It’s an article of faith among observers of European budget airlines that once the recession has lifted, the inevitable mergers have been negotiated, and the resultant dust has cleared, there will be just a few low-fare airlines remaining. Those airlines that have muscled their way into a dominant position in particular markets will survive; the others will collapse or be subsumed. In this scenario, Ryanair, easyJet, Air Berlin, Wizzair, and Norwegian will emerge victorious from the rubble.
Time will tell if these predictions will manifest quite so seamlessly. If the analysts are right and this general process is indeed happening, it is doing so in fits and starts. For every successful merger—say, last year’s fusion of Clickair and Vueling—there have been several merger talks that have not panned out. And while a few airlines (SkyEurope, most notably) have died spectacular deaths, there has been far less upheaval throughout this recession than one might reasonably have expected.
It’s not just the biggest airlines, I’d wager, that will survive. A number of smaller European low-cost airlines flying to underserved destinations will also probably be around for a while. Their future success will be indebted to customer loyalty, on the one hand, and lack of competition on their routes on the other.
Small airlines in action
The Austrian low-cost carrier Intersky, which began flying in 2002, provides one example. Its base airport is Friedrichshafen, over the border in Germany from the airline’s headquarters in Bregenz. With just four Dash-8 planes, Intersky is an indisputably small airline. It flies from Friedrichshafen to airports across Austria and Germany. During the warmer months it adds destinations in Croatia, France, and Italy. Trackers of unusual routes will be pleased by Intersky’s summertime flights to Elba from both Friedrichshafen and Zurich. Intersky is the dominant player at Friedrichshafen. If it could just get its Website in order we’d be fully on board.
Geneva-based Baboo is another small, regional player that has a serious fan base. The airline commenced flying in 2003. Its fleet consists of five aircraft, and its route map focuses on airports in Italy and France. Budget airline purists may not regard Baboo to be a low-cost carrier at all, though its three-part fare structure does allow some decent fares to creep in. Baboo’s following in large part can be attributed to its business-class level perks, including a snack service that gets high marks. Interesting destinations include St. Tropez, Oxford, Bucharest, and Lugano.
The key for Intersky is its dominant position at Friedrichshafen, while Baboo’s signature strength is the branded experience that it provides passengers. Both airlines are worth observing in the medium-term.
About the author: Alex Robertson Textor is a freelance travel writer and editor based in Brooklyn. He has written for Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, National Geographic Traveler, and Re:Porter, among other publications. He also edits koucou, a guide to independent budget-friendly travel in the Caribbean.