Wanted: budget airlines that keep it simple

Nathalie Bonney's picture

There’s something altogether less budget about budget airlines these days. The halcyon days where you could fly to Barcelona for a fiver or Prague for free even (barring taxes natch) are long gone and while flights are still cheap, airlines are constantly coming up with new and inventive ways to shake out the last few coins from their passengers’ pockets.

We’ve caught on to some of the tricks: checking in online is cheaper than at the airport and there are other extras to avoid such as priority boarding and text message alerts – as well as the fantastical premium now expected for checking in luggage.

None of this has put me off flying with Ryanair and co, I just make sure I’m on red alert when booking flights and try to keep costs to a minimum. After all you can still book a return flight for £50 if you’re lucky. 

Perhaps that’s why the airlines are now using other tactics, similar to doorstep selling, to make an extra bit of wonga. When I boarded my recent Ryanair flight the first thing that I noticed was that the baggage holds were plastered with adverts for different flight destinations. Easy enough to ignore but the miniature hoardings gave a taste of what was to come.

The plane was just about in the air, before the intercom rang out announcing the sale of drinks and snacks. Everyone knows that free nibbles and drinks are a no–no on budget airlines but I wonder if the air stewards were working on commission, wheeling their trolley of overpriced late–night garage food up and down the aisle accompanied by market cries urging us to spend, spend, spend.

I asked for a hot water but was told by the air stewardess that for health and safety reasons she could only serve this to me if I had brought my own thermos flask with a lid. Of course if I bought a cup of tea, the flimsy paper cup wouldn’t need a lid and somehow, health and safety rules were less essential if the drink was paid for.

Throughout the flight, passengers’ peace was disturbed by the intecom’s cheery advetorial chimes. If it wasn’t food, it was duty free goods, with special offers flagged up for our attention or scratchcards with ‘amazing cash prizes’ and cars to win. Some of the proceeds from this would go towards children’s charities. Ah the ubiquitous, nameless children’s charity. Fundraisers suddenly dispense with the need to give you any real detail about who or what exactly you’re donating towards, simply because ‘it’s for the children’.

On the way back you could buy Stansted Express tickets on board, which in itself is a convenient service but don’t be duped into paying for it with your last few euros. The airline charges the same price in pounds and euros. The exchange rate is bad, yes but that’s just cheeky.

I felt a bit like I was in an Asian or African country again: there bus and train journeys aren’t complete without street hawkers ambushing public transport at every possible convenience. They sell everything from corn on the cob to watches and chilled coca cola. You don’t mind so much though when the prices are a bit more competitive and the whole process seems a lot more organic opportunist compared to Ryanair’s ploys, which smack of the greasy car salesman. 

I’ve singled out Ryanair because of my recent experience but I’m sure it’s not the only company to take its sales tactics up a gear. For instance when you try to book flights with easyjet online, each web page prior to the final confirmation flags up car hire and hotel booking services. You can easily opt out of these but it’s just annoying and prolongs the previously pretty quick booking process. 

The saying ‘you pay for what you get’ is definitely true but if I don’t want to cough up any more, could I at least be left in peace please?

Your Comments

Off course the cabin crew are on comission when they sell you stuff! Its an important part of their and the airlines earnings.Often if you add up all the add ons BA is just as cheap . FlyBe is in my opinion by far the best low cost airline. They always go on time and the add on stuff is clear on their website.

I cannot say too often to travellers who never knew what it was like before no-frills airlines. You do not realise just how lucky we are. Sure Ryanair could be better, but have you ever flown Gatwick-Istanbul with (flag carrier) Azerbaijani Airways?

My wife and I were fortunate enough in 1994 to be able to buy a small cottage in the South of France. In those days all BA flights from UK to France were pooled with Air France, and the basic Gatwick-Marseille fare was around £500 return. Flying was completely out of the question unless we had saved up enough AirMiles.

Now there are flights to Marseille, Nimes, and Avignon from all over.

I believe it is worth the sales patter and non-reclining seats for what is little more than a 90 minute 'bus ride'. Be grateful we do not have the old fare structure that if increased by the RPI would now be so high, an airline ticket would need a second mortgage!

Budget airlines are what it says on the tin. Don`t be fooled into parting with your hard earned cash then you get a good deal in my opinion. To be frank you get what you pay for. Splash your holiday cash when you reach your destination not on the airline or what I find even more of a rip off in the airport. They also take advantage of the feel good factor of holiday makers leaving for sunnier and warmer climates.

Having used both Easyjet and Ryanair on several occasions recently, I have to say that Ryanair are by far the tackiest and most penny pinching of the two!

My wife and I were 4Kg overweight on hold luggage when we turned up to fly Easyjet from Blackpool to Tenerife. Despite having that spare capacity in our hand luggage, we were given no option to repack or dump anything but had to pay £40. A bad start to the holiday and no joy when I complained on return.

At Birmingham airport, (possibly the worst rip off airport, first to charge £1 for a drop off) the private security company airport security morons, seem to have some type of sting with Ryan Air and measure almost every cabin bag for Ryan Air flights; they then send back every bag that does not fit and of course Ryan Air mega rip off kicks in.

It's a great life lesson for kids to get them to see how Ryan Air (the worst) tries to rip you off at every opportunity. Teaches them to be on guard at all times and caveat emptor !

With Ryan Air (Easy Jet, BMI) you are not a customer but bait, a punter,a mug, a sucker liable to be fleeced, as long as you accept and are constantly on your guard, it's fine.

Regarding the excess baggage charges and Easyjet - if you are at the airport in plenty of time, find an unmanned check-in desk and weigh your suitcases prior to going to your own check-in. That way you can rearrange or dump some of your stuff before you get to your own check-in.

As for Ryanair hand luggage - Leeds Bradford were checking the size of hand luggage for Ryanair similar to what happened at Birmingham when we flew with them recently.

Re Stansted express bus and your 'don't be duped into paying with your last few Euros' as amount charged is same in pounds and euros - I know the exchange rate is bad but surely it's still cheaper to pay with Euros??

I travel regularly between the UK & Spain and use Ryanair as the most convenient. I always take only hand luggage but they have certainly tightened up on getting everyone to put their bag into the frame to measure it. I was also asked to do this on the return flight from Spain last week - unheard of before!! Make sure your bag is not packed so that the lid is even slightly raised above the given dimensions. Also keep checking the dimensions allowed for hand luggage when you book as Ryanair's frames have recently become smaller!! As you say, any chance to squeeze extra money out of the customers.

Anyone using Birmingham airport can avoid the £1 'drop-off' charge by being dropped off at Birmingham International Train station. Get the sky train which goes every few minutes and you arrive in the airport 2 minutes later. Same applies when being met - passengers go through to the station where there is a free short stay car park (20 minutes).

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