Long-haul low-cost forerunners
Back in 1977, Freddie Laker’s Skytrain broke the transatlantic cartel of British Airways, Pan Am and TWA by ushering in a low-fares revolution. One-way tickets from Gatwick to New York JFK cost £59 (around £400 in today’s money) on a firstcome, first-served basis. At the time, it wasn’t uncommon for people to travel from other parts of the UK to London on night trains and buses so they could obtain a good place in the queue at Victoria station, as tickets were only sold there or at Gatwick Airport.
Skytrain was followed a few years later by US low-cost carrier People Express – I once bought a Gatwick-New York Newark return flight for £130; bear in mind that taxes and charges in those days were just a few dollars.
Back then, it was thought that low transatlantic fares were here to stay. But we were wrong. Skytrain and People Express got their sums wrong. Both failed for a variety of reasons, one of which was predatory pricing by rivals. For decades thereafter, cheap fares were only available if you travelled out of season and met restrictions.