Open Skies: Is Discount Travel In Your Future?

By Martin Brown

Discount TravelWith jet fuel prices skyrocketing, the economy tanking, and the American dollar anemic against the Euro, it seems like there is no good news for those who want to head to Europe this coming summer, or fall season.

Surprisingly, however, there is some good news in the transatlantic travel market and it comes from an international travel pact that went into effect March 30, 2008, which allows any airline based in the United States or Europe to fly over the Atlantic, connecting any two airports on either side of the “pond.”

Previously, international flights were strictly regulated so that, for example, at London’s Heathrow—the principal megaport for flights between Europe and the rest of the world—only US carriers American and United had landing rights. With the “open-skies” contract, those restrictions go away, and the market is able to determine what carriers will or will not succeed in serving Heathrow. Now for the first time carriers such as Continental—and the soon-to-merge Delta and Northwest—will be able to land at Heathrow as well.

In addition to this liberalizing of what airlines can land where, of equal importance: the old rules that required a British Airways, an Air France, a Lufthansa, or a Swissair (to name just four European carriers) to originate a flight from their home country will go away as well.

Started already are such new choices of service as KLM, Royal Dutch Airways, traveling between DFW, Dallas/Ft. Worth and Heathrow, and Air France commencing service from LAX, Los Angeles International, to Heathrow. Many European carriers are anxious to create connections through Heathrow, which is expected to increase traffic to 3,000 daily flights by July from approximately 2,400 flights per day as of April 2008.

Previously many travelers transiting through London continuing on, for example, to Africa, would land in London’s alternative airport, Gatwick, and hope that their luggage would make the ground transfer to Heathrow for an outgoing flight. Now Northwest, will be able to fly passengers from hubs such as Detroit, Minneapolis, or Seattle nonstop into Heathrow and make relatively easy connections to dozens of other destinations from Cape Town to Singapore.

Additionally, cities that never had international service will start experiencing that benefit, flights from Providence, RI or Baltimore might become commonplace over the next two years. One example of this is Irish no frills discount carrier Ryanair, which plans to begin service to these two US destinations from Liverpool, England. Meanwhile German carrier Lufthansa is looking at service from Paris to a variety of US destinations, while British Airways just inaugurated narrow body Boeing 757 daily service between Paris and New York.

Of course the Ryanair impact— to travel within Europe—may well be more significant to bargain-hungry travelers, both in Europe and the US, as new service will soon start in connecting cities such as Frankfurt to Berlin, and Paris to Marseille. The savings to travelers from anywhere in the globe hoping to transit between one of these city pairs, will be significant. In many cases, Ryanair fares cut 75% or more off the traditional national carriers such as Lufthansa and Air France, which previously owned these markets.

While the euro is flying high over the dollar, the biggest impact of open-skies over the next two or three years will probably occur in bringing even more European tourists to American shores. As those who have studied currency fluctuations over the past fifty years will tell you, however, such differences over time balance out and in five years, 2013, Americans might be heading back to Europe to do some bargain hunting of their own.

The idea of an Open Skies Agreement is not new. It was pushed by George H.W. Bush in the first year of his presidency, in 1989. Many travel analysts say that we’re only now beginning to see glimmers of how revolutionary the upcoming changes in transatlantic service will be. But with Air France connecting LAX and Heathrow, and discount carriers like Ryanair considering Liverpool US flights for under 20 euros ($35 US) one-way, we’re already seeing how substantially this new agreement will change travel to Europe and the world beyond.

For ongoing updates on Open Skies and the travel savings opportunities that it creates, keep an eye on: The cheapflights weekly blog is a reliable compendium of changes in the ever-changing world of airline travel.

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