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It is often said that many of the barriers to low-cost airlines doing longhaul journeys arise because of reasons pertaining to having to acquire aircraft (and crew) that can fly directly. Also, ‘Third Country Trading Barriers’ are mentioned, but I doubt that it is a major issue, as there are budget flights to several countries outside (but neighboring) Europe. What if instead of flying directly, the long-haul journeys have an EU/EEA refuelling stopover (therefore also having passenger pick-up/drop-off priveleges)? That way they can treat the longhaul journey almost as if it was the simple sum of two shorthaul journeys, and can use their existing shorthaul aircraft. Depending on exactly how the crew are assigned to both the sectors, it may require hotel stays. But otherwise, surely many of the original objections would no longer arise, and nor would they be struggling to compete with full-service airlines (who fly without stopover). I guess that in order to make such flights attractive and palatable to the passenger, it would have to be appropriately priced, or offer some other incentive. Example itineraries could include (instead of UK I have used Rep. Ireland because of the complications introduced by Brexit):

Rep. Ireland -> Canary Islands -> Northeast Brazil

Rep. Ireland -> Cyprus -> North and Central India

Rep. Ireland -> Iceland -> Canada

Rep. Ireland -> Azores -> Northeast USA (this is probably not a great example because Azores is a bit of a detour, but is within the range of shorthaul aircraft)

So where is the catch???

  • Welcome to Travel! Your question is an interesting one, and I hope it gets some good replies. If you don't get a satisfactory reply here after a few days, though, you might consider posting the same question to Aviation. (If you do so, cross-link this question.) – Michael Seifert Apr 26 at 15:30
  • It's interesting that you chose Azores over Iceland for Ireland to NE USA. For Dublin to New York, it's shorter to go via Reykjavík than Azores. The Great Circle Mapper is great for stuff like this: www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=DUB-JFK%2C+DUB-PDL-JFK%2C+DUB-KEF-JFK&MS=wls – Prateek Apr 27 at 13:55
  • Yes, I have already mentioned Iceland. But I also mentioned Azores as an alternative option; actually the original plan was to see if it could be possible to go to Florida from there, but it turns out to be just outside the range of a 737-800 (and similar current) aircraft. – Pat-S Apr 29 at 9:30
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I believe your premises are flawed.

First, many of the aircraft flying short-haul, such as the A320 family, have versions that can fly transoceanic and other long haul routes:

  • BA fly (or used to, not sure if that was still operating pre-COVID) a business-class-only A318 between London City and JFK. Westbound it had to refuel in Shannon (Ireland), due to the headwinds and limited MTOW taking off from LCY (but that allowed for US pre-clearance, available in Ireland but not the UK). Eastbound it is (was?) a direct flight.

  • La Compagnie flies business-class-only A321neo's between Paris and New York (ORY-EWR).

The main issue is that such transatlantic routes are close to the maximum range of those aircraft, so there's a bit of a compromise between "payload" (read: passengers) and fuel, hence the business-class-only flights.

But you still have some pretty long A32x flights, such as Bahrain to London Heathrow (Gulf Air, A320), Moscow to Tenerife (S7, A320neo), Reykjavik to Boston (WOW, A321), Sydney to Manila (Philippine Airlines, A321neo). Many of those are in the 3000 nm range and take 6 to 9 hours.

There are also some using various 737 models for such routes (though of course it was easier with the now-grounded 737 MAX).

Next, some LCCs do have aircraft capable of flying longer distances. Examples include WOW (now defunct, used to operate A330s), Norwegian (operating 787s), Aer Lingus (formerly an incumbent, but switched to an LCC model, operating A330s, with A350s on order), Air Asia X and derivatives (operating A330s), and many many more.

Adding a "refuelling stopover" in most cases just increases costs. Landing and take off use a substantial amount of fuel and time. Landing fees need to be paid. If you have to make a detour, that costs fuel and time. It adds more possible reasons for disruptions (due to weather or other events). Just a bad idea overall for a cost-conscious airline when there are better alternatives.

Some LCCs just won't enter those markets because they feel the operating margins are not good enough. Many routes are just impossible due to historical limitations. The "real" low cost model (very basic amenities on board) may be OK for a few hours, but becomes quite difficult to sell on 10 or 12-hour flights, so they have to "tweak" the model a bit.

