As you make your international travel plans for the summer – you have international travel plans for the summer, right? — you may notice a few different airlines vying for your business.
It’s easy to think of airlines as being as fixed and permanent as the pyramids, but all it really takes to start an airline are some leased planes, airports with open landing slots, a few pilots and miscellaneous crew members, and a name. Remember: If starting an airline was hard, Hooters would have stuck to restaurants.
Some of the new names are best ignored, like Air Transat and XL Airways France. Others offer interesting options, be they price or amenities. So when looking at options for Europe this summer, don’t forget to include these airlines in your plans. (And don’t forget the ExactCare!)
Wow: This monosyllabic Icelandic airline (“Iceland’s most punctual airline”) dates to 2011 but has made a splash recently with its super-low fares from Boston Logan and Baltimore-Washington to Paris, London, Amsterdam, Rome, Copenhagen, and other popular European cities, in addition to Reykjavik. One reason for the airline’s success: it also runs a travel agency that specializes in booking vacations to and tours of Iceland. So even if you don’t make it all the way to Europe, Wow is totally cool with that. And how can you hate an airline that names one of its planes “WOW Force One”?
Icelandair: Once every self-respecting young American traveler wanting to spend the summer in Europe hopped Icelandair, laid over (more or less) in Reykjavik, and then continued on to Luxembourg, where they grabbed their backpack off the carousel, opened up their hostel guide, bought a EurailPass, and went for it. Icelandair is attempting to recapture those halcyon days with an expanded international schedule that includes flights from Edmonton, Vancouver, and Portland, to European destinations that now include Birmingham and Geneva. The prices aren’t quite as rock-bottom as they once were, but the service is better. And if your layover in Reykjavik is extended because the air-traffic controllers in Spain are on strike like they always are, well, that’s not the worst thing, either.
Norwegian Air: Now entering its third full summer of flying transcontinentally, Norwegian Air is actually quite a big deal in Europe. It’s Europe’s third-largest low-cost carrier (behind EasyJet and RyanAir), and the second-largest airline in Scandinavia. It’s been getting domestic press with its low-cost flights from Fort Lauderdale and New York to Copenhagen, Oslo, London, and other northern European destinations. Prices are on the low end of the spectrum, though not always the lowest; AirfareWatchdog.com puts Norwegian lower on flights to Oslo and second-lowest behind Aeroflot on flights to Copenhagen. But if the thought of flying Air Russia gives you the heebie-jeebies, Norwegian Air is the way to go.
Air Berlin: Air Berlin has been stealing thunder (and business) from fellow German carrier Lufthansa with its flights from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Fort Myers to Berlin and Dusseldorf. The idea of a direct flight from Chicago to Berlin for less than $1,000 (our Lisa Bellavin paid $750 roundtrip) is actually quite amazing. And when you throw in seat-back infotainment screens, amenity kits, kids’ fun packs, and reasonably tasty meals on every long-haul flight, that price looks even better. Lisa will have a complete rundown on Air Berlin later this spring, but so far so good.
Condor: This one-time low-fare offshoot of Lufthansa is now part of the Thomas Cook travel empire, and as such, is gradually being rebranded as Thomas Cook Group Airlines. That’s probably a good thing, as the Teutonic-fun-branding thing just wasn’t working. However, Condor gets kudos for flying out of more U.S. locations than its compatriots (Anchorage, Fairbanks, Baltimore, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Portland, Providence, and Seattle), and offering an appealing blend of lower-end fares and middle-end service.
The U.S. dollar is going to be stronger than Arnold Schwarzenegger this summer, and a much better actor. These airlines let your European travel dollar go even farther — and what’s not to love about that?