Category: Archive

For those flying to Ireland, there’s now more choice than ever before

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

At the beginning of the 1990s, flying to Ireland in midwinter was a perilous business. Not because the planes were unsafe. Rather, it was a case of trying to find an aircraft to board in the first place.

At that time, the air route between the U.S. East Coast and Ireland’s two main airports, Dublin and Shannon, was one of the more empty over a stretch of ocean that had, and has, more aircraft flying over it daily than any other in the world.

That overall flight total was almost entirely due to air traffic linking the U.S. with Britain and the European mainland. Ireland, despite being closer to the U.S. than both, was tougher to get to on a plane, there being only seven flights a week to Ireland at the time.

All of these flights were out of New York and Boston and carried the name of just one airline, Aer Lingus.

Fly forward just a few years. In the final months of the same decade it’s a very different story. On any given Friday night in this month of August, 1999, no fewer than 15 flights will depart the U.S. for Ireland.

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In the space of not much more than half-a-dozen years, a picture of seven departures each week has become 15 departures on the fifth night of each week.

Granted, this is something of a study in extremes. Midwinter and midsummer are polar opposites in the airline business. Midsummer services in the early 90s certainly exceeded seven flights per week. But even during those peak months, the number of flights in the early 90s still falls short of present day totals. Way short.

On virtually any given night this month, a person wanting to fly from the U.S. to Ireland can choose from three major airlines: Aer Lingus, Delta and Continental, a charter airline, American TransAir, and even a fourth international carrier, Royal Jordanian, which flies out of Chicago and stops at Shannon before flying on to the Jordanian capital, Amman.

The number of departure airports has gone up to. Back in the early 90s, New York and Boston were the sole jumping off points. Since that time, services have commenced, and have become firmly established, out of Newark, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles. Over on the other side, Belfast is now a point of arrival in addition to Shannon and Dublin.

With more flights out of more airports, travelers to Ireland can now choose from a greater variety of departure times, not an insignificant factor, when, as is often the case now, there is immediate business to be conducted once Ireland is reached.

Taking Friday night again as the example, current peak summer services offered by Aer Lingus from the New York area include flights out of Kennedy Airport at 6.50, 7 and 7.30 p.m. The Irish carrier also offers a flight from Newark at 9.30 p.m. Continental flies out of Newark at 6.55 and 8.30 p.m., while Delta’s service from Kennedy, which started up in mid-July, offers an 8.10 p.m. flight out of JFK.

In total, that’s seven flights offered by three scheduled carriers from two airports in the New York area between 6.50 p.m. and 9.30 p.m. Add in a charter flight and the total rises to eight. This figure alone exceeds the entire weekly midwinter allotment of flights from the early part of the decade.

The final total of fifteen flights on each Friday night of this month is reached when flights, scheduled and chartered, out of Boston’s Logan, Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles are added. Stretch present flight numbers over a full week in August and the contrast becomes even more pronounced: Seven flights a week rises to a figure more like seventy.

Consumer choice is further enhanced by flights to Britain. A number of passengers ultimately bound for Ireland still "backtrack" into Ireland by first flying to British airports, most especially London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports, and Manchester.

Meanwhile, the overall increase in air passenger business has given the transAtlantic air bridge to Ireland a competitive flavor it clearly lacked at the beginning of the decade.

The decision by Delta Airlines – which flies more passengers annually than any other major U.S. carrier – to start up an Ireland service out of Kennedy in mid-July put an end to a passenger sharing arrangement with Aer Lingus.

This "code sharing" arrangement is being maintained by both airlines out of Newark until the end of this month. The Aer Lingus/Delta frequent flyer partnership expires at the end of November.

By that time, as another winter season is setting in, a sharper degree of competition between the airlines should start becoming evident. Summer peak fares are roughly the same between the scheduled carriers for the simple reason that virtually all flights are full and there are few floating passengers to compete over.

But with fewer people flying to Ireland in the winter months – at the same time it can no longer be said that fewer is "few" – there should be something of a fares war developing as the airlines seek to fill empty seats with the kind of passengers who will make travel plans based more on price than time of year.

"Once October comes it’s anybody’s market," an airline source told the Echo.

Those that decide to book based on lower fares will likely discover that, in contrast to the beginning of the decade, hitching a winter ride on a plane to Ireland will be less a flight of fancy than a matter of choosing which airline, which airport, which departure time and, if the competition theory holds up, which price.

As for this crowded August, it is probably a foretaste of things to come: more routes, more planes, more airports. It could well be the case that in ten years from now, 15 flights on a Friday night will sound like something out of the age of the Wright brothers.

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