The rise of the transatlantic hand baggage only fare


Competition on transatlantic flights has never been so fierce, with long-haul low-cost carriers muscling in on routes traditionally served by legacy airlines.

Norwegian is becoming a major player on transatlantic services from Gatwick airport, and has also taken advantage of new, fuel-efficient aircraft such as the B737 Max to offer flights from Ireland and Scotland to the US East Coast.

Norwegian B787 Dreamliner

Meanwhile Nordic airline Primera Air will launch transatlantic flights from London Stansted, Birmingham and Paris later this year, and Icelandic carriers Wow Air and Icelandair have used their geographical location to offer one-stop flights between Europe and the US via Iceland’s Keflavik airport.

Primera Air

Traditional airlines such as British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Air France and Delta have been forced to look at ways to compete on price with the low-cost carriers (and each other), and the last few months have seen the emergence of a new phenomenon – the transatlantic hand baggage only fare. Here’s a round-up of what some of the carriers have announced.

British Airways (and AA, Finnair and Iberia)

BA has announced plans for a new transatlantic Basic fare, which will launch this spring on selected routes.

Exact routes and pricing are not yet available, but the carrier has confirmed that the fare will offer passengers hand baggage only (HBO), and will not include seat selection.

The new fare will launch in April “on selected transatlantic routes with our joint business partners, American, Iberia and Finnair”. It will be referred to as “Basic” on AA, BA and Iberia, and “Light” on Finnair services.

The unbundled fare will be offered on selected routes between Europe and North America, and will continue to include inflight meals, IFE, headphones and blankets.,,,

British Airways

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin has gone one stage further, revamping its economy offering with three new fare types as follows:

  • Economy light essentially a HBO fare as already offered by US airline Delta (which owns 49 per cent of Virgin Atlantic). It’s not clear at this stage whether or not HBO tariffs will be limited to transatlantic routes.
  • Economy classic economy as it currently exists, but with free seat assignment and priority check-in and boarding.
  • Economy delight effectively replaces the carrier’s extra legroom offering, with passengers benefiting from 34 inches of seat pitch which is three inches more than normal. Expect prices to be higher that Economy classic, but below that of Virgin’s premium economy class.

More details on pricing and the launch date for the new fare types will follow in the spring.

Virgin Atlantic

Aer Lingus

Aer Lingus has launched a new Saver fare for its transatlantic services, which unbundles “extras” like checked luggage, seat selection, blankets and headphones.

Customers purchasing the Saver fare will receive a one-piece 10kg hand luggage allowance, as well as an onboard meal and access to inflight entertainment, with other services and amenities available on a paid-for basis.

Those preferring to have the extras included in their fare will need to stick to the carrier’s existing Smart fare.

Note that the Saver fare is only available on point-to-point transatlantic fares from Dublin – it cannot be booked from the UK, on, say, a Heathrow-Dublin-New York JFK routing.

Aer Lingus


Atlanta-based Delta is now selling HBO fares on many routes linking Europe with the US.

The Basic Economy fares are valid for flights departing on or after April 10, however at the time of writing they are only available on the Atlanta route departing the UK.

Delta said that it “currently offers Basic Economy fares on direct flights to a number of US destinations including Atlanta, Detroit and Minneapolis. It is looking to extend Basic Economy fares to all routes in the future.”

Note that these fares come with restrictions (in addition to those applicable to the cheaper economy fares). Passengers do not benefit from advance seat assignment, and are not guaranteed to be seated together when travelling in groups.

Delta B757

Air France KLM

The group has announced plans to adopt HBO fares on transatlantic routes from April 10.

There are three main economy tariffs for flights between Europe and USA/Canada. These are:

  • Light essentially an HBO fare (checked luggage is charged at €50 per piece)
  • Standard some flexibility with one piece of luggage included
  • Standard Plus a range of more flexible fares plus one piece of checked luggage

Note that all economy passengers will continue to receive free catering and drinks as at present.,

Air France KLM


The struggling Italian flag carrier will also launch HBO fares on April 10, on routes linking Italy with the US and Canada.

The new Light fares offers one piece of hand luggage (up to 8kg), as well as seat selection, inflight food and drink, IFE and headphones. The new fare starts from €342 return.


By Mark Caswell