Budget flights from New York to Europe struggling to survive

Airlines like Norwegian Air are offering less expensive alternatives to travel across the Atlantic.

When West Village resident Aleksandra Kantorowska wanted to go to Poland this summer, she couldn’t afford the flight. At about $1,000, it was out of her budget. But Kantorowska didn’t despair, instead booking a budget airline to Stockholm for about a third of the price before finally heading further east.

Kantorowska, who flew on Norwegian Air for only $360 round trip in April, simply took advantage of the ever-expanding availability of budget airfare to Europe, valuing price over amenities.

“I’m open to whatever gets me to my destination,” said Kantorowska, 25. “At the end of the day, it’s really just a vessel you’re in for a couple hours getting you to your destination.”

But while airlines like Norwegian Air have been consistently offering New Yorkers an inexpensive, or less expensive, option to get from the city — a major international takeoff point — across the Atlantic, some budget carriers are struggling to survive. In October, low-cost carrier Primera Air suddenly folded just weeks after announcing new routes (the airline cited problems with aircraft and delays of aircraft deliveries as a reason for its shuttering, according to a statement). And budget carrier WOW Air has also been struggling, according to published reports.

“International flights have never been as cheap in the history of flying as they are today,” said Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, adding we are living in the “golden age” of flying, but added: “I wouldn’t assume that just because they’re flying new routes and people are flying them that they’re making money. It seems to be the contrary.”

Norwegian Air first started offering flights from JFK to Oslo and Stockholm in 2013, and later added destinations like London and Paris. In 2017, the budget airline started flying to more cities, including Dublin and Edinburgh, out of Stewart International Airport in Newburgh (about an hour and a half north of the city). This year they expanded further, adding Amsterdam and Madrid.

In an effort to save WOW Air, founded in 2011, Indigo Partners has agreed to invest in the struggling carrier, according to a spokeswoman. The terms of the investment, however, were not disclosed. The firm has previously invested in Spirit Airlines and holds a stake in Frontier Airlines.

Perhaps hoping to buck the trend, JetBlue has said it’s exploring the possibility of expanding to serve the transatlantic market and under a purchase agreement the company made with Airbus, JetBlue can opt to purchase the Airbus A321LR (the LR stands for long range). Currently, the airline only flies to a few international destinations like Colombia and Peru.

“The transatlantic market — especially on the premium end — suffers from the same lack of competition and high fares as transcon routes have seen,” JetBlue spokeswoman Shelby Wallace said in an email. “We have not committed to the LR, or to adding Europe to our network, but that is certainly an environment that JetBlue competes well in. We would consider if routes to Europe are the best use of the aircraft from a margin perspective, and would use it as an opportunity to grow in our focus cities of Boston and New York.”

With lower fares often come upcharges for things like checked bags — and even carry-on luggage in some cases — seat selection, food and even water.

“There’s nothing more appealing than being able to go [from] New York to the Amalfi Coast via Rome than getting a $150 flight one way,” said Emily McNutt, news editor at The Points Guy. But she cautioned buyers to know what they’re getting into. “They’re all going to nickel and dime you as much as they can.”

Astoria resident Elaine White, 30, only paid $230 when she traveled to Dublin with her boyfriend on Norwegian Air this spring, ponying up an additional $45 each way for a checked bag. For her, the extra charge wasn’t a big deal, nor was the lack of amenities traditionally found on international flights.

“When you’re going on vacation you’re about to spend a ton of money on food and hotels and souvenirs, it’s so important to be able to save when you can,” said White, who spent 11 days exploring the Emerald Isle. “The important thing is you’re getting there in one piece. I don’t need people bringing us food. We’re not getting on an airplane for the food.”

Raleigh Froeber, 28, who lives in Kips Bay, took her first flight on Norwegian Air in June 2017 and has since booked a flight to Amsterdam for December.

“I think our generation and the next generation is more apt to travel knowing that you can find flights to different places in the world for a lot less as long as you do a little research upfront,” she said. “You know what you’re paying for and what you’re getting with Norwegian.”

And while experts say offering super low-cost flights may be a precarious endeavor for budget airlines, customers continue to sign on.

“For most consumers, they don’t know the nuances between various airlines… Price is by far the most important factor for flyers,” Keyes said. 

And on a hopeful note, he added: “I think in general the trend is going in the direction of flying becoming cheaper and cheaper rather than it reverting to the fares we were seeing 20 or 30 years ago.”

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