Simon Calder, travel editor, The IndependentOne of those slow, late-August days? Nudge your dozing colleagues and try this question on them.


In terms of flights in Europe, one airline is way ahead of the others. Is it the national airline of: a) Britain; b) France; or c) Germany?


The answer is none of the above. The extent of the revolution in the skies created by low-cost flying was quietly revealed earlier this month by the RDC Aviation consultancy. I crunched the numbers of available seats on scheduled European flights for August to find startling story of the way our travel habits have changed.


Ryanair has just become the first airline to supply more than one in 10 of all available seats in Europe. It scores 10.2%, way ahead of its nearest rival, Lufthansa (plus the German national carrier’s subsidiary, Swiss).


Who’s next? Air France and its Dutch offshoot KLM are marginally ahead of easyJet in terms of combined seats offered. But how many will actually be filled? When you take into account load factor – the average proportion of occupied seats – Air France/KLM and easyJet tie for third place.


Last month, easyJet scored a system-wide load factor of 90.3% on a typical flight on its Airbuses, all but 15 of the 156 seats available were filled. This is a remarkable proportion for any scheduled airline; the worldwide average is 75%.


That’s enough numbers for a hot August day. They show how far Britain is ahead of the rest of Europe – both easyJet and Ryanair have their main bases in the UK. That places UK agents and operators in a strong position: already adjusted to the slightly uncomfortable, but perhaps inevitable, new world, where air travel in Europe has become a commodity. Continental companies still face the pain of adjustment.


One final question for your colleagues: where does British Airways come in this list? Way down in eighth place. But perhaps that is a position of strength for our national carrier: a niche operator offering much more than the no-frills boys, and commanding a premium for the privilege.