Sunday, 9 September 2018

LATVIA: Primera Air Review

Booking with a budget airline is always a risk, but with a number of out-of-country weddings to attend this summer, when Nordic airline Primera Air announced its £99 transatlantic flight sale in March, the deal was too good for me to resist.

The airline introduced transatlantic flights from London to New York, Boston, Washington DC, and Toronto earlier this year— and there were 99 tickets on offer in the sale for each of the routes.

Primera appears to have even cheaper deals from the US, with a number of $99 fares available to Paris and London.

There were even some $69 one-way fares available.

On the day of the £99 sale, the site was so busy I couldn't get on it for hours — but I still managed to bag a one-way fare from London Stansted to Toronto Pearson for August.

The light fare which normally starts at £149 one way from London, only includes the seat and 10kg hand luggage, so I paid £24.99 extra for a 23kg checked bag and £19.99 for an XL reserved seat, paying a total of £143.98 for the one-way ticket.

However, I was one of a number of lucky customers who were bumped up to the premium economy cabin, which would normally start at £499 each way, or $749 from the US.

Since not all reviews of the airline have been positive, I expected this would just mean I'd receive some food and perhaps board before other passengers.

But it was far more luxurious than I thought.

Primera Air is a leisure airline headquartered in Riga, Latvia owned by the Primera Travel Group, an Icelandic tourism company that consists mainly of Nordic tour operators Solresor, Bravo Tours, Lomamatkat, Heimsferðir and Solia.

Its provides scheduled and charter passenger services to leisure destinations from Northern Europe to more than 40 destinations in the Mediterranean, Middle East and North America.

The airline was founded in 2003 as JetX in Iceland, and operated under an Icelandic AOC.

In 2008 Primera Travel Group took ownership of the airline and rebranded it as Primera Air, while also appointing Jón Karl Ólafsson as the new CEO of Primera Air.

In 2009 Primera Air established the subsidiary Primera Air Scandinavia under a Danish Air operator's certificate (AOC) and in 2014 added a Latvian operating license under the name Primera Air Nordic.

Hrafn Thorgeirsson was appointed Managing Director of Primera Air Scandinavia in 2009 while Jón Karl remained CEO of Primera Air.

The head offices for the holding company and airline remained in Iceland until 2014 when the main offices were moved to Riga, Latvia.

The success of Primera Travel Group in Denmark, Sweden and Iceland facilitated further expansion and growth during the next years; in July 2014 Primera Air flew 155.000 passengers in 1006 flights with an average flight seat utilisation of 91%.

Initially, Primera Air operated charter flights for major Scandinavian tour operators, but gradually started selling surplus seats as flight-only tickets on some of the fixed charter flights in 2013.

The continued success allowed Primera Air to increase both the number of routes and flight frequency, resulting in a mixed charter/scheduled carrier business model.

Today the majority of Primera Air flights are scheduled, although some flights combine charter and regular passengers, and separate full charter flight services are also available.

In August 2014 Primera Air announced the founding of a new airline, Primera Air Nordic, IATA code 6F in Latvia, which would be run parallel to Primera Air Scandinavia.

Simultaneously, a new Network Control Center was opened in Riga for overseeing all operational matters of the airline, focusing on continuation of the healthy development enjoyed in prior years and to expand into markets beyond Scandinavia.

A supportive business environment, skilled workforce and high quality standards were the key factor for moving the control center.

Hrafn Thorgeirsson was appointed as the new CEO of both Primera Air Scandinavia and Primera Air Nordic.

The major restructuring and consolidation had a positive impact on the airline. In 2015 Primera Air operated eight aircraft with a turnover of 250 million USD, and earned more than 5.2 million euros in total revenue before taxes (EBITDA).

During the first 8 months of 2016, the airline had earned 4 million euros with an estimate of 7.60 million by the end of the year.

Today Primera Air is essentially a Danish-Latvian airline with Icelandic owners.

Generally Primera Air operates return flights from its Scandinavian airports to popular holiday destinations along the Mediterranean coast of

Europe and Africa, the Canary Islands, the Azores, Madeira, Bulgaria and Turkey, as well as custom charter flights to virtually any destination. The airline maintains seasonal summer and winter selections.

