Geothermal waters at the Blue Lagoon near the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik – one of the country’s top attractions
Geothermal waters at the Blue Lagoon near the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik – one of the country’s top attractions

Budget airlines spread wings and go transatlantic - reducing costs for holidaymakers

First 'no-frills' direct flight to America set for launch as well as more stopovers via Iceland

Simon Calder@SimonCalder
Wednesday 31 December 2014 19:14

Holiday costs to America will reduce for many travellers this year thanks to a new budget-airline route across the Atlantic and increasing opportunities for people to arrange their own cheap stopover flights via Iceland.

The first budget airline to offer a transatlantic trip from Britain using a plane normally used for short-haul flights – the Canadian carrier WestJet – is beginning services in May.

The Calgary-based airline will connect Glasgow with Halifax in Nova Scotia using a Boeing 737 jet, and the six-hour westbound flight, covering 2,650 miles, will run daily until 24 October. The launch follows a successful summer for WestJet between Dublin and St John’s in Newfoundland, a route about 90 minutes shorter – but the Glasgow-to-Halifax flight will be an option for millions more people within a reasonable driving distance.

When the route was revealed, Amanda McMillan, the managing director of Glasgow airport, said: “WestJet is an ambitious airline with an extensive route network and we’re delighted it has chosen Glasgow as its first-ever UK destination.”

Scotland’s former Transport Minister Keith Brown said the route “will provide a boost to tourism and business on both sides of the Atlantic”.

“Our two countries have close cultural and historic ties and this new service will help strengthen these important bonds.”

WestJet is the first budget airline to offer a transatlantic trip from Britain

While easyJet has stated no transatlantic ambitions, from this summer it will operate the widest-ever range of routes from the UK to Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik – from Belfast, Bristol, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester to Iceland’s hub Keflavik.

From here Icelandair and local rival WOW Air compete for onward traffic, with up to four flights a day between them to Boston alone.

In the summer season, crafty travellers can “self-connect” to cut the cost of long-haul journeys. In early July, easyJet is selling seats from Luton to Reykjavik for around £60 one-way on some dates. With Icelandair offering links to Boston and New York for as little as £250, journeys can be put together for less than the non-stop alternatives.

Part of the saving arises because Air Passenger Duty is reduced from the standard long-haul tax of £71 to £13, the charge for European flights. However, extra charges are made for food and baggage. Flights are significantly longer than the non-stop option, and if the first leg of the journey is disrupted a missed connection could prove expensive.

Meanwhile Ryanair is expanding with a new mid-Atlantic base at Ponta Delgada in the Azores – a former refuelling stop for Air France’s Concorde en route from Paris to Caracas. Initially the hub will serve routes to Portugal and the UK. The airport is 2,200 miles from Bermuda and 2,400 miles from Boston, easily within the range of narrow-bodied jets.

Ryanair has put on ice plans for a separately branded transatlantic service until a significant number of wide-bodied aircraft are available on favourable terms. It has so far expressed no desire to fly west from the Azores – but under the terms of the US-EU “open skies” pact, an Irish airline would be perfectly entitled to fly from Portuguese territory to American airports.

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