I recently had to take a flight back to England, and this allowed me time to give some thought to the changing face of aviation and its effect on tourism. Air services and airlines have been at the center of the explosion for tourism — not only worldwide, but within the U.S.
To many of us, all airlines are the same and essentially just a way of getting from one place to another. We tend to expect them all to provide the same sort of services and behave in the same way. There are, however, as many different sorts of airlines as there are different sorts of hotels and accommodations. Each matches the particular needs of varying sets of travelers.
For the business traveler, flights at the right time, that are on time and the ability to work while flying are probably more important than price. For the leisure traveler on a budget, price is the most important factor, with fast inflight Wi-fi and lots of leg room worth sacrificing. When I was involved in selling flights from the U.K. to Australia for vacationers, if our advertised price was $5 more than a competitor’s, our phones simply didn’t ring — and that was when the average price was around $1,200. Our lead-in price had to be $499 to get people to call.
I mention all this because a recent entry into the transatlantic flight market is stirring things up. Norwegian Airlines has been a “low-cost carrier” since 2002 and now serves 150 destinations around the world. Although they term themselves low-cost, they emphasize low fares with excellent service. Many in this category of airlines in the U.S. have achieved lower costs by using one kind of aircraft and cutting inflight service, meals and charging for what they term optional extras — like baggage! Norwegian claims instead that new efficient aircraft and a lean operation is their answer. They also fly to some interesting destinations.
For example, they not only fly from Gatwick Airport in London to both JFK in New York and Newark Liberty International in New Jersey, but also fly to Stewart International Airport, a lesser used facility 70 miles north of the Big Apple. They fly to Boston, but also to Providence, and not just to Los Angeles, but also Oakland.
By using lesser known gateways, they can keep their prices low. That leads me to think that the Panama City, Pensacola or Destin-Fort Walton Beach airports could be interesting potential gateways for a carrier like Norwegian. They can offer the Europeans low cost airports, fantastic beaches, great weather, access to the northern Gulf Coast, and the whole Southeast of the U.S. In return, that would also give us locals access to European destinations at bargain prices. Someone call the folks at Norwegian Air!
Of course, there are other airline types — legacy carriers, flag carriers, tourist and leisure airlines, main-line services, commuter and feeder lines, intrastate and regional carriers. All have different ways of getting us from here to there. We’ll look at differences in coming weeks.
Martin Owen is an independent consultant to the tourism industry and owner of Owen Organization in Shalimar. Readers can email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.