Sometime in the mid-1970s, the pretty little blue and red Boeings of Southwest Airlines out of Dallas started turning a profit on their low-cost flights. At first they were simply whizzing passengers across state lines to the various metropolises of the continental United States, but soon they had eyes on international expansion and had even inspired off-shooting ventures and other budget airlines elsewhere, in Europe, Canada, North America and Asia.
Today, and the list of possible budget fliers is seemingly endless, with most regions of continental Europe boasting their own home-grown brands, and more flight routes criss-crossing the US and Canada than ever before. But which are the best, and who's worked the hardest to get us on their seats?
Well, here's a look at the world's 10 best low-cost airlines according to the World Airline Awards by Skytrax.
Hailing from the busy state of Sao Paulo, Azul Airlines is Brazil's answer to the budget carriers of North America. While its pretty little blue and white jets have been criss-crossing the tropical skies of the country — from verdant Belo Horizonte to southern Porto Alegre — for just six years, the carrier has already got eyes on routes connecting Brazil with Florida's Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport and New York's JFK, while its origins in the boardrooms of Canada's WestJet and the US' JetBlue may just be a clue of the future greatness that awaits. Watch this space!
Now peaking at just under 50,000 passengers daily, Canada's own WestJet comes in at healthy number nine. Since its debut in the late 90s as a domestic airline, the carrier has expanded at a seemingly unstoppable rate, adding destinations right across North America and now boasting arrivals in Latin America, the Caribbean and even continental Europe. WestJet's current most popular routes include the daily flight from Ontario's Toronto Pearson International to Miami, and the connection from snowy Ottawa to sun-kissed Montego Bay, Jamaica.
With a fleet of more 200 aircraft and a passenger base of 60 million per year, budget carrier EasyJet at number seven comes in as the UK's largest airline. Since bursting forth from the mind of Greek entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou (now Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou) in 1995, the dazzling orange jets of the carrier have been jostling for dominion of Europe's skies with a whole host of other low-costers, and doing a fantastic job of it too. Current interesting routes include the lengthy continental hop from London to Egyptian Sharm el-Sheikh, and the four-hour connection from Gatwick to Moscow.
Slowly creeping up on its father company (which currently occupies the prestigious number two spot on this list), Jetstar Asia is doing well to prove its worth in the budget airline world. Operating out of Singapore's Changi Airport, the carrier's fleet of 18 grey and orange jets serves no fewer than 21 destinations across Southeast Asia, including China, the Philippines, the Indian subcontinent, Malaysia and Japan, and also boasts popular connections to the metropolitan hubs of Hong Kong and Macau.
Proud winner of the prestigious Skytrax best low-cost carrier in Europe award, Norwegian Air holds a deserving and admirable 6th place here. While it may have humble beginnings as a regional Norwegian carrier buzzing businessmen around Oslo and Bergen, the flier is now among the Continent's largest low-cost carriers, boasting destinations across Iberia, Eastern Europe, North Africa, the United States and even Thailand in the east. We particularly like the free WiFi on Norwegian's Boeing 737-800s!
Headquartered in the business hub of Gurgaon near New Delhi, Indigo Air remains the largest carrier on the whole Indian subcontinent. It currently manages a web of routes from picture-perfect Srinagar in the valleys of Kashmir in the north, to bustling Kochi on the Arabian Sea to the south. The majority of Indigo's flights however operate out of the capital's Indira Gandhi International Airport, with new routes connecting the country with Bangkok in the east and the UAE's Dubai in the west.
Sitting at an impressive fourth place here, this new subsidiary of the famous AirAsia brand represents the all-new breed of long haul budget carriers that have been tipped to take the industry by storm. Painted in the same recognizable whites and reds of their father carrier, the fleet of X's Airbus A330-300s currently serve destinations in Japan, Australia and Europe, with popular routes connecting Kuala Lumpur with Abu Dhabi in the UAE, and Beijing in China.
The original impetus behind Virgin America was to connect the major metropolitan hubs of the continent's east and west — something like a flying Union Pacific if you like. Today, just seven years on, the carrier now boasts routes to Mexico and Canada, with further expansion on the horizon when Virgin take control of their all-new fleet of Airbus A320s (all 60 of them that is!). In short, quality service, an impressive 82.64% of flights on-time and wallet-friendly fares all round. What's not to like?
From the rolling Canterbury Plains of South Island and the leafy city streets of Christchurch, to the heady party strips of Bangkok's Khao San Road and the paradisaical beaches of Phuket, Jetstar's array of budget flight routes do well to catapult travelers to some of the most popular destinations in its balmy corner of the globe. Like most budget carriers Jetstar operates a single cabin class airplane layout, with plush leather upholstered seats and optional catering services.
Woe to the traveler who underestimates Malaysian AirAsia's ability to top this list time and time again. But boy does it deserve it! It's won the prestigious Skytrax world best low-cost airline award five years in a row now, while continuing to expand its routes right across Southeast Asia to destinations like Calcutta and Chennai in India, Laos' capital Vientiane, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Chiang Mai. So, next time you're looking for a budget hop between Bangkok and the beaches of Indo, why not try one of these chirpy white and red Airbus A320-200s?
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