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Bandula Gunawardane's Son's Wedding
Bandula Gunawardane's Son's Wedding
Bandula Gunawardane's Son's Wedding

A cheap flight from Paris to Madrid will set you back about $100.

But it costs six times that to cover the same distance in Latin America, where low-cost airlines are only just taking off.

Latin America has long lured travelers with its history, music and natural beauty spanning from Mexico's deserts to the Amazon rainforest to the glaciers of Patagonia.

But air travel largely remains a privilege for the rich.

French couple Martin Rotig and Helene Le Bras discovered how expensive it is to fly in the region when they began pricing the Latin American leg of their world tour.

The 20-something architects, who put their lives in Paris on hold last July to travel, relied on low-cost airlines to make their way across Asia.

But eye-watering airfares mean they will be stuck taking the bus when they travel South America next year, they said.

"We're going to take the fewest planes possible, because they're a lot more expensive than in Asia," said Rotig.

He reminisces fondly about fares like the round-trip tickets from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Osaka, Japan they booked for 225 euros ($235) apiece.

A similar flight - seven hours - costs many multiples of that in Latin America.

Frustrated wanderlust

Travel forums and tourist blogs are awash with comments on Latin America's sky-high airfares, compared to those in Europe, the United States and Asia.

Latin America has few of the secondary airports that low-cost airlines love, and the distances tend to be longer.

The lack of a common market like the European Union also means more burdensome regulations for airlines.

Brazil, Mexico and Colombia are the only countries in the region with established low-cost airlines. They run mostly domestic flights, at higher prices than in Europe.

"The business environment isn't very favorable" for low-cost airlines in Latin America, said Bertrand Mouly-Aigrot, an air travel specialist at Archery Strategy Consulting in Paris.

"But it's changing," he added.

"You've got a large population pool, mostly growing economies, a true middle class and a developing tourism sector. There's no reason the low-cost phenomenon, which is sweeping every other region in the world, will not hit Latin America."