Divernet
FLYING FOR A PENNY IS ALL THE RAGE in the noughties. A 400-year-old forest next to Stansted airport in Essex is about to be chopped down so that more of us can fly to southern Spain on a no-frills, low-cost or budget airline.
I think thats a mistake, but this is a sector of the travel industry that cant be ignored - especially by divers looking to broaden their horizons or visit a new place a little nearer home without using a charter company.
Today everyone from grannies to big families flies around Europe and beyond on cheap flights, happily exchanging an in-flight meal and on-demand movies for a train-style sandwich.
Several companies cater for them and, as well as flying to airports in (or near) most major European cities, they often land at airports close to some of the Mediterraneans and Atlantics best dive destinations.
So DIVER set about pinpointing the destinations that fall on the flight routes of the main budget airlines (see panel right).
Some of the coastal destinations served by no-frills airlines, such as those in southern Spain, grant access to several diving locations, while others such as Genoa are more specific (in this case, the Portofino marine reserve).
Some areas may be unfamiliar to UK divers, but the chance to explore new destinations is what this is all about.

Bermuda
Not a place you would expect to reach at low cost, but one UK budget airline flies here and Bermuda doesnt have to cost the earth. Stay in a posh hotel and eat in posh restaurants and saving a few hundred quid on the flight will make little difference to the cost of your holiday.
But find a guest house or self-catering apartment and you could dive the reefs and especially the famous wrecks around these western Atlantic islands without incurring a warning letter from your bank.

Crete
Low-cost airlines flying to Crete are often full of party animals looking to get drunk, throw up and fornicate with as many other young people as possible, but, like many Mediterranean islands, Crete offers some great diving alongside the raucous nightlife.
It also has many quiet secluded areas for those seeking a bit of peace. Crete has beautiful underwater scenery, several great wrecks, numerous historic sites and decent marine life.
Just dont expect to see as many fish on a dive as there are mini-skirts along the main drag of Heraklion or Chania.

Cyprus
Like Crete, Cyprus is for good-time seekers, but the south of the island (the Greek part) has been popular with British divers for so long that picking up a massive bag with a regulator emblem on it off the airport carousel is no novelty. The wreck of the Zenobia is mainly what draws divers from across Europe, but Cyprus has other attributes and its northern (Turkish) side is full of possibilities, from turtle-infested bays to shipwrecks and impressive walls.
Both sides are now accessible, so take advantage of cheaper flights to the Greek side and then head north. Dont do it the other way around, however, as British nationals entering from Turkey and crossing south could be fined.

Fuerteventura, Canary Is
Known more as a destination for dudes with floating plywood boards with or without sails, Fuerte is also a fairly decent place to dive. Hung off the windy end of Lanzarote, the island is home to the Isla de Lobos nature reserve, which offers some extraordinary Atlantic diving. Generally you dive in the morning before the wind picks up. This leaves plenty of time to explore, dig a sheltering hole in the sand in which to lie, or simply jump on a lump of plywood and start calling everyone dude.

Girona, Spain
This is the gateway city to the world-famous Medas islands, a small collection of rocks in the Mediterranean that has been a marine reserve for many years. With visitor numbers strictly controlled, the marine life gives a glimpse of how the Mediterranean was before modern fishing techniques destroyed it.
Girona airport is about an hours drive from LEstartit, the small town where divers catch boats to the Medas Islands. Be aware of the quota system for divers and book in advance to avoid disappointment.

Jersey, Channel Is
Although part of the UK, Jersey feels like abroad, which is why it has made it into this list. It offers great coolwater diving with wrecks and reefs in generally clearer water than you find off the mainland.

Knock, Ireland
I flew here for the first time in the 90s with a little-known Irish airline called Ryanair. Being in the heart of western Ireland, its a gateway to the diving found on the Atlantic coast around the Galway area.

Lanzarote, Canary Is
Though just a few miles north of Fuerteventura and also a Canary Island, Lanzarote feels different. It is one of the easiest islands to dive, too. The southern shore has wide sandy beaches that are generally protected from the prevailing wind, and the diving tends to be shallow and on a gently sloping seabed, perfect for beginners. For more experienced divers, the drop-off allows depths of 40m-plus to be attained easily and without choppy seas, boat rides or excessive currents.

Madeira
Another Atlantic island off the west coast of Africa that belongs to Europe - in this case Portugal. Madeira and its outer islands are very similar in make-up to the rockier Canary islands and the species are also much the same, as is the volcanic rocky seabed. However, Madeira sees far fewer divers and is more remote, so almost anything from the Atlantic can turn up (see separate feature).

Malta
There can be few old-school divers who havent heard of Maltas diving. In the 90s and early 00s its popularity waned, but the island is making a comeback, with a concerted effort to turn round its declining marine eco-system and the sinking of several new wrecks. Add the profusion of fun-in-the-sun amenities and you have a destination worthy of a holiday. Its also easy to get to the outer islands of Gozo and Comino for more good diving.

Minorca
Cavern- and cave-diving are specialities of this island, an enormous blob of Swiss cheese dumped into the Med. Ponten Gil is the most famous and impressive, thanks to its stalactites and stalagmites and its subterranean beach where divers can surface.
But this is just one of many systems that are safe for non-cave divers to explore. Almost every dive has a cave or cavern somewhere close by, and there are also a couple of wrecks such as the Malakoff to explore.

Nova Scotia, Eastern Canada
Set in the north Atlantic on the same latitude as Cornwall, Newfoundland sees few visiting divers. Thats a shame, as it has superb and plentiful wreck diving and coldwater adventures on tap.
The water is colder than the UKs, but clarity is generally much better and the marine life is completely different on this side of the Atlantic.