But, as shown above, LCCs do operate long haul.

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    +1 The problem isn't aircraft range; it's the economics of trying to running long-haul low-cost operations, which many carriers keep trying to make work and many keep failing. Without feeder route networks, corporate travel departments committing to premium cabin bookings, business travelers making high-cost short-notice bookings, and the revenue from cargo that come with large widebody aircraft, and high competition on popular long-haul routes already, airlines like WOW and Norwegian that have tried this model have really struggled. Google "longhaul lcc routes economics" for analysis on this. – Zach Lipton Apr 27 at 3:37
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    A good answer. I would also maybe just add that the LCC airlines can make more money flying 1 aircraft 8-10 times per day to multiple destinations, than flying it to 2 destinations (there and back) once a day, and that long-haul destinations require more crew due to rest periods and such aircraft often don't have the facilities onboard and this means sacrificing passenger seats. – jason.kaisersmith Apr 27 at 4:39
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For most budget airlines, they have a stop-over in their home hub, e.g. Paris for AirFrance, Amsterdam for KLM. This is called the hub and spoke model.

There are rules regarding air travel. You must originate and end a flight sequence in the airlines country of origin. Emirates, for example, cannot set up a flight from London to New York and sell it. Only American or British airlines can do so.

This is except for the fifth freedom of air travel, which is defined as:

The fifth freedom allows an airline to carry revenue traffic between foreign countries as a part of services connecting the airline's own country. It is the right to carry passengers from one's own country to a second country, and from that country onward to a third country (and so on). An example of a fifth freedom traffic right is an Emirates flight in 2004 from Dubai to Brisbane, Australia and onward to Auckland, New Zealand, where tickets can be sold on any sector.

This does allow airlines to do this, some airlines do stop only for a refuelling stop e.g. from London to Australia.

By allowing some passengers to get off/on during a fuel stop can create more complication, like who has a ticket to the final destination. If possible, airlines will want to avoid a fuel stop where little/no passengers embark/disembark as this means unnecessary landing costs and fees.

Most airlines prefer the hub and spoke model as this allows flying set routes from large airports to regional airports to collect passengers or social media posts being distributed to multiple channels with a single click. It can also be easier for airlines organisational wise if a flight flies only between two airports.

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  • For some airports, the airport charges can be a significant component of the passenger fare. I suppose that in order for the stopover to be economically viable, it would very much depend on the airport itself, and whether or not the airline chooses to pick-up/drop-off passengers. For stopovers within the EU/EEA, 5th freedom priveleges are automatic if the origin is also within the EU/EEA, because of the rules of the Single Market. – Pat-S Apr 26 at 16:06
  • @Pat-S yes, unless the airline is making much more money from passengers from the stop, it is not very economically viable for the airline – Xnero Apr 26 at 16:24
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Rep. Ireland -> Iceland -> Canada that's basically the model followed by WOW. There are also a few low-cost carriers operating long haul routes but with wide-body airplanes like Norwegian or Level (but I think there are some in Asia too…).

Overall, they have not been terribly successful but it's not like it's never been tried.

Note that due to the geometry of the earth, Iceland is also a good stopover to most of the US. Thus the route from Paris to New York is shorter through Keflavik than trough the Azores. Even for Atlanta or Miami, the difference is less than 200 miles.

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  • On the northern route you have a lot more options in case of an emergency. That's one big reason why the vast majority of transatlantic flights go that way rather than via the Azores. – Michael Hampton Apr 26 at 17:52
  • Rep. Ireland -> Iceland -> Canada (-> US) is historically the route followed by Aer Lingus back in the late 1950s/60s when they started transatlantic, and most other airlines too back then: they'd have refueling stops in Iceland, and in Newfoundland (St John/Gander) (and also maybe Maine, way back when). – smci Apr 27 at 5:28
  • And WOW Air (2011-2019) had Reykjavik for the hub. – smci Apr 27 at 5:31
  • "due to the geometry of the earth" is an interesting way of putting it. "due to Iceland's location" is how I'd have put it. :) – Prateek Apr 27 at 13:47
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    @Prateek Yes, I did spell it out very clearly, the point is that its location isn't obvious on most maps. – Relaxed Apr 27 at 14:37

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