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The Biggest Airline Innovations of 2015 Will Happen Overseas

SmarterTravel

Don’t look for any big new start-up airlines this summer. Ironically, now that the airline business is finally profitable, the number of new entrants seems to be at an all-time low. This year’s innovations are coming from established players, not wannabes.

The year’s biggest innovations will be transatlantic, not domestic:

The big Gulf lines—Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar—are encroaching on the traditional transatlantic lines’ turf. Emirates is opening an odd new route from Dubai to Orlando starting in September: odd, because Emirates’ main focus is on business class, not economy, and Orlando isn’t much of a business destination.

Norwegian continues to add routes, even while the United States dithers over its application to establish a base in Ireland. The newest route is a weekly round-trip between Orlando and London/Gatwick. Norwegian currently operates seven 787s; it flies to London and Scandinavia from Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Orlando, and New York and to Scandinavia from Oakland. The line will have 10 more 787s “by 2017,” and it’s a virtual lock that many of those will fly to/from additional U.S. and Canadian cities.

Related: 10 Cheapest Airlines for Flying to Europe

Three airlines are vying to fly the “shortest transatlantic flights” with service to/from the Canadian Maritimes:

The small French line, Europe Airpost, will fly two weekly round-trips, Halifax-Dublin-Paris/De Gaulle, July 9 through September 11. This one is interesting because the east-bound trip will be by day: Leave Halifax at 10:15 a.m., arrive Dublin at 8:05 p.m. and arrive Paris at 11:30 p.m. Fares will start at 659 euros (about $725 U.S.). Flights will be on 737s, with a “premium” option that blocks the middle seat, but doesn’t increase legroom.

May 1 through October 24, WestJet will operate daily nonstops from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, to Dublin—a minimal 2,049 miles in a bit under five hours—unfortunately as a very short-night red-eye.

Icelandair will resume seasonal flying from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Reykjavik, Iceland, May 13, at 2,054 miles a tad longer than the WestJet route, and again an unfortunate very short-night red-eye.

The biggest question about future transatlantic flights is what the U.S. government will do about its “open skies” agreements. Norwegian and the Gulf lines believe that the U.S. should honor treaties that would allow Norwegian to establish an affiliate in Ireland, which is a party to the European community open skies treaty, and allow the Gulf lines to operate on any route to the U.S. they want, including stops in Europe.

The big U.S. airlines are challenging open skies agreements on the grounds that (1) Norwegian would “Wal-Mart” the airline business by taking advantage of Ireland’s favorable regulations and hiring crew from low-wage countries, and (2) the Gulf lines receive “unfair” government subsidies. The U.S. lines and their unions are pressuring the U.S. to modify the treaties; most consumer groups say “honor the treaties.” No predictions from this source.

Meanwhile, of the startups on my 2014 list, only two show any signs of life:

Eastern Air Lines, a new operation that bought an old trademark, seems to have an airplane, but with no place to fly it. The website remains active, but, for now, the most likely development is a few charter flights around the Caribbean. It may be positioning for resumption of flights to Cuba.

Baltia apparently has a 747 ready to go, “pending government approvals,” but shows no progress since last fall. My guess is that the business plan of cheap flights from the U.S. to Russia and other eastern capitals looks a bit iffy in the current political climate.

Meanwhile, among last year’s wannabes, Avatar’s website is still up, Airline 4.0 continues to post the most puffed-up airline jargon you’re likely to see anywhere, and America West Jets says “website under construction” while still showing a Photoshopped picture of an Eastern L1011 taking off from a tropical island. Las Vegas Air, California Pacific, and People Express have disappeared.

All in all, Norwegian will provide the most serious new price competition this year. Otherwise, summer looks to be a high-fare transatlantic proposition.

Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2015 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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