Wanted: budget airlines that keep it simple

21 June 2010

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?