The promise of low-cost air travel from Britain to the US that died with Laker Airways in the 1980s has been revived with Scandinavian carrier Norwegian starting budget services from Gatwick airport to New York next summer.
Gatwick claimed it was a “game-changing” development in the lucrative transatlantic market. A one-way ticket from London to the Big Apple will start at £149. Norwegian’s services will use the new Boeing Dreamliner which, despite its teething problems with incinerating batteries, is highly valued by airlines for its fuel savings.
Norwegian’s low-cost services will have a degree more comfort than the model pioneered by Ryanair. US-bound passengers will have seat-back entertainment included in their ticket price but will have to pay a further £30 for an extra package that includes meals, a baggage allowance and reserved seating.
Alongside the three services a week to New York starting in July, the airline will start twice-weekly flights to Fort Lauderdale in Florida and to Los Angeles, also for under £200.
The venture recalls the pioneering efforts of the doomed Laker Airways, which briefly blew open the transatlantic aviation market with its low-fares model before going bust in 1982. So far its no-frills emulators have resisted moving into long-haul. Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary has frequently expressed interest but claimed that the economics currently rule out longer low-cost flights.
However, Norwegian’s chief executive, Bjørn Kjos, said that his airline was uniquely placed to succeed through the combination of having already operated a no-frills short-haul model and acquiring the Dreamliner, which should cut fuel bills by at least 20%. Kjos said: “There’s great demand for high-quality flights at a low fare between the UK and the US, particularly to and from London Gatwick, where no other airline currently offers these routes.”
Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have dropped New York flights from Gatwick after deeming them economically unviable, although the airlines fly to other US leisure destinations from the Sussex airport.
Gatwick, though, believes that the “hub-busting” Boeing 787, a plane that can reach distant destinations despite being smaller than the A380 superjumbo, can transform its role in the long-haul market.
The airport’s chief executive, Stewart Wingate, said: “This is one of the most exciting route developments since Gatwick’s change of ownership four years ago and shows the benefits to passengers of Gatwick competing with Heathrow on routes, price and service.
“Norwegian’s decision to re-establish London Gatwick’s links to strategic destinations in North America gives passengers, once again, real choice about how to get there and, importantly, provide options for affordable travel to popular business and leisure destinations.”
Wingate said it was a “significant industry game-changer” that should shape the thinking of Sir Howard Davies’s airports commission, which is considering where to build extra runways in south-east England. He said: “It points to a future in which more and more long-haul routes will be served by Gatwick.”