Mention that you have just snapped up a cheap fare with an Irish airline, and folks will generally assume that you have been tackling Ryanair. But the Republic of Ireland has a trinity of other air carriers offering scheduled passenger services. Each deserves a look.
Flying the flag with Aer Lingus
Aer Lingus is by far the oldest of the airlines that fly the Irish flag. Dating back to 1936, it has struggled to shake off its image as an old-style legacy flag carrier. And struggled even more to shake off predatory take-over bids from upstart Ryanair. Thrice has Ryanair sought to gobble up Aer Lingus, and thrice has Aer Lingus repelled the advances of the suitor.
Aer Lingus is more than merely an airline of the Republic. It’s a big player in Northern Ireland too. In recent weeks, for example, the company has opened new routes from Belfast City Airport to Mallorca, Málaga and Faro. And you’ll find Aer Lingus popping up most unexpectedly in other markets too. Virgin Atlantic’s new UK domestic flights, branded “Little Red,” are more green than red: The routes from London Heathrow to Aberdeen, Manchester and Edinburgh are in fact operated by Aer Lingus under a wet-lease arrangement with Virgin Atlantic.
The tang of the isles with Aer Arann
Book a flight with Aer Lingus Regional and the chances are that your flight will not be operated by Aer Lingus at all, but by another Irish airline: Aer Arann. For more than a quarter of a century after its founding in 1970, Aer Arann’s corporate horizons were limited to the Aran Islands. They provided short-hop services from the mainland to the islands in Galway Bay. But in 1998, Aer Arann spread its wings to establish a dominance in the regional market, using its smaller aircraft to pioneer thinner secondary routes that were of no interest to Aer Lingus.
It has not always been clear skies for Aer Arann though. The carried has relied on government subsidies to maintain routes to remote rural airstrips. And when those subsidies were axed, the carrier had perforce to drop its services. Nowadays, almost all the carrier’s operations are under the wing of Aer Lingus, although you can still catch the flavor of the early days of Aer Arann on the carrier’s flights from Connemara Airport to the Aran Islands.
Ireland with a dash of France: CityJet
In our book, the most interesting of the trinity of Irish airlines is CityJet. The company took to the skies of Europe in 1994, with a route from Dublin to London City. Oddly, the carrier’s greatest visibility has never been in the Irish market at all, but at London City Airport where CityJet competes with British Airways to be the dominant carrier.
This summer CityJet is serving a score of destinations from London City. The company has greatly enhanced its services from the airport to Germany, with new routes to Paderborn and Dresden both starting in recent weeks. Despite having its headquarters just outside Dublin, CityJet relies fair and square on the London City market for the bulk of its revenue. The company’s principal shareholder is Air France, so no surprise perhaps that this Irish airline has a French CEO: Christine Ourmières.
The Air France link has been both an asset and a liability for CityJet. Just now, there is talk of the French carrier wanting to sell its Irish fledgling. But CityJet remains a carrier to watch. Those who feel that Ryanair has done nothing to promote the status of Ireland might like to try CityJet style and service. When it comes to aviation, Ireland comes in many flavors.