If you’ve traveled around Europe, then you will be familiar with the continent’s largest low-cost airlines: Ryanair, easyJet, Norwegian, and Wizz Air. You’ve either flown them, or they at least showed up in search results when you were looking for various flights (mostly) within Europe.
In this article, I’ll take a closer look at each of them, and how they stack up against each other based on a variety of factors including their fleet, route network, free baggage allowance, and onboard service.
So, let’s jump right in.
Are you interested in trying business or first class for the price of economy?
If so, you might want to check out Four Ways to Try Business Class Without Breaking the Bank - a free guide that I put together detailing some of the ways I was able to do so - and experiment with some of the methods mentioned in it.
Ryanair vs. easyJet vs. Norwegian vs. Wizz Air
While each of the airlines has a variety of different fare levels and packages that have some services such as a snack or free checked luggage bundled together with the ticket, keep in mind that unless otherwise noted, the below considers the standard “no frills” fare as the basis for comparison.
Ryanair operates a fleet of over 400 Boeing 737-800 aircraft as well as a single Boeing 737-700 used mainly for charters. The average age of Ryanair’s fleet is about 6.5 years and is set to get even younger as the more than 100 737-800s and 737 MAX 8s the airline has on order get delivered.
EasyJet and its subsidiaries easyJet Europe and easyJet Switzerland operate a fleet of over 300 Airbus A320 series aircraft – mainly A319 of which it’s the world’s largest operator and A320. It also has a small but growing fleet of A320neos and A321neos of which it has more than 100 on order combined. The average age of easyJet’s fleet is about 7.2 years.
Norwegian and its subsidiaries operate over 120 Boeing 737-800 aircraft on its short haul routes. Besides that, Norwegian Long Haul and Norwegian UK also operate a fleet of about 20 Boeing 787-8s and 787-9s on long haul flights. Norwegian fleet’s average age is just about 3.7 years.
Wizz Air operates a fleet of about 100 Airbus A320 series aircraft including more than 70 A320-200s and more than 30 A321-200s. It also has more than 100 A321neo aircraft on order. The average age of Wizzair’s fleet is about 4.6 years.
ALL FOUR TIE: All of the four airlines operate modern Airbus A320 series and Boeing 737 series aircraft, and so, while Norwegian’s fleet is the youngest, there is no need to worry about flying with any of the four from the point of view of the aircraft they operate.
Ryanair, based on its website, operates about 2,000 flights every day out of its 86 bases, connecting 37 countries. Besides operating international flights to and from majority of European countries, it also operates domestic flights within some of them including Italy and Germany. It also offers flights to the Canary Islands and the Azores, as well as to several destinations in Morocco, Jordan, and Israel. You can browse all Ryanair’s destinations and routes here.
EasyJet operates more than 900 international and domestic routes across over 30 countries. While it has operations all throughout Europe, some of it’s largest hubs are in London, Paris, and Milan. It also operates flights to the Canary Islands, Morocco, Jordan, and Israel. You can browse all easyJet’s destinations and routes here.
Norwegian is the only airline of the four to offer long haul flights. It flies between Europe and the Americas as well as Asia. Within Europe, it operates an extensive network as well, having bases at various airports unlike its name, “Norwegian,” would suggest. In total it offers more than 500 routes connecting over 150 destinations. You can browse all Norwegian’s destinations and routes here.
Wizz Air connects 134 destinations in 40 countries with more than 500 routes. Even though it’s a Hungarian airline, nowadays, it has significant presence in other countries as well – including the UK, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, etc. Off the European continent, besides the Canary Islands, it also serves destinations in Israel, Morocco, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and the United Arab Emirates. You can browse all Wizz Air’s destinations and routes here.
NORWEGIAN AND WIZZ AIR WIN: All four of the airlines offer extensive network of flights around many European countries. And, each airline operates some unique routes that the remaining three do not. However, I decided to highlight Norwegian and Wizz Air as the former offers flights to the US and Asia, and the latter offers some unique destinations like Georgia and Kazakhstan.
Ryanair randomly allocates seats to passengers that did not pay for seat selection, oftentimes splitting even groups traveling on the same ticket. As for seat assignments, they start at 4 EUR for standard seats. Extra leg room seats start at 15 EUR, and non-extra legroom seats in the first five rows start at 13 EUR. The one thing to keep in mind is that if you are traveling with children under 12, you are required to pay for seat reservation which will then allow you to assign nearby seats to up to four children for free.
EasyJet randomly allocate seat to those who don’t pay, however, they also say they “will do all [they] can to ensure everyone on the booking sits together.” Choosing a standard seat with easyJet will cost you anywhere between about 3 EUR and 10 EUR, while extra legroom seats go for 12 EUR to 32 EUR except for the first row which costs between 17 EUR and 39 EUR. The extra legroom seats also come with some extra perks like priority boarding.
Norwegian charges anywhere between 9 EUR and 29 EUR for allocating a seat depending on the length of the flight and whether its an extra legroom seat or a seat in the first few rows of the aircraft. For passengers without a seat, the airline assigns one randomly at check in.
Wizz Air have the choice of either getting a seat assigned randomly during check-in or paying for seat selection. Seat assignments cost anywhere between 1 EUR and 50 EUR depending on the length of the flight and type of seat. The first row extra leg room seats are the most expensive (about 20 EUR for a short flight) with standard seats in the middle of the aircraft being the cheapest (about 6 EUR for a short flight). Keep in mind that if you don’t pre-assign a seat, you might be randomly assigned a seat away from the person traveling with you on the same ticket.
EASYJET WINS: While all of the airlines assign seats randomly to those that don’t buy packages that include free assignment or those that don’t pay for assignment, and assigning a standard seat is fairly affordable with any of the four airlines, easyJet deserves the win for explicitly mentioning that it will try to sit passengers on the same reservation without a paid seat assignment together even though it cannot guarantee it.
