By John Walton | CNN
You’ve seen them on TikTok and on Instagram: people flying on the new generation of long-haul, low-cost airlines where the fares sound too good to be true.
Flights from New York to Paris for $200? They’re out there, if you’re able to be flexible, and if you’re willing to skip extras — depending on the airline, that could include checked bags, meals, entertainment and the bar cart.
But what’s different on each of these independent airlines? Let’s break it down.
Comparing long-haul, low-cost carriers to other airlines that bill themselves as “full-service,” you’ll often get the same newer planes like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, sometimes with the same seats and entertainment screens. To an extent, airline food is airline food, and many folks already pack their own meals even on full-service airlines.
These carriers can be a great deal if you go into them with the understanding that you’re paying low-cost fares, so you should expect a low-cost experience onboard.
Overall, set your expectations low, remember how little you paid, and then you might be pleasantly surprised.
By and large, long-haul, low-cost airlines focus on four specific markets: transatlantic, transpacific, southeast Asia and Australia. That’s where the flights are long enough to be long-haul, but where passengers are numerous enough for the airline to make money.
This type of airline usually makes news for all the wrong reasons: did you hear about that one airline that charges for power sockets, and doesn’t allow you to bring your own food? How about the one with 12-hour flights with no seatback entertainment screens? The overnight flight with no included meals? Or the airlines that put an extra seat in every row to really pack people in?
But for the savvy traveler, the low prices can be a steal. Do be sure you’re not caught out when it comes to exactly what kind of ticket you’re booking, and what kind of seat you’ll get, though.
Some airlines like Frenchbee and AirAsia X pack an extra seat into every row of their airplanes, which means they’re really narrow. Some, like Zipair and Scoot, don’t have inflight entertainment, even in business class. Scoot even charges for power sockets in economy!
What to look for when you book
There are great deals to be had out there, whether you’re aiming for the absolute cheapest flight or you are interested in a low-cost premium economy (or in a couple of cases, low-cost business class) experience.
But how do you what you’re going to get?
Check each airline’s website carefully for what is and isn’t included in each ticket type, as well as pricing and other details, such as:
-Food. On long flights, you may have to buy a second meal even if the first one is included, while pre-ordering can be much cheaper.
-Seat selection, including being seated together as a family or group, and what extra-legroom or extra-comfort options are available
-Soft drinks and sometimes even water
-Hand luggage weight and size
-Checked baggage weight and size
-Inflight entertainment and WiFi
-Power sockets (yep!)
-Pillows and blankets
-Whether the airline prohibits bringing food on board (no, really)
-Which airports and terminals they use. It might not be the main airport in the city, or a low-cost terminal with limited shops and restaurants.
-Whether connections are “protected.” If your inbound flight is delayed, is it on the airline to rebook you, or are you on your own?
-Bundles of inclusions, like a package that gives you seat selection, a checked bag and a meal
Each one is slightly different from the next, and by and large they concentrate on flights to and from a particular home-base airport.
Here’s what you need to know about the newest, biggest and most useful ones for international travelers:
Home base: Paris (Orly, the old airport)
Notable routes: LA, Miami, NY, SF, overseas France
Flies: Airbus A350s, but with extra-narrow, 10-across seating
What you need to know: Those 10-across A350 seats are narrow. “Basic” fares don’t come with meals ($25, so bring a sandwich) or a checked bag. “Premium” seats are spacious premium economy and can be a good deal. There’s some free seatback entertainment.
Home base: Barcelona
Notable routes: Boston, LA, Miami, NY, SF, plus Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile
Flies: Airbus A330s
What you need to know: This is the long-haul, low-cost carrier from IAG, which owns British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling, and offers connections via Barcelona. LEVEL has decent eight-across economy seating and a premium economy cabin called, shockingly enough, Premium Cabin.
Home base: Oslo, but flights to and from London (Gatwick), Paris (Orly), Berlin and Rome, too
Notable routes: Boston, Chicago, LA, Miami, NY, Orlando, SF
Flies: Boeing 787s. Don’t call it “Norwegian, but with new paint,” but they’re exactly the same planes that used to fly for Norwegian.
What you need to know: The ex-Norwegian planes mean older seats, but the premium cabin has oodles of legroom and is one of the best deals in flying.
Home base: Seoul (Incheon, the international airport)
Notable routes: Honolulu, LA, Newark, Frankfurt
Flies: Boeing 787s
What you need to know: Air Premia offers above-average seat features and loads of legroom, plus a good premium cabin that can be a great deal if you’re flexible.
Home base: Tokyo (Narita, the airport an hour away from the city)
Notable routes: Honolulu, LA, SF, San Jose (CA)
Flies: Boeing 787s
What you need to know: This is Japan Airlines’ low-cost arm. It offers a real full-flat pod as ZIP Full-Flat. There’s no seat-back entertainment in economy or business.
Home base: Singapore
Notable routes: Berlin-Athens (there’s a stopover in Athens), plus many useful connections into Asia
Flies: Boeing 787s
What you need to know: This is Singapore Airlines’ low-cost arm, with connections across the region. There’s a small Scoot-in-Silence quiet cabin (no kids under 12) and premium-economy style ScootPlus seats. There’s no seatback entertainment. Read the terms and conditions carefully: in-seat power comes at a fee, while outside food is technically banned.
Home base: all major Australian cities, plus the Gold Coast
Notable routes: Honolulu, east Asia, Southeast Asia
Flies: Boeing 787s
What you need to know: This is Qantas’ low-cost arm, with connections across Australia, New Zealand and southeast Asia. Older planes mean older seats, but the premium economy style Jetstar Business can be good value.
Home base: Kuala Lumpur
Notable routes: east Asia, southeast Asia and Australia. London keeps getting pushed back…
Flies: Airbus A330s, but with extra-narrow nine-across seating
What you need to know: AirAsia X is part of the Asian low-cost powerhouse AirAsia, with a massive connecting network. There are no screens, only streaming inflight entertainment to your own device (that’s “temporarily suspended”). Premium Flatbed — those old 2000s-style sloping sleeper seats that recline to a flat surface but are still at an angle to the floor — can cost less than other airlines’ economy.
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