Simon Calder: New frontiers in low-cost travel

The man who pays his way

Borders are good places to think about the future of travel, whether that means your immediate chances for the smooth and successful completion of formalities, or the longer-term prospects for globetrotters.

Last Saturday morning I happened to be at Russia's only frontier post with Norway. The lonely lakeside location is deep inside the Arctic Circle, a few miles from the shores of the Barents Sea and further east than Istanbul – another great crossing point between two worlds. The nearest city, going east, is Murmansk, just 80 miles away. Heading west, the signs point the way to Narvik, 675 miles down the road. And while this is still part of continental Europe, the Canadian city of Iqaluit is closer than the Spanish city of Malaga.

Tomorrow happens to be a notable milestone, when the no-frills revolution comes of age: 18 years ago, Stelios Haji-Ioannou tore up the conventional aviation rulebook by launching easyJet. On 10 November 1995, a flight from Luton to Glasgow started the low-cost revolution that has benefited travellers all across Europe, reaching as far as this desolate divide.

A 20-minute drive from the frontier takes you through the snowy wastes to Kirkenes airport. From here you can fly to Malaga, with a brief transfer in Oslo, in 7 hours, 15 minutes. SAS will whisk you from the far north to the deep south of Europe in time to visit the Picasso Museum before nibbling tapas beside the Mediterranean, all for a fare as low as £100.

Where next?

The journey to adulthood has been erratic and occasionally painful for passengers; four or five years ago, easyJet's reliability took a dive, destroying the travel plans of tens of thousands of passengers. But the airline picked itself up and dusted itself off, and is now delivering excellent service to travellers and excellent profits for shareholders. What with assigned seating and business-friendly schedules and fares, the airline increasingly looks like a lean and energetic version of British Airways – while BA has slimmed down to compete. Its arch-rival Ryanair has been throwing its toys out of the pram for most of those 18 years, but now has reformed to the point where practices some passengers found offensive have been replaced by a charm offensive.

If yesterday's no-frills rebels are the new establishment, where will the next low-cost revolution in travel occur? That is what I was contemplating on the long journey back from the Russian frontier.

The necessary conditions, which Stelios identified, are the combination of prevailing high fares and the freedom to innovate. So where will you find that? Across the North Atlantic.

You might now be thinking, "Hang on, a couple of weeks ago you wrote about Norwegian Air Shuttle starting low-cost flights from Gatwick to the US next July". Yes, but that's a very different proposition from what I have in mind. Norwegian proposes deploying a high-spec, high-cost aircraft – the Boeing 787 "Dreamliner" – that offers as much comfort as the existing competitors, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. But there is still a gap in the market for cheap short-haul jets across the ocean, because if you pick the right starting point the ocean is not as wide as many think.

Indeed, a small rebellion against convention is already taking place, but the world has not sat up and taken notice. Icelandair has a very good business connecting Europe with Canada and the US, and is stepping up services in 2014 with new links to Edmonton and Vancouver. The only plane the airline has is the Boeing 757, an old, inexpensive model that BA used for domestic shuttle services until the jets were sold off to a parcels operator.

There is still room for an innovator to launch links from the north-western UK at least as far as St John's in Newfoundland – which is 2,200 miles from Manchester airport, making it significantly closer than Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, easyJet's current longest route. It is feasible as a round-trip in a single working day, dramatically cutting the cost of the operation.

Move further north-west, for example to Prestwick, and the sums look even more favourable – not just because it is 100 miles closer to North America, but because the distressed Ayrshire airport is being taken over by the Scottish government. The new owner will be keen to see what used to be the country's main transatlantic gateway revived, and therefore is likely to offer very favourable terms to anyone prepared to participate in the resuscitation.

Ulster unions

A third candidate, Belfast International, steps up with an unmatchable offer: not only is it the closest major UK airport to Canada, but transatlantic passengers pay only £13 in air passenger duty, compared with £67 from the British mainland.

Conventional wisdom says that no one in, say, London, will consider going to an outpost such as Belfast (or for that matter, Prestwick), when a formidable range of transatlantic flights is available from Heathrow. Nor will anyone, except the most adventurous traveller, choose to fly to Newfoundland – England's first colony, which became part of Canada only in 1949.

Well, Luton airport was not on many travellers' radar until easyJet halved the cost of flying between south-east England and Scotland. Belfast has excellent links from airports across Britain and similarly St John's has good connections onwards to Halifax and Montreal. As the number of Russian passengers crossing the frosty frontier to use Kirkenes airport demonstrates, low fares are seductive.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star