A Nose Under the Tent that Could Help Bring Competition to the US Airline Market

European discount carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle has both lower costs than their US and European counterparts and lower fares. They fly to the US, and are awaiting approval for their even lower-cost Irish subsidiary to do so.

US airlines (and labor groups) do want to stop Norwegian also because of the airline’s lower costs.

Today’s big airline news is that Norwegian has announced that they will separately take advantage of Europe-US Open Skies agreements by flying from French Caribbean islands to the US using new Boeing 737s.

They’ll fly:

  • Baltimore — Guadeloupe on Tuesdays and Saturdays and Baltimore — Martinique on Mondays and Fridays
  • Boston — Guadeloupe on Thursdays and Sundays and Boston — Martinique on Wednesdays and Sundays
  • New York JFK — Guadeloupe on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and New York JFK — Martinique on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays

They’re all 1800 – 2000 mile flights operated by brand new Boeing 737s with free wifi, streaming entertainment, and buy on board snacks. Service starts December 3.

These are purely leisure routes. Norwegian doesn’t interline. So it’s all about flying people non-stop between these cities at low fares that start at $79 one-way from the US to the Caribbean and $99 from the Caribbean to the US.

These are destinations with little service from the US now. They say they’re looking to fly during the Winter months and much of their service is at a low during that time. But US airlines will see this as a nose under the tent, though it’s perfectly permissible since the islands they’re flying from are European-controlled and open skies treaties permit it.

Nonetheless even with Norwegian’s low costs these routes are likely money losers — they’re even parking an extra third plane in the Caribbean as a spare to run them.

While this is separate from the battle over transatlantic flying via Norwegian’s Irish subsidiary, I see it as linked — Norwegian sees a future in the US market. Folks who are concerned with a lack of competition among US carriers should certainly favor it although my preferred solution rather than ‘allowing foreign carriers to operate in the US is simply to life foreign ownership restrictions of US airlines. Foreign carriers could set up US subsidiaries and own them, operating them as they see fit within US law.

Norwegian says they’ll buy 17 Boeing 787s if their Irish subsidiary is approved for flights to the US and will buy zero if the subsidiary isn’t (and its parent company will still fly to the US).

I’ve regularly suggested that it’s not the big Middle East carriers US airlines need to worry about competing against — it’s low cost airlines like Norwegian and Ryanair.

We should applaud these routes and demand more or rather demand that our government not prop up airfares and restrict passenger choice by refusing to allow foreign carriers which meet all safety requirements of flying to and through the US and those requirements of Europe as well to serve US destinations … both inside the country and beyond.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Screw the US worker. We need the cost saving that globalization brings.I do think we should also allow US airlines to bring in low cost labor on work visas to compete and fire the overpaid union workers. Welcome to the new world where you need the skills to compete globally and not rely on government protection for your livelihood.

  2. Love the competition, however I worry about flight frequency and what would happen should there be an irrops like this one:


    But if it’s a European airline and subject to the more friendly European compensation rules for irrops, then I’m all for it. Of course, US carriers should be worried, but after all these are technically open skies US-France flights.

  3. This is good for the US consumer. The govt. should be in favor of it because it helps the consumer. In fact encourage them to fly to more cities.

  4. I flew Norwegian a couple of years ago, BGO-ARN-HEL. They are definitely a lowcoster, but a very well executed one. Yes, you pay for all extras, but the hard product was perfect.

    Though I wonder if they will mostly impact B6 and WN, and not the legacy carriers that need improvement the most.

  5. OK I’m hooked and trying to book tix from BWI to Martinique. How can I find these fares now to book??

  6. Excellent idea, @Nick. I’m all in favor of outsourcing expensive upper management positions overseas. Many foreign executives make just a fraction of what the overpaid US execs do!

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