Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

End of the Cheap Flights Bonanza

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

End of the Cheap Flights Bonanza

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRIS BLACKHURST

IT'S become a standard subject of middleclass conversation. Wherever people gather they will talk - along with the difficulty of finding schools for their offspring and which supermarket provides the best online delivery service - of how they've just read about a place in a hitherto Godforsaken area of France, Italy or Spain that, thanks to Ryanair, is now reachable, and affordable. "So far, we've never had to pay more than [pounds sterling]50, with taxes. It's fantastic, we can take a Friday afternoon flight, be there by the evening and come back on the Sunday night."

Fantastic. So much so that you feel like screaming and telling them to shut up. Give us a break from the damned cute milking shed that's being done up, and the information volunteered (of course) that next year there's a pool going in, and the descriptions of the ohso-friendly locals. Blah, blah, blah.

We don't want to know.

Spare us, please, the beforeand-after photos.

When we say, but what if Ryanair goes under or scraps the route, they smile, pityingly.

We're just jealous, you see, jealous that we, too, haven't got a rundown shack with a tin roof in the middle of nowhere, that our lives feel lacking without a picture album and wines straight from our own grapes.

Well think again. Today, the stomach-turned oppressed strike back. In a test case, the EU (God bless it, fine institution) is set to rule that discounts on landing and handling charges and other benefits made available to Ryanair at publicly owned Charleroi airport in Belgium amount to illegal state subsidies.

Suddenly, the smiles are wiped off the faces of Ryanair shareholders, the budget airline's flamboyant Irish boss, Michael O'Leary, and the legion of second-home owners and long-distance commuters who have structured their lives around cheap flights to obscure destinations. THE big boys, who for so long have seen their profits whittled away by Ryanair and easy-Jet and others, are likely to use the Charleroi verdict as a springboard for further legal actions. For years, the established flagship operators like British Airways and Air France have had to sustain an onslaught from the low-cost carriers. The national mar-

if slight compared to their revenues, may prove crippling.

Add to that the fact that some routes may vanish completely, and their hitherto spectacular growths and bullish noises about the future begin to acquire a surreal, unsustainable quality.

For the low-cost airlines, the timing, too, of the Charleroi case could not be worse. Having reeled from a heavy battering , the first division carriers have, finally, been showing signs of getting their act together, offering cheaper fares and becoming more competitive on prices. …

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