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European discounter expands to U.S., promises $99 fares

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 8/11/2017 Ben Mutzabaugh
This rendering, provided by aircraft lessor AerCap, shows an Airbus A321in the colors of Primera Air. © AerCap This rendering, provided by aircraft lessor AerCap, shows an Airbus A321in the colors of Primera Air.

The latest European budget airline to set its sights on the U.S. markets is an outfit called Primera Air. The Latvian-headquartered company announced plans last month for six European-U.S. routes that will start in 2018.

Primera says it will add three routes from both Newark Liberty and Boston, flying from each of those airports to London Stansted, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Birmingham, England.

The airline’s first Newark flights will begin April 19, and its Boston debut will be May 18. All six of the routes will launch by late June and will be flown on new Airbus A321neo single-aisle jets that seat 198 passengers.  

Tickets went on sale last month. Primera advertises prices as low as $99 one-way, though the availability of those fares is extremely sparse. More common are one-ways for $199 and up though some routes continue to show a number of flights available for one-way prices such as $119 or $159

Bargain seekers be warned: Beyond concerns about availability of the cheapest fares, Primera charges extra for nearly everything beyond entrance to its planes. Customers booking Primera's cheapest fares are allowed a carry-on of 22 pounds or less, but a checked bag is $45 each way. Booking fares with a credit card adds $12, and meals on Primera's trans-Atlantic flights come with a $40 price tag. 

Selecting a seat in advance begins at $45 per flight, and Primera's A321neos will have some of the tightest seats in the sky — even by domestic standards. The carrier's standard economy seats will feature just 30 inches of seat pitch, a common industry measure of space. Passengers willing to pay extra will get an extra two inches on the airline's "XL" seats, which offer the same space as typical coach seats on traditional carriers. Fliers can shell out even more to get a 36-inch pitch offered on "Premium XXL" seats that are located in the emergency exit row. 

Primera currently serves about 70 destinations in Europe, mostly from bases in Scandinavia. Many of the carrier's routes are seasonal and with less-than-daily schedules. 

With its decision to expand to the U.S. from new bases in England and France, Primera enters a space that's already been shaken up by fast-growing European discounters Norwegian Air and WOW Air. Those carriers have expanded rapidly in the U.S.-Europe market the past few years, drawing headlines with fares that have dropped as low as $65 for one-way flights from the U.S. to Europe. 

In particular, Norwegian's growth has been particularly explosive. It has added dozens of new U.S.-Europe routes, and has surpassed all but a handful of airlines in terms of the number of routes its flies across the Atlantic. Unlike Norwegian, WOW Air -- which is more of an "ultra low-cost carrier" -- operates from the U.S. only to its main hub in Iceland. From there, however, it offers onward connections to numerous European destinations. 

Both Norwegian and WOW offer some flights on widebody jets -- Norwegian flies Boeing's 787 "Dreamliner" while WOW operates a few Airbus A330s. But each has expanded its reach to the U.S. with narrowbody jets that are far more common on domestic routes. WOW uses the Airbus A320 family of jets for flights to destinations such as Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Norwegian has been even more aggressive with plans for its Boeing 737 Max jets. It opened two pilot bases in the U.S. Northeast as it launched a dozen new 737 routes connecting smaller U.S. airports to similar destinations in Europe. 

Following a similar plan, Primera plans to use single-aisle for its U.S. routes. The company says it will fly its new, next-generation Airbus A321neo planes to open its six new U.S. routes. 

The launch dates and schedule highlights for Primera's new U.S. routes: 

Newark Liberty

London Stansted: Daily service begins April 19

Paris Charles de Gaulle: Daily service begins May 18

Birmingham: Daily service begins May 18

Boston

London Stansted: Four weekly flights begin May 18

Paris Charles de Gaulle: Thrice-weekly service begins June 21

Birmingham: Four weekly flights begin June 22

TODAY IN THE SKY: Norwegian is world's second airline to get Boeing's new 737 Max

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