Porto, Portugal
On the Atlantic coast, this is not really a holiday dive destination but it does have a secret or two. The most high-profile dive is the wreck of the U1277, a scuttled WW2 U-boat. It lies in 31m and is not visited that often due to its exposed nature, so you must depend on picking a good weather window. Its not the only dive site, but challenging conditions and the deeper nature of the dives - mostly wrecks - makes this area best suited to experienced divers.

Sardinia
This large island offers superb wreck, reef and marine-life diving. Its one of the few places left in the Med where large grouper can be found. You can enjoy diving WW2 wrecks as well as impressive topographical formations.
There are dive centres around the island and airports in the north and south, so you can dive exactly where you want. Budget flights make it possible to fly into one airport and out of the other, allowing divers to tour the best Sardinia can offer.

Southern Spain
If there is one area that spawned the budget airline industry, its this one. The British invaded and with them came cheap accommodation, food, beer, flights and even diving. Its not the greatest place in the world to dive, but its not the worst, and if its a toss-up between dodging bling-covered chavs splattered with ice-cream and retreating beneath the waves, I know what Id prefer.
Many of the better sites are wrecks and some can be fairly deep, so rummage around online to see whats where before committing to a particular destination.

Tenerife, Canary Is
For a sun/fun destination offering thousands of beds, sparkling nightlife (and all the sick and shouting that goes with it) and a host of sandy beaches, this island remains one of the best places in the eastern Atlantic to dive.
Its large dive industry caters for students and experienced divers alike, with deepwater drop-offs, caves, wrecks and more marine life than you could shake a beach umbrella at. But it sees relatively few experienced divers, which can make a visit here exciting.
You can also bring the family and know they will always have something to do.

Zadar, Croatia
The Aegean Sea coast is bursting with diving possibilities. The town of Zadar puts visitors in the heart of that region and so in the cradle of Croatias diving community.

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BUDGET AIRLINES
Air Berlin - www.airberlin.com
The third largest low-cost carrier in Europe offers many European cities, out of London Stansted in the UK, but has few destinations of importance to UK divers.
Diving destinations: Majorca (Palma); southern France (Nice).
Baggage allowance: 20kg, 10kg extra for dive gear

BMI Baby - www.bmibaby.com
Serving the Midlands and North out of Manchester, East Midlands and Birmingham, BMI Baby flies the regular tourist routes, so hits the Mediterranean coast and associated islands.
Diving destinations: Crete; Cyprus; Lanzarote; Minorca; northern Mediterranean Spain (Perpignan, for Medas Islands); southern France (Nice); southern Spain (Alicante, Malaga, Murcia); Tenerife.
Baggage allowance: 20kg, no dive gear allowance.

Easyjet - www.easyjet.com
One of the first no-frills operators to make the concept work, Easyjet is generally the first low-cost airline people think of. The distinctive orange planes and uniforms and the Luton Airport fly-on-the-wall TV series transformed this small airline into a major player and the bravado of its creator is matched by its current destination list.
Diving destinations: Fuerteventura; Ibiza; Madeira; Minorca; Portugal (Porto); Sardinia (Olbia in the north and Cagliari in the south); southern France (Nice); southern Spain (Alicante, Almeria and Malaga).
Baggage allowance: 20kg, no dive gear allowance.

Jet2 - www.jet2.com
Based out of Leeds Bradford, Jet2 takes in various European holiday destinations.
Diving destinations: Jersey; southern France (Nice); southern Spain (Alicante, Almeria, Malaga).
Baggage allowance: 20kg, no dive gear allowance.

Ryanair - www.ryanair.com
One of the largest low-cost airlines in the world, Ryanair is an Irish carrier with its main UK base at Stansted. Its policy of always keeping its aircraft flying allows it to offer a huge number of routes, but has also earned it a reputation for delays. However, if you want to get somewhere in Europe cheaply, Ryanair is the first port of call for many travellers.
Diving destinations: Croatia (Zadar); Fuerteventura (only from Liverpool); Ireland (Kerry, Knock); Tenerife; Malta; northern Italy (Genoa); northern Mediterranean Spain (Girona); Portugal (Porto); Sardinia (Alghero); southern France (Marseilles, Toulon); southern Spain (Almeria, Jerez, Murcia); Tenerife (only from East Midlands, Liverpool); Malta.
Baggage allowance: 15kg, no dive gear allowance.

Zoom - www.flyzoom.com
The next big thing in budget airlines is transatlantic flights. Zoom Airlines flies from London Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow across the pond to the USA and Canada. Its a Canadian airline, based in Ottawa, but was started by two Scots. It is likely to add more routes over time, so keep an eye out.
Diving destinations: Bermuda; Nova Scotia (Halifax)
Baggage allowance: 20kg, one item of dive gear free (!)
BAGGAGE ALLOWANCES
Theres always a downside, and budget flying can be fraught with delays and bureaucratic pitfalls. There is rarely any leeway with excess baggage, an important consideration for divers.
Ryanair is particularly tight on allowances, and imposes high excess charges. Air Berlin is generous but offers relatively few destinations. And even where sports equipment is allowed, dive gear is not always recognised as such.
The simple solution is to read all the terms and conditions before booking a flight. If budget-airline baggage allowances are a headache for divers, it must be said that too often the problem originates on the divers side because of failure to do this and consequent misunderstandings.
Policies differ from airline to airline and may not always seem fair, but its their airline and they can make the rules.
Visit the website or give the airline a call to save hassle at the airport. You never know, you may be pleasantly surprised!