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Love them or hate them, low-cost carriers have unquestionably shaken up the aviation market. A LCC is easy enough to define: an airline supposedly offering fewer comforts and lower fares, whilst charging extra for such things we used to take for granted, such as food, seat assignments, checked luggage, etc. Of course, several readers – and a few InsideFlyer contributors – will undoubtedly jump in with the completely valid argument that most, if not all, airlines would qualify these days as a “low-cost carrier” according to that definition. And the world’s largest low-cost carrier – Southwest Airlines in the United States – is often considered to be one of the best airlines on that side of the pond.
Nonetheless, we all instinctively “know” what a LCC is, even if the dictionary definition comes up short. A certain gentleman has been largely responsible for this perception… And I challenge you to name the CEO of any other airline.
Your second thought? Me too… I couldn’t really think of one without resorting to Google (Sir Richard and Willie Walsh no longer qualify as CEOs)…
Many people love a good moan (although they might not admit it), with a certain UK newspaper doing excellent business reporting stories of woe. And airlines are a great target for a good moan. Whether it’s flight delays, overbooking or cramped seating, one often wonders why we fly away on holiday, when we seem to complain about it so much. I suspect that Misters O’Leary and Cruz have discovered something really quite simple – we don’t need to love an airline to take out our debit card (credit would cost extra!) and buy the cheapest ticket available. And most once-or-twice-a-year flyers simply do not care which logo is painted on the plane, much less concern themselves with positioning to Stockholm for a Qatar Airways flight in Business Class that still costs more than an Economy ticket. So any chance for the airline to cut costs is an opportunity to lower fares and attract more business (and/or increase profits).
I refuse to play along, unless I absolutely have no alternative for the city pair I require. If I have a truly bad experience with an airline, I make every effort to avoid sending more of my “hard earned” in their direction. So I bear my grudges for a bit longer! Decades in fact. So, for your amusement this weekend, I decided to share some of my worst LCC experiences.
The airline we all love to hate (except Joe, who loves to fly to Portugal cheaply).
My last experience with Ryanair came, believe it or not, more than ten years ago. A work colleague and I were going to fly from London to Sardinia, and meet an Italian friend there for a weekend away. A conference call that ran a bit late, a slight miscalculation about how long it would take to walk from the office over to Liverpool Street station and how long the Stansted Express would take… resulted in our arrival five minutes late for check-in. (this was well before today’s print-your-own-boarding-pass system – back then boarding was a free-for-all but you were organised into groups based on your arrival time to the airport, unless you paid extra for Priority Boarding of course…)
After denying our check-in, we were cheerfully informed by the agent that we could spend £200 per person to fly the next day at 6 a.m. My response is obviously unfit for publication… I’m sure that if this was a genuine moan I would receive lots of feedback about arriving on-time, it was our own fault, bla bla bla… But that’s not the point of the story.
I suggested to my friend that we at least grab a pint or two and dinner before braving the Stansted Express back to London. So, perhaps 90 minutes later we started to exit the airport when I chanced upon the Departures information screen. Lo and behold, the flight to Sardinia had been massively delayed and still had not departed. Not only had we never been in any danger of missing our flight, we could STILL make our flight.
A second attempt at check-in resulted in the same answer. At that point, I realised that Ryanair were stiffing us, SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY COULD! And since then, I’ve never paid Ryanair a pence or euro cent, simply because I refuse to!
If you travel around Asia, you might have come across Air Asia. Substantially cheaper than the traditional Asian mainline carriers, I had booked several flights with Air Asia for a backpacking trip with my partner around Southeast Asia a few years ago. On our first couple of flights, we were slightly overweight with our checked luggage and were forced to be “those people” embarrassing themselves by repacking in public, wearing three layers of clothing and stuffing more than should be logistically possible into a carry-on backpack.
So for the next Air Asia flight, I decided to be clever and purchased an extra piece of baggage allowance online. So we checked in with our three bags only to be told that we were overweight. “Huh? But I paid for an extra bag”? “Yessir, that’s correct, but you can still only take 15kg per person”. In what could be a slapstick comedy sketch complete with horrible racial stereotypes, I eventually figured out that you have to pay for “weight allowance” separately from (and in addition to) “baggage allowance”.
Again… clearly my fault… didn’t read the fine print… bla bla bla… I have only flown Air Asia since when I had no other choice, but learned to only take a light bag with me.
Commonly seen as the “best of the lot” when it comes to low-cost carriers, I haven’t yet had a truly miserable experience on the few Easyjet flights I’ve taken. I could mention a Sunday evening flight that was supposed to arrive at 11pm but instead arrived at 2am, but that could (probably) happen to any airline although naturally nothing was offered on the ground despite the drip-drip of additional delays. It was easy enough to check that the outgoing plane still hadn’t left Gatwick, even though no Easyjet personnel would confirm that and hand out meal/drink vouchers…
But here’s the thing with Easyjet… my experience is they aren’t actually all that cheap. Once I start adding in the “credit card fee”, “seat selection fee” and the rest of the delightful add-ons common to short-haul travel, I rarely, if ever, find Easyjet to be cheaper than the competition, so why bother? I can always choose a Oneworld or Star Alliance airline, enjoy the lounge pre-flight and select my seat for free, thanks to elite status…
A planeload full of passengers bursts into applause upon landing. Except that the flight was one of the most placid, turbulence-free flights I have ever experienced. A cynical friend and I struggled to keep a straight face, but perhaps these were frequent Wizzair flyers who knew when to applaud something rarely seen at Wizzair? I decided not to test my luck a second time…
I find it close to impossible to avoid Barcelona-based Vueling. At least it’s not Ryanair…
And, despite all of its flaws, Vueling has two redeeming factors…
- You can earn Avios
- You can redeem Avios
And, for what it’s worth, Vueling is responsible for at least 25% of the web traffic to my blog Flying Piggie as people try to figure out whether Vueling is a part of the Oneworld alliance…
After my last cramped, uncomfortable, middle seat, no lounge, delayed flight Vueling experience, I thought about getting a tattoo for my mouse-clicking hand that would read “don’t confirm that Vueling booking you idiot”. But I can earn 125 Avios, and 5 Tier Points if I book using a BA code. Oh dear, I must be truly addicted to Avios…
What’s Your Opinion?
Do you avoid low-cost carriers as vehemently as I do? Do you have even worse stories to share? That’s what the comments section and the InsideFlyer forum are for…