The business principle of give the customers what they want appears to have worked, at least in the low cost airline sector. It has seen a phenomenal growth and has given traditional carriers a shot of adrenalin they could probably have done without.

The UK has seen the fastest development of low cost flights. Ryanair and Easyjet are now household names and as testimony to their success, in September 2003, 24 per cent of short haul flights from the United Kingdom were with low cost airlines. The rest of Europe is catching on but rather more slowly. In the same period the figure for Europe was just under 10 per cent. However, all this is set to change. Low cost airlines are springing up all around Europe and many established airlines are setting up their own low cost subsidiaries to stay competitive. Behind the success stories of Easyjet and Ryanair lie dozens of smaller outfits which are slowly but surely carving out a niche for themselves in this ever growing market.

Baboo, Snowflake, Evolavia, Flying Finn and Volare Web may not be either terribly well known or particularly inspiring names but they are part of an expanding group of companies determined to make European travel as efficient and as cheap as possible while still turning a profit.

The expansion of Europe

The European Union will be welcoming 10 new countries into the European Union in May 2004 and many operators are already looking towards this new potential market for low cost airlines. Many of the accession countries are eastern European, meaning that the distances are short and connections currently poor, an ideal combination for someone wishing to corner a bit of the market. Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary the Czech Republic and Slovakia will all be seeing a rapid growth in airline travel as fellow Europeans come to pay them a visit and as their citizens expand their horizons to the far flung corners of the existing European Union.

The obstacles

There are two obstacles on the road to expansion of low cost airlines. They both come from the corridors of power in Brussels where EU civil servants have decided that the subsidies that low cost airlines have been receiving from local airports and local councils are illegal. There has been a high profile battle between the CEO of Ryanair Michael O'Leary and Brussels over the subsidies from the Brussels airport of Charleroi. Ryanair has already been ousted from Strasbourg after Air France took legal action to put a stop to the subsidies from the local town hall.

As well, the European Commission has increased the compensation that airlines have to pay in the event of a delay or a cancellation. The compensation payments are flat rates so they hit low cost airlines particularly harshly.

Low cost airlines appear undaunted by these obstacles. Expansion is gradual but seemingly inexorable. However, slim profit margins make for a precarious business model and another setback due to international terrorism or a SARS outbreak could hit these small companies hard.

Their next task will be to break into the corporate market. Companies with large travel budgets may be tempted to come to a deal with low cost airlines. Some companies may be tempted but it may be some time before you find yourself sitting next to the President of BP on your next trip to Malaga for the summer holidays.

Planning a trip, try this useful site

http://www.attitudetravel.com/lowcostairlines.html

Useful links to the sites of some of Europes low cost airlines

Air2000, http://www.Air2000.com

Flights between U.K. (home base Manchester) and Portugal, Spain

Air Berlin, http://airberlin.de

Flights within Germany and from Germany (home base Berlin) to Austria, Cyprus, Egypt, England, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey

Air Finland, http://www.airfinland.fi

Flights within Finland and from Finland to France, Italy, Spain

Air Littoral, http://www.airlittoral.com

Internal French flights and Italy

Air Scotland, http://www.air-scotland.com

Flights between Scotland and Spain

Basiqair, http://www.basiqair.com

Flights between Netherlands France, Italy, Portugal and Spain

Air Europa, http://www.air-europa.co.uk

Flights from UK to Spain

BMI Baby, http://www.bmibaby.com

Flights between England and Czech Rep., France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Wales

British European, http://ww.flybe.com

Flights between England and Belgium, Channel Islands, France, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Netherlands, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland and Ulster

Deutsche BA, http://www.deutscheba.de

Flights within Germany and from Germany to France, Spain

Easy Jet, http://www.easyjet.com

Flights between England and France, Greece, Netherlands, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, Ulster

Evolavia, http://www.evolavia.com

Flights between Italy, France, Russia, Spain

Flybe.com, http://www.flybe.com

Flying from the UK to France, Ireland, Italy and Spain

Flying Finn, http://www.flyingfinn.fi/

Flights within Finland and from Finland to England

German Wings, http://www21.germanwings.com/

Flights within Germany and from Germany to Austria, Czech Rep., England, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey

Germania, http://www.gexx.de/

Flights within Germany (Berlin, Cologne and Frankfurt)

Globespan, http://www.flyglobespan.com

Flights between Scotland (home base) and France, Italy, Spain

Hapag Lloyd, http://www.hlx.com/de/index.html

Flights within Germany and from Germany to England, France, Italy, Spain

InterSky, http://www.intersky.biz/

Flights between Switzerland and Austria (Vienna), Germany (Berlin)

Jet2, htto://www.jet2.com

Flights between England and France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain

Jet Magic, http://www.jetmagic.com

Flights from Ireland to Belgium, England, France, Italy, Spain, Ulster

Meridiana, http://www.meridiana.it/

Flights within Italy and from Italy to England, France, Holland, Italy, Spain

Monarch Airlines, http://www.flymonarch.com/

Flights between England and Gibraltar, Portugal, Spain

Norwegian Air Shuttle, http://www.norwegian.no/

Flights within Norway and from Norway to Portugal, Spain

Planet Air, http://www.planetair.co.uk/

Flying from Leeds Bradford airport to Spain

Ryan Air, http://www.ryanair.com/

Flights between England and Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Sweden

Snalskjutsen, http://www.snalskjutsen.com/

Flights within Sweden and from Sweden to France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland

SnowFlake Airlines http://snowflake.airkiosk.com/

Flights from Denmark and Sweden to Czech Rep., France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Turkey

Sterling, http://www.sterlingticket.com

Flights between Denmark and France, Greece, Italy, Madeira, Norway, Spain, Sweden. SkyEurope, http://www.skyeurope.com/

Flights between Slovakia and Croatia, Czech Republic, Italy, Germany, Switzerland

Skynet Airlines, http://www.skyeurope.com/

Flights from Ireland to Holland and Russia

Swiss, http://www.swiss.com/

Switzerland and worldwide

Virgin Express, http://www.virgin-express.com/

Flights between Belgium, Denmark, England, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland

Volareweb, http://buy.volareweb.com

Flights between Italy, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Spain