The selection of scheduled flight destinations has gradually expanded since their introduction in 2013.

In late 2014 Primera Air launched 10 new winter and summer direct flight destinations from Iceland, namely, Las Palmas, Tenerife, Alicante, Salzburg, Malaga, Mallorca and Barcelona, Bologna, Crete and Bodrum.

On 26 October 2014 Primera Air launched weekly flights from Gothenburg and Malmö to Dubai (Al Maktoum) and Tenerife, from Helsinki to Fuerteventura and Las Palmas.

On November 16 the airline commenced a new route from Keflavik to New York (JFK) after acquiring rights to serve the United States. Later that year the airline started four new weekly routes: Aalborg-Las Palmas, Copenhagen-Billund-Lanzarote, Aarhus-Tenerife and Aalborg-Fuerteventura.

In 2015, Primera Air signed agreements worth 30 million euros with several leading travel agencies in France for operating a series of flights with 2 aircraft from Charles de Gaulle airport to popular holiday destinations during summer.

In February 2016 Croatian destinations of Dubrovnik and Pula were added to the range of flight destinations. In May 2016 the airline commenced regular flights from Billund to Nice and Venice.

Shortly afterwards flights to Antalya were introduced. Later that year Primera Air announced the increase in frequency for existing destinations as well as new destinations (Milan and Rome) from Stockholm for the summer season of 2017.

It was done in an effort to strengthen its operations and presence in Sweden and in line with plans for further fleet and destination range expansion.

Later that year Trieste, Almería and Lamezia Terme were added as destinations.

Summer 2017 saw the addition of routes to Kalamata, Ponta Delgada and Madeira. In July 2017, Primera Air announced they would start transatlantic flights in 2018 to Newark, Boston and Toronto-Pearson from Birmingham, London Stansted and Paris Charles de Gaulle with a fleet of 8 Airbus A321neo aircraft.

In early 2018 Washington DC was added as the latest transatlantic destination, while Athens, Kos and Zakynthos are the latest holiday destination additions.

Primera Air has announced increased flight frequency for flights to its most popular destinations in southern Spain, and the pricing policy on these routes has allowed it to compete with the low-cost carrier Norwegian.

In June 2018, citing delivery delays by Airbus of its A321neo fleet, Primera cancelled all transatlantic flights to and from Birmingham Airport scheduled on or after 21 June 2018.

Transatlantic flights to and from Birmingham were expected to resume in 2019. However in July 2018, Primera Air announced it will terminate all operations at Birmingham Airport by October 2018.

In August 2018, the airline announced 3 new routes from Brussels to Boston-Logan begins 2 June 2019, Newark begins 9 May 2019 and Washington-Dulles International Airport begins 2 June 2019.

2 Boeing 737 MAX 9 will be based in Belgium. And it announced 3 new routes from Berlin to Boston-Logan begins 9 June 2019, Newark begins 7 June 2019 and Toronto begins 10 June 2019 using their Boeing 737 MAX 9.

In September 2018, Primera announced 4 new routes from a new European base at Frankfurt. The routes are New York Newark begins 16 June 2019, Boston begins 21 June 2019, Montreal begins 16 July 2019 and Toronto begins 16 July 2019. This will be operated by their 737 MAX-9s.

Primera Air offers charter services for the following companies:

Travel agencies within Primera Travel Group: Heimsferoir, Bravo Tours, Matka-Vekka, Lomamatkat, Solia, Solresor and Terra Nova Iceland.
Third-party travel agencies: 747 Travel, Travel City Sports and Urval-Utsyn.

The Primera Air fleet, consisting of aircraft operated by Primera Air and Primera Air Nordic, consists of the following aircraft:

- Airbus A321neo = 5

- Boeing 737-700 = 2

- Boeing 737-800 = 7

- Total = 14

Primera Aircraft Orders Currently:

- Boeing 737 MAX 9 = 18 To be delivered in 2019. 8 aircraft leased from Air Lease Corporation.

- Boeing 737-800 = 1

- Airbus A321neo = 1 To be delivered in 2018

- Airbus A321LR = 2 To be delivered in 2018

Tourism Observer

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