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European Express

How to navigate the new slew of low-cost flights between European cities

With low-cost airlines sprouting like mushrooms across Europe, taking the plane instead of the train between cities is de rigueur among the business-travel set. Here's the scoop:

  • The two largest low-cost European carriers are EasyJet (United Kingdom) and Ryanair (Ireland and UK). Among the many others are Air Berlin and Germanwings in Germany, Virgin Express in Belgium, Transavia in the Netherlands, Snowflake in Scandinavia and SkyEurope for much of Eastern Europe. With a dizzying selection of new carriers, Applefares.com and Openjet.com can help you make the right choice.
  • It's not uncommon to find one-way fares as low as $25 for flights from the UK to the continent. But fare sales are only for short periods of time and tend to have certain catches, such as cheap one-way outbound fares, but higher prices for return flights. Also, you'll pay hefty taxes--even on bargain fares.
  • Unlike low-cost U.S. carriers, many of which offer perks like free satellite TV, European low-cost carriers offer few, if any, in-flight frills. You'll find fewer lavatories, limited (or no) in-flight food and beverage service, and tight seating. Ryanair's seats, for example, don't recline or have seat-back pockets. On the upside, flight times within Europe are rarely longer than a couple of hours. If your flight is longer than that, you may want to consider a major carrier.
  • Some low-cost carriers fly in and out of smaller, secondary airports (some with Spartan facilities) that can be an hour or more away from downtown areas and serviced by unreliable public transportation. Ryanair's flights into Frankfurt actually land in neighboring Hahn, and flights to Barcelona land in distant Girona; both are over an hour from the city centers by car or bus. But that's not always the case--EasyJet is now the second-largest carrier at London's busy Gatwick Airport, and Air Berlin uses Berlin's central Tegel Airport as a hub.

Chris McGinnis is author of The Unofficial Business Travelers' Pocket Guide.

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This article was originally published in the June 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: European Express.

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