35. Budget Airlines

“This is why we Brits call RyanAir ‘Ryan Scare,'” said the 40-year-old lady beside me, gripping her armrests as the plane prepared to land. There was a characteristically heavy bump, the cabin shook, a couple kids shrieked and about half the passengers cheered and applauded.

It was funny but weird. I’d never witnessed a landing like that before. It was as though the entire plane knew it was a rookie pilot’s first landing. In fact, people have come to expect bad landings — bad service and an all-around bad experience — from Ireland’s popular budget airline. And while everybody complains about it and other airlines like it around the world (the UK’s easyJet, Malaysia’s Air Asia, Thailand’s One-Two-GO Airlines and Australia’s Jetstar, are a few examples*), the planes are full.

airasia_plane

You could pin it on the recession, but budget airlines are profitable because passengers are willing to accept inconveniences in exchange for a cheaper fare. These airlines are a necessary evil for travelers and backpackers on tight budgets, people who accept dealing with loads of crap in order to save a couple hundred bucks on a one-way flight — just one of many legs on a long, transcontinental tour.

And why not? Every traveler knows that a trip is only limited by two things, time and money, the latter of which explains why budget airlines exist: If everybody had unlimited cash, absolutely nobody would actually CHOOSE to fly on a budget airline. All you naysayers would have to beat a polygraph to convince me that if you won the lottery, you’d still fly budget. No fucking way.

The following are reasons why, budget airlines are a luxury traveler’s worst nightmare:

  • Remote, suburban airports. Anybody who’s flown out of Paris-Beauvais at the crack of dawn knows how much of a hassle it is. If your flight departs at 8 a.m. you have to leave downtown Paris by 4:30 to get to the subway, ride it for an hour (5 to 6 a.m.) to the end of the line, hope it doesn’t have any line delays, and sprint with your luggage to a bus that takes you from the end of the line (45 min.) to the suburb of Beauvais. Once there, you stand (not enough seating in there for everyone)  in a terminal full of tired and annoyed fellow passengers until the bitter end of the boarding process because you didn’t pay the extra 4€, you don’t get priority boarding.
  • Early morning or late evening flights. You can’t avoid the above scenario, unless you take the late evening flight, which arrives at your destination at 9:30 p.m. By the time you get through customs and take the shuttle bus all the way into the city, all the hostels are full.
  • “Air bus” efficiency. There’s no time to wait. Because the plane you just landed on must be immediately filled and sent back to its city of origin, the overworked flight attendants are spraying and wiping down the sweaty leather seats as passengers are deplaning. I’ve gotten on planes with seats still wet with disinfectant. It’s disgusting.
  • Cramped seating. The Dutch are apparently the world’s tallest people. They must loathe budget airlines.
  • No frills. Absolutely none. You gotta pay for baggage, priority boarding, food and even water. While purchasing an a ticket on RyanAir.com, the shysters actually make you check “No insurance” among a list of nationalities, so if you’re not paying attention, you’ll just check your country name and inadvertently pay for insurance.
  • Shitty pilots. Just kidding. I honestly have no idea if this is true or not, but it may be safe to assume budget airlines do not offer pilot salaries competitive with those of  major airlines. It may also be safe to assume the best pilots go to the highest bidder.

* To see a complete list of the world’s budget airlines check out Wikipedia’s List of low-cost Airlines.

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