Skip to main content

Where We Fly: Low Cost Carrier Journeys and Locations and their Roles in Promoting European Intercultural Dialogue, Shaping European Representations and Establishing Social Networks

Final Report Summary - WHERE WE FLY (Where We Fly: Low Cost Carrier Journeys and Locations and their Roles in Promoting European Intercultural Dialogue, Shaping European Representations and Establishing Social Networks)

The research project, ‘Where We Fly’, considered the budget airline space of Europe within the context of intercultural dialogue. In specific, the objective was to identify and understand roles played by Low Cost Carriers (LCCs) in constructing our changing sense of European social and cultural spaces and the extent, nature and forms of intercultural exchange facilitated by budget air journeys, locations and experiences. Key aims were to increase knowledge about the rationales, representations and relations that underlie the increased opportunities and proliferation of routes opened up, and to explain their impact on the ways we perceive, communicate and imagine ourselves through origins, journeys and destinations in Europe. The research was undertaken under the auspices of an International Reintegration Grant, enabling the Fellow to benefit from access to expert reference groups in both his country of origin (Australia) and in the United Kingdom.

A range of work was carried out in order to meet the objectives, including theoretical engagement, field trips and participant observation (in Turkey, Cyprus, Poland, France and the United Kingdom), ethno-photography and cultural analysis (including literary texts, film, media, online media and promotional material such as in-flight magazines).

In the first phase of the project, most of the work entailed a major review of literature relating to LCCs, intercultural dialogue; developing an understanding of theories about community, lived cosmopolitanism and European identities; and establishing press reviews relating to developments in the LCC sector. This work facilitated the translation of the project’s objectives into a series of cultural anthropological engagements, and in the second phase, a structured field trip to Izmir was undertaken with the specific aim of understanding how the nexus of tourism, business, education and culture was experienced in a city experiencing social change relating to its places within Europe and competing regional identifications. Participant observation, additional field trips and informal interviewing were also undertaken in relation to other relevant topics. These included consideration of the role of LCCs in new migration patterns (in particular a case study considering journeys between Poland and the UK); the phenomenon of budget airline group events (such as stag and hen nights); long term tourism arrangements and ‘ex-pat’ communities and industries supporting these (in Cyprus and the Canaries); budget airlines and student exchange; and economic disparities and cultural tensions in Europe. The third phase of the project consisted of a focus on two interrelated phenomena: airline publicity and branding as a vector for shaping passengers’ mental maps of the possibilities for cultural exchange and benefit through tourist consumption; and the contrast between regional airports as portals to other cultures and their geographical grounding within local geographies. Through a close reading of Marc Augé’s theories about how super-modern non-places such as airports discourage social interaction, and the portrayal of Beauvais airport in Michel Houellebecq’s novel, La Carte et le territoire, work was undertaken on the limits of intercultural dialogue in the budget airline sphere. The fourth and final phase of work entailed considerable attention to the dissemination of the project’s outcomes, with a final symposium organised bringing together members of the two expert reference groups, and the preparation of publications relating to the project.
A research assistant was employed during the central phases of the project, and this additional assistance enabled progress to be made on the Turkish field trip, the development of a micro-blog about cultural identities in Izmir (http://wherewefly.wordpress.com/) and press and literature reviews.

The results and conclusions of the project relate to the objectives and key topics identified above. In brief, the key findings can be summarised as follows:

1. There is considerable diversity in the uses to which budget air travel is put, ranging from conventional holidays, through other tourism experiences including city-breaks, sport or leisure related travel, to business and educational travel. A ‘generation’ of Europeans (and airlines) are imaginatively remapping their real and projected activities and communities across borders, and collective patterns of intercultural communication are emerging in line with established air routes.

2. Customers at the cheaper end of the market often understand that their travel will be ‘budget’ in nature, and consequently their experiences with airlines, airports, and journeys can be marked by navigating inconvenience, depersonalisation, and ‘hidden costs’. This can result in negativity, resignation or inward-looking ‘gallows humour’, in contrast to the openness to intercultural encounter and dialogue held out in promotional material as a reason for exploring new destinations.


3. Air travel in Europe is a rapidly changing and complex sector. Within the last four years, the concept of budget airlines (or low cost carriers) has become increasingly blurred or redundant, due to diversification and competition and the sector is characterised by changes to routes, operators, airports and, as a result, to the opportunities and rationales for journeys.

4. The location of LCC airports, often away from metropolitan centres, on the one hand opens up opportunities for cultural and economic growth and connection, but on the other exacerbates a sense of ‘second rate’ travel by requiring additional transit time. There is a contrast between the airports which serve as portals to other cultures, and their local characteristics.


5. There are discrepancies in the ways that LCC travel is activated across Europe, with the emergence of some ‘well-trodden paths’ connecting places with commonalities, a centre-periphery dynamic reflecting business travel, and competing regional geographies in some areas.


The research and findings are of potential use and interest to academics in Humanities, Marketing and Design; airlines and airport authorities; government and other policy makers (local, national, European); tourism and heritage bodies; and the cultural and creative sectors. In particular, the socio-economic impact of the project lies in its increased understanding of how the infrastructure of low cost air travel might be more fully developed in ways that support, promote and facilitate opportunities for communities, individuals and enterprises to build meaningful and beneficial intercultural dialogue across Europe. Examples include the provision of appropriate information sets, sign-posting, or transition support tailored to different user groups for use in airports; creative design of cross-border educational or cultural initiatives that take LCC routes and opportunities into account; city re-brandings that visually represent their role as air portals; airline experience management that acknowledges and celebrates the diversity of user groups and their cultures and promotes inclusivity and dignity through dialogue.

Contact Details: Professor Murray Pratt, Nottingham Trent University (murray,pratt@ntu.ac.uk).