A number of low-cost European airlines have shown signs of trouble since budget airlines Primera and Cobalt shut down in late 2018. The newest addition to the list of small European airlines to fold is the millennial-focused Joon—Air France’s budget venture.
Joon was barely a year old when its parent airline announced last week that it will be absorbed into Air France. Although specific figures aren’t available, it seems Joon may have had trouble filling planes to see profitability, but that doesn’t seem to have been the prime problem. Instead, industry mavens believe that a “lifestyle” airline targeting millennials was a cockamamie idea from the start.
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Judging by the closure, Air France’s new CEO (appointed in August 2018) apparently realized that right away. The real problem may well have been labor issues: Joon’s cost advantage was based almost entirely on low cabin staff pay, a differential that probably threatened Air France’s already tense union relations that regularly spark lengthy strikes.
Even at the outset, the whole idea seemed based on hype rather than fact. Joon promoted itself as “a fashion brand, a rooftop bar, an entertainment channel, a personal assistant.” These promises were over the top, especially when the actual product was just another airline doing what other airlines do. If Joon had become a cash cow, AirFrance would have undoubtedly retained it—but it wasn’t.
The Cobalt default also follows the classic model of inability to fill planes at high enough fares to make a profit. It seems there’s too much low-fare competition right now, with lots of flights for both markets already existing on EasyJet, Ryanair, and others from all over Europe. Cobalt added little new to the mix and accordingly called it quits.
And industry watchers believe that the shakeout of European airlines isn’t over. There are still too many low-fare wannabes selling seats below costs. Be on the lookout for more announcements in the future—and you might want to avoid booking with small, low-cost lines accordingly.
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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.