Last updated: 02:00 PM ET, Tue October 20 2015

Who Will Challenge Ryanair’s Low-Cost Throne in Europe?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | October 20, 2015

Who Will Challenge Ryanair’s Low-Cost Throne in Europe?

Photo courtesy of Ryanair

Europe’s low-cost carriers are among the most successful airlines in the world. Despite its reputation for surly service and aggressive surcharging policies, Ryanair continues to draw passengers with its low fares. And over the past decade, the Irish airline has taken on all challengers.

That could be changing, however. Some other players in the budget marketplace are trying to gain a larger market share by focusing on certain niches. The goal seems to be to try and dominate certain routes that are often underserved, and then expand from there.

Vying for the top spot in the low-cost flying marketplace

Wizz Air is an example of the changing low-cost-carrier industry in Europe. The Hungarian airline with the funny name just reached a major milestone. It has now carried 100 million passengers since its first flight took off in 2004.

Wizz is focused on beating the other low-cost carriers in a very specific niche: flights between Eastern Europe and Western Europe.

The airline has begun to offer service from Birmingham, the UK’s second largest city, to Budapest and to Poland. This east-west market grew by more than 5 percent last year, and Wizz controls about 17 percent of it. By focusing further on these routes, the carrier hopes to gain a bigger overall piece of the European budget travel pie.

East-west routes and underserved cities

Again, the focus is on connecting underserved markets. Instead of trying to expand in London, Paris and Amsterdam, Wizz Air is adding routes to Reykjavik, Belfast, Aberdeen and Bristol. Thus far in 2015, the carrier has added about 70 new routes overall, many between Eastern Europe and these underserved cities.

Ryanair certainly has a battle on its hands. For the time being, however, the Irish airline is still at the top of Europe’s low-cost game. It has a strong presence in the east-west market as well, dominating service to Poland and even gaining a foothold at Wizz Air’s home base in Budapest.

Another airline falling behind

Another major budget name seems to be falling behind Ryanair and Wizz. Easyjet, once the fastest growing budget carrier in the industry, has announced that it will stop operating in the Russian market. Virgin Atlantic has said that it is interested in taking over the busiest of these routes (between London-Moscow and Manchester-Moscow).

Easyjet is still a player in Europe, but the exponential growth of a few years ago has turned into a downward trickle. The airline declined by about 1 percent this year.

The destinations that Europeans are flying to has changed as well. Prague and Budapest are the most popular Eastern European airports, with the latter overtaking Moscow Sheremetyevo just this year.

Hopefully, the competition between Wizz and its peers will mean lower fares and, more importantly, better service for fliers who travel on Europe’s low-cost carriers. 

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