U.S. airline Surf Air to launch European routes in May

LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. subscription-based airline Surf Air will launch in Europe in May, targeting people who fly business-class in a potential challenge to the continent’s traditional airlines.

Surf Air Europe will start connecting London to Zurich and Ibiza, operating a subscription model where customers pay a 1,750 pound ($2,180) monthly fee for unlimited travel.

It will later add routes to Cannes, Munich and Milan, Surf Air Europe Chief Executive Simon Talling-Smith said.

The London-headquartered airline will try to better what its sister company, Surf Air, has done in California. Launched three years ago, that company now has 3,000 members.

Talling-Smith said Surf Air Europe could exceed the size of the Californian operations.

Surf Air has ordered 45 Swiss-made Pilatus eight-seat jets ahead of the launch, and a similar-sized order of Embraer planes to serve longer-distance routes will be placed later this year.

Talling-Smith said the smaller planes and private terminals that Surf Air uses cut the waiting times associated with flying by commercial airlines.

“You have this great thirst in the market for something that’s going to be able to cut out all of that wasted time, and Surf Air is the answer to that,” Talling-Smith told Reuters.

“If you travel two times a week or three times a week, you really know the pain and frustration of going through airports.”

The new service could take some of British Airways’s and Swiss International Air Lines’s most lucrative customers away: those who tend to fly business class and pay extra for flexible tickets.

The 1,750 pound monthly fee compares with a last minute, flexible business class ticket between London and Zurich for about 500 pounds.

The European launch was due to be take place in October last year, but was postponed after Surf Air said it needed to secure the right aircraft deal.

Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Susan Thomas