While new airlines are a rarity these days in the U.S., a slew of foreign competitors is picking up the slack—and hoping to imitate the success of Uber-upstart Norwegian, which is now vying for the title of largest foreign airline serving the U.S. Here are five up-and-coming players from abroad that air travelers should watch:
Air Italy burst onto the scene this spring, pledging to become Italy’s premier international carrier. That may not be so grandiose a claim after all; the current Italian flag carrier, Alitalia, has been on the brink of extinction so many times lately that it’s effectively on life support. Seizing on that opening, Air Italy—which also includes assets of the Italian leisure airline, Meridiana—has
a well-heeled backer, Qatar Airways, which is providing not just an infusion of cash but a fresh fleet of planes. The carrier will make Milan its main base, with daily flights to New York JFK and four times weekly flights to Miami slated to begin in June, using Airbus A330 jets. (It will soon start getting the latest 787 Dreamliners, thanks again to Qatar.) Fares will start at around $473 round-trip from Miami and $773 from New York.
Joon is Air France’s bid to compete with the Ryanairs of the world—but with considerably more style. It launched last fall with a small fleet of Airbus A320s, operating out of its Paris Charles de Gaulle hub with flights to countries like Italy, Spain, and Turkey. Joon doesn’t fly to the U.S.—yet, at least—but this year, it’s venturing into long-distance territory that will take travelers from the French capital to places like the Seychelles. With Joon's close ties to Air France, U.S. travelers can pick up a connection in Paris and can see for themselves if this line lives up to its promise to be the millennials’ airline of choice: think amenities like craft beers, cool interior lighting, and the latest in in-flight entertainment.
Like Joon, Level is the offspring of a legacy airline—or in this case, two: the IAG Group’s British Airways and Iberia Airlines. And it, too, is positioning itself as a boutique airline brand inside a larger, traditional company. After a modest debut in the U.S. last year, with flights from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston to Barcelona (also for $149 one way) the airline is heading for the East Coast, with flights set to debut between New York and Paris on September 4; introductory fares begin at $149 one-way. While the main cabin offers basic service (and frills for a fee), it also has a premium economy section with more legroom and wider seats.
The latest Nordic invader to join the fray, Primera—based in both Denmark and Latvia—has just started hawking new flights over the pond; its $99 one-way teaser fares across the Atlantic quickly sold out, however, but the airfares for peak season travel to Europe are still well below standard. Its secret sauce? A fleet of new, longer-range narrowbody Airbus A321 planes that don’t guzzle fuel on the transatlantic trip. Still, their range limits the airline to flights between U.S. East Coast and points in the U.K. and France. It launched last month with daily flights from Newark to London Stansted and Paris Charles de Gaulle, also flying from Boston to London and, as of June 21, to Paris. Come August 22, Primera will add Washington, D.C. to the mix, with service to London starting at $199 round-trip. Service is predictably spartan—in other words, you pay for anything beyond a seat…including checked baggage—but it does have a premium option, which recently was selling for about $400 above economy.
French Bee The latest import from Paris, French Bee has been offering a pretty much unbeatable proposition since it launched U.S. flights May 11. For fares beginning at $330 one way, you can fly to Tahiti from San Francisco and, in contrast to the often aging fleets of budget lines, flights are aboard brand-new Airbus A350 jets. This month, the carrier began thrice-weekly nonstop flights from SFO to both French Polynesia and Paris (Orly)—the latter with an opening fare of $189 one way. The airline had been flying in Europe under the banner of French Blue since 2016 , but once it set its sights on the U.S., it realized the name had to go to avoid potential confusion with JetBlue. In its pricing strategy, though, it’s perhaps closer in spirit to, well, Spirit—with an array of discount fares starting with the inevitable “Basic” no-frills option. But it also has a premium class option with a wider seat and extra legroom, plus meals and two checked bags. Look for this airline to land in more hot spots as it takes delivery of more widebody planes.