Free Baggage Allowance
Ryanair (unfavorably) changed its free luggage policy, and effective from November 2, 2018, passengers will only be able to bring onboard one small bag free of charge. There are no weight restrictions on the bag, but it must measure up to 35cm x 20cm x 20cm and fit under the seat in front of you.
EasyJet allows passengers to bring one cabin bag onboard for free. The bags dimensions are restricted to a maximum of 56 x 45 x 25 cm, however, its weight is unlimited – as long as you can lift and place the bag in the overhead locker yourself or if you can fit it under your seat. Separately, a selected group of passengers including those with extra legroom seat reservation can also bring an additional, smaller (up to 45 x 36 x 20 cm), bag which must be placed under the seat in front of you.
Norwegian lets everyone bring two pieces of carry on luggage with the larger piece restricted to a maximum size of 55 x 40 x 23 cm and the smaller to 25 x 33 x 20 cm. The combined weight of the two bags cannot exceed 10 kg unless you book Flex or PremiumFlex fare in which case you can take 15 kg.
Wizz Air gives everyone a 10 kg free luggage allowance. If the bag is under40 x 30 x 18 cm, it can be taken onboard and placed under the seat in front of you. If it’s larger, up to 55 x 40 x 23 cm, it has to be checked in. Passengers who purchased WIZZ Priority, can have two bags with the sizes as mentioned beforehand, and can take both of them onboard.
EASYJET AND NORWEGIAN TIE: Depending on whether you prefer the ability to take multiple pieces onboard or whether you travel with heavy items such as laptops, cameras, etc., the winner in this category is either Norwegian which allows two bags onboard or easyJet which only allows one bag, but of unlimited weight.
Ryanair is Europe’s self-proclaimed “most punctual airline,” but is it really so? While 88% of the airlines 600,000+ flights in FY2017 were on-time (within 15 minutes of its scheduled arrival time), that does not account for the hundreds of flights cancelled by the airline on a relatively short notice. And, recently, the airline has been also having issues with strikes which caused further cancellations.
EasyJet was able to have 75% of its flights depart and arrive on time based on research by OAG which ranked it no. 15 among the world’s major airlines. While the airline was affected by strike outside its control (air traffic controllers, etc.), it had not been affected by strikes of its own staff over the last couple of years
Norwegian has a decent on-time performance as well – 77.1% according to OAG. Just like easyJet, the airline has not had a major strike by its own staff in the last couple of years. That said, it experienced some issues with its long haul flight to New York which was consistently delayed by a couple of hours.
Wizz Air has once been reported to have the most unreliable flight in the world. And, while I cannot find any reliable on-time performance data for the airline, it offers an “On-Time Guarantee” for 10 EUR which compensates passengers if their flight is more than 1 hour late (which I don’t consider to be exactly or anywhere near on-time). That said, the couple of Wizz Air flights that I flew on in the past were all on time.
ALL FOUR TIE: It’s possible to fly “unreliability”-related headlines in the news about each of the airlines. However, overall, unless you are unlucky to travel during a period of strike or similar, you should be alright with any of the airlines. I would only be a bit careful about Ryanair which seems to be experiencing more strikes of its own staff than the other airlines. But even then, overall, they are reliable enough.
Ryanair, besides an extensive – and a bit too aggressive – in-flight “duty free” sales, also offers a decent food and drinks menu. The airline sells a bottle of water for 3 EUR, small snacks for about 2 EUR to 3 EUR, and beer for 5 EUR. And, they also sell their legendary scratch cards, of course. You can see Ryanair’s whole in-flight sales catalog in their in-flight magazine here.
EasyJet sells a bottle of water for 2.50 EUR, and other soft drinks go for that price as well. Small snacks like Kit Kat bars cost 2 EUR, and a can of beer goes for 6 EUR. An instant soup costs 3 EUR. You can see easyJet’s full buy-on-board menu here.
Norwegian offers a buy-on-board service on all its flights. On non-long haul flights, non-alcoholic drinks can be bought for between 2.50 EUR and 3.50 EUR, alcoholic drinks start at 5.50 EUR, snacks are between 2.50 EUR and 7.50 EUR, and sandwiches and other food is between 5.50 EUR and 14 EUR. Norwegian is also the only airline of the four to offer wi-fi onboard, and not only that, but it offers it for free.
Wizz Air offers reasonably priced drinks and snacks onboard its flights. As an example, a bottle of mineral water goes for 2 EUR, a can of Coke for 3 EUR, a sandwich for 4 EUR, and a Snickers bar for 1 EUR. You can see Wizzair’s full buy-on-board menu here.
NORWEGIAN WINS: In terms of food and drink prices, all of the airlines have fairly similar offers. However, the fact that Norwegian offers free wi-fi onboard (many) of its flights is enough to make it the clear winner.
Summary: Which Major European LCC is the Best?
First, let me start by saying that no matter which airline from the four you choose, in vast majority of cases, your experience will be perfectly fine. And, you should not feel like you have to pay three times Ryanair’s fare for a Lufthansa flight on the same route and same date just because “it’s Ryanair.”
That said, don’t forget to compare apples with apples and oranges with oranges. Maybe Lufthansa is 80 EUR and Ryanair is 55 EUR, but if you need to take a large suitcase then Lufthansa might be cheaper.
Now, in case you have a choice between more than one of the four airlines mentioned above, I would consider Norwegian and easyJet first, and then Wizz Air and Ryanair. Once again, though, unless they were all about the same price, I would most likely just go with the cheapest option.
How about you? What is your favorite and least favorite of these four airlines? Why? Let us know in the comments.