Long gone are the days when air travel was an event to look forward to -- a romantic affair that warranted dressing up in one's finest attire and perhaps even photographing the occasion for posterity.
With today's traveling public pretty much resigned to no free refreshments and the cramped leg space that conjures a veritable straitjacket en route, the whole idea of no-frills flying is something travelers are getting used to.
Of course, it's a far easier adjustment when getting from point A to point B is as dirt cheap as possible.
From Asia to Europe, low-cost carriers are bubbling up on the worldwide aviation scene like so much effervescing Alka-Seltzer -- and often with lighthearted names like Spice Jet (India) or Snowflake (Scandinavia) meant to convince travelers that waiting in security lines and being herded like cattle into a cramped, steel cylinder might actually be fun.
To be sure, air travel is far from glamorous, and the rise of low-cost carriers does nothing to change that fact. But when it comes to saving money, you can't beat the options on the market these days, especially when traveling to Europe from the U.S. or Canada or on the Continent itself.
Whether you're looking to snag a budget flight from Miami to Munich or Amsterdam (check LTU or MartinAir for low fares) or you want to travel from London to Marrakech (easyJet and Ryanair make accessing North Africa cheaper than ever), as long as you're flexible with dates, the low fares abound.
Before you book a ticket, however, consider a few points.
On airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet, baggage fees are not included in the initial ticket quote (the total price is determined after you decide how many bags you need to check). Weight allowances for checked bags are also usually quite a bit lower than in the US, so knowing how much you'll be charged per extra pound before setting off is a good way to encourage packing light.
Another thing to remember is that low-cost carriers often use outlying airports. When you book a ticket to Frankfurt on Ryanair, for example, you'll actually land at Frankfurt Hahn Airport (www.hahn-airport.de) -- 75 miles from the city center (there's regular shuttle service to Frankfurt, for a fee, of course). And in Paris, most low-cost carriers fly into Beauvais Airport (www.aeroportbeauvais.com), some 60 miles northwest of the Eiffel Tower (again, shuttle service is offered for a fee).
If your flight gets cancelled (and this coming from firsthand experience with Ryanair), don't expect a low-cost carrier to reroute you on another airline. More likely, you'll have to wait until the next day that the route is flown and hope there's seat availability. But on less popular routes (Biarritz, France, to Frankfurt, Germany, for example), flights may only be once or twice week, meaning you can end up with a real dilemma and an extremely delayed arrival.
Ah yes, there are tradeoffs to consider when it comes to booking on a low-cost carrier versus a big-name airline. But as far as giving yourself options as a price-conscious traveler and making Europe all the more accessible, there's really not much room to complain.
Here's a sampling of the scores of European low-cost carriers to put on your radar.
For Travel to Europe from North America
LTU -- Also known as Air Berlin, this low-cost German carrier flies nonstop all year from Miami, Los Angeles, Fort Myers (Florida), New York and Vancouver to Dusseldorf, Germany. During the summer months, there are routes from the Florida hubs to Munich, too.
Flyglobespan -- Going to Europe this summer from Toronto or Orlando? This low-cost carrier based in Scotland offers reduced summer fares to Glasgow and Belfast from both cities.
Eurofly -- Check out this Italian low-cost stallion for fares from New York's JFK Airport to Rome, Naples, Bologna and Palermo (Sicily).
MartinAir -- This Dutch carrier has daily service from Miami to Amsterdam year-round.
European Low-cost Carriers
Ryanair -- Legendary for super-low rates that start at zero euros (prior to tax and baggage fees), this Irish carrier flies to nearly every country in Eastern and Western Europe and even offers routes to the Canary Islands, Sardinia and Fes and Marrakech in Morocco.
easyJet -- Covering most Eastern and Western European destinations, as well as Morocco, easyJet ups the offerings with service to Red Sea resort destinations in Egypt with flights from London Gatwick to Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada.
Monarch -- If you're in England and longing to replace gray days with a splash of sun, check out this low-cost carrier's service to myriad cities in Spain and Portugal.
TuiFly -- Not nearly as barebones as Ryanair and easyJet (free warm meals are standard with TuiFly), this German carrier manages to keep ticket prices low. In addition to scores of European destinations, TuiFly also services Israel, Turkey and Morocco.
Clickair -- This relatively new Spanish airline flies from all over Spain (although most flights operate out of Barcelona) to major European cities, as well as Moscow, Istanbul, Tel Aviv and Marrakech.