkable news, given IAG only announced plans for a long-haul, low-cost carrier in December.
Level fares will start from €99 each way on its two Airbus A330s. On March 17, the day of its launch, the airline tweeted it had sold 52,000 tickets.
Is a new era of transatlantic travel upon us? That remains to be seen, but legacy carriers are taking the threat seriously (for the moment, Ryanair remains focused on Europe and the feeding of long-haul flights rather than any transatlantic services of its own).
Discount carriers are betting on fuel-efficient modern aircraft, out-of-the-way airports with lower charges and price-sensitive passengers... and right now, they’re flying high.
The catch? Book with your eyes open.
No-frills fares are made possible by charging for ‘extra’ services taken for granted on airlines like Aer Lingus — checked bags, meals, drinks and entertainment — costs that can ratchet up very quickly. Travel light, bring snacks and choose your dates wisely, however, and you could be jetting across the Atlantic for a fraction of the price.
Finding low fares
Norwegian’s €69 fares have long since disappeared (going to press, its one-way flights from Ireland to the US started from €129). So how can you be first in line for the next flash sale? One way is to sign up for email updates — Norwegian, WOW and Ryanair all alert their ‘members’ to special offers before the general public. It can be spammy, but it can also bag you a bargain. Another is to use flight comparison websites like skyscanner.ie and kayak.ie, which not only show the cheapest fares for certain dates, but offer fare alerts and calendar views.
Fly to Foynes
Foynes, Co Limerick, has a special place in the history of Irish and transatlantic aviation, having seen passengers including JFK, Ernest Hemingway and Humphrey Bogart come and go on the River Shannon in the 1940s. The Foynes Flying Boat Museum is a brilliantly nostalgic visit, and it has just launched a new website (flyingboatmuseum.com), along with plans to house the memorabilia of Hollywood legend Maureen O’Hara. Last year, some 50,000 visitors came to the small attraction... discovering the story behind Irish coffee too.