Flying the Frugal Skies, One Year Later


A year ago, I wrote about the proliferation of low-cost airlines in Europe, which is a direct result of the fact that the European Union, at this point in history, is more serious about deregulating the airline industry than the United States.

The article supposed that there might be a budget-airline contraction due to the soaring cost of fuel, but my anecdotal history of the past month suggests that the market there is still weighted heavily toward the consumer. Flying on heavy-traffic days during the high holiday season, I went from London to Prague to Geneva to Budapest back to London for around $350 total, after taxes. This included a voyage on a Swiss airline called Flybaboo, on a tiny plane which was given the personality of a German shepherd, duly named "tofu."

The airport in Prague is about 95 times larger than it was a decade ago; the government of Hungary just sold 75 percent of Budapest's Ferihegy International Airport to BAA for $2.2 billion, and easyJet terminals in Western Europe are crawling with various Slavs.

So how's deregulation coming along in the U.S.? Badly. Congress is trying to strangle Dept. of Transportation liberalization in the crib, keeping alive the Depression-era nonsense of preventing furriners from owning even 49% of an American airline … and "open skies" negotiation with the EU is at a standstill. Do a Google News search on "low-cost airlines" … not much action on this side of the pond.

But all is not lost, Europhobes! The EU Court just upheld a terrible new law doubling the Euro-penalty on airlines who bump their passengers (to 600 Euros). Still, it'd be nice to see more than two or three major low-cost airlines in America, or a single stinkin' L.A.-Portland route for under $100, before I die.