By Andrew Bushe and Ray O’Hanlon
Stand by for visitors from Ireland. A transAtlantic air fare war has broken out with Aer Lingus, Continental and Delta gearing up to slug it out with cheaper two-for-one flights for the winter months.
In other developments, Aer Lingus has chosen June 2 next year for the inauguration of its new service linking Los Angles with Dublin and Shannon. And a new carrier, Royal Jordanian Airlines, has announced flights from Shannon to the U.S.
Continental, meanwhile, fired the first shots in the fare battle out of Ireland with sales manager for Ireland Corry Brennan promising "a real treat" for those wanting to visit relatives, take a break or go shopping.
The two-for-one fares to Newark and other U.S. destinations like Boston, Washington, Seattle and San Francisco are available from Dublin and Shannon.
Flights to Newark or Boston for two will be £349 mid-week return or £399 at weekends. Washington will be £389 and £439 weekends.
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Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Detroit will cost £419/£469. Salt Lake City and Denver £489/£539. Boston, San Francisco, Seattle or Los Angeles will be £519/£569.
The offer is available for flights from Nov. 1 to March 25 with tickets on sale up to Dec. 16. The fares will not apply during the Christmas period of Dec. 11 to Jan. 11. For U.S. destinations other than Newark, a connecting flight will be necessary.
Continental said the Dublin-Newark route is its fastest-growing service and the bargain fares are being introduced now because there had been no introductory prices when service on the route started in June.
Aer Lingus quickly responded to the Continental move, offering what it calls a companion fare of £379 for two return midweek to New York or Chicago. Boston is £399 for two. Supplements apply for weekend flights.
Tickets are on sale to the end of October for travel between Nov. 1 and March 25 including Christmas — though the airline pointed out that fewer seats will be available during the holiday period.
Aer Lingus’ marketing director, David Bunworth, said the carrier had five times more seats available than Continental, with 38 round-trip services a week.
Aer Lingus said it had planned the two-for-one winter offers anyway to further boost its expanding transAtlantic service, which this year carried more than a million passengers.
Aer Lingus has also just introduced an eastbound winter low fare of $318 return out of JFK, Newark or Boston for passengers commencing travel between Oct. 16 and Dec. 16.
The airline’s executive vice president for North America, Jack Foley, described the fare as being one that would make it cheaper to fly nonstop to Ireland than flying via London.
"Winter is the most volatile time for fares and we’re going to compete over London and directly into Ireland," Foley said.
Foley said that the planned Los Angeles service beginning in June would mean flights on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Again, he said, Aer Lingus would structure its fares to compete with London routes. The fares would be "aggressive," he added.
A spokeswoman for Delta, meanwhile, said the Atlanta-based carrier would also be offering winter bargain two-for-one deals but that the details had not been finalized yet.
The fares battle comes as a new carrier, Royal Jordanian Airlines, moved its European hub to Shannon. The carrier plans to offer seven return flights weekly to New York and three to Chicago during peak season. The move, from Amsterdam, will also give Shannon the first direct air service from Ireland to the Middle East.
Shannon also received a fillip from Virgin Express, which will set up its reservations headquarters in Shannon in a move that could mean up to 100 jobs. Virgin will also operate a twice daily service to Stansted outside London. A Virgin spokesman said the Stansted service would start in mid-December. "That would be just the beginning of our operations in and out of Shannon and Ireland in general," the spokesman said.
Public Affairs Minister Mary O’Rourke said the Virgin move would provide a huge boost for the Midwest region and Royal Jordanian would be picking up the fifth freedom flight rights that ‘roflot had in the past at Shannon. This will allow Royal Jordanian to pick up passengers at Shannon and fly them to U.S. cities.