From where? Budget air travel means hopping jets in the middle of nowhere.
I’ve been using Stewart Airport as my entry and exit point from the USA lately. I never imagined that I would be writing something like this. Where the F is Stewart Airport?
Erik the Pilot calls Norwegian Air the Red Rocket due to the fact that they paint the cockpit areas of their planes bright red, apparently reminding him of a dog’s erection. This moniker, of course, is also imbued with negatively because Erik the Pilot does not like the way that Norwegian Air functions — namely, their hiring practices. Apparently, they hire their employees as contractors rather than employees, removing them from liability to pay benefits and blah blah, and don’t obey the free skies agreement.
But ultimately this is the reason why I fly them: they cut corners. They cut corners are area able to sell tickets to me and my family dirt cheap. By dirt cheap I mean $200 to go from New York to Prague. Dirt cheap — by all accounts.
Apparently, Erik the Pilot and I have different priorities.
Flying the Red Rocket.
It is interesting how budget airlines are not only re-shaping the air travel market but are also re-shaping the map by driving development in places that would otherwise be considered nowhere backwaters. I wrote an article about it on Forbes last year, How A Budget Airline Is Driving Urbanization In Asia:
In addition to flying to vibrant air travel hubs like Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Chengdu, AirAsia also goes to lesser known locales, like Guilin, Kochi, Banda Aceh, Bintulu, Kuching, Labuan, Hat Yai, and Tagbilaran. Of AirAsia’s 300 or so routes, Fernandes estimates that 60% to 70% are going to new cities.
I asked Fernandes [the founder and CEO of AirAsia] about his strategy for selecting new destinations, and he chuckled, “We’ve never really done a very big science on that. I just say if there are 300,000 people we can fly there.”
AirAsia is not only filling a much needed niche in emerging cities that have developed to the point of requiring additional air capacity, but is a driver of development in these places as well.
The same thing is apparently also happening in the USA.
I’ve been traveling for nearly two decades and I have never heard of Stewart Airport before. Then, all of a sudden, I began seeing SWF popping up in my flight search results. What was most attention grabbing were the prices associated with it. If I travel an hour or so outside of NYC, I can get flights for half the price. WTF?
I thought I new the lay of this land so well that I couldn’t imagine there being an entire airport with cheap international flights that I didn’t know about.
But I wasn’t lapsing on my budget travel knowledge, international flights out of Stewart are actually new. In fact, they only began in June of 2017.
Budget airlines are a different breed. As Tony Fernandes pointed out in another article that I did on Forbes:
“We’re a low-cost airline,” Fernandes declared, “we don’t need [all of the] facilities, and new cities should build facilities to attract low cost airlines. We don’t need aerobridges, we don’t need expensive facilities. Our passengers want to go in and out as cheaply and quickly as possible.”
Spurred on by this demand, low-cost airports and terminals are popping up all over the world, with some of the best examples being Tokyo Narita T3, Kuala Lumpur LLCT, London Stansted, Brussels Charleroi, Frankfurt-Hahn, and Berlin Schönefeld.
According to Richard de Neufville of MIT, “Low-cost airports largely develop in competition with major airports, either as secondary airports in a metropolitan multi-airport system, or as distributed destinations that by-pass the use of a centralized metropolitan hub. The business model for low-cost airports is distinct from that of the traditional major airports. Mirroring the difference between low-cost and legacy airlines, low-cost airports emphasize profitability through operational efficiency and minimal frills.”
The biggest selling point of low-cost airports is simply the fact that they cost less money to build and operate. Just as a passenger can generally buy a ticket to fly on a budget airline for less money than on a traditional carrier, cities can get a low-cost airport for a significantly lower rate than their full-frills equivalents.
The way that money is saved in a low-cost airport is via the same exact model through which budget airlines cut costs: they strip away everything that isn’t absolutely needed and reduce what is to its barest operational minimums. Think airports that look like warehouses with zero architectural frills, low ceilings, less windows, less decorations, less facilities, less staff, less space per person, limited commercial facilities, buses rather than jet bridges, no moving walkways, more automation and customer-directed processes, higher passenger capacity, having to pay for things that you take for granted as being complementary (toilets?), and no reason to ever go there any earlier than you absolutely have to.
This pretty much sums up Stewart Airport.
Getting in and out of Stewart presents a very different logistical challenge than hubbing from JFK or Laguardia. When I go through NY I’m usually on my way to or from Rochester. But as Stewart is like an hour an a half out of NYC, I’m not going to use it to transition onto onward transport. Instead, I rent a car.
Well, my wife does because I can’t rent a car in the USA.
When it’s all added up, if my entire family is traveling, going through Stewart cuts the travel cost between the USA and Europe in half. It’s not convenient, but it is worth it.