Are we REALLY better off flying budget airlines?

When budget airlines were first introduced to the world, it was a wonderful thing. Suddenly travel was open to everyone, and what was once only available to the richer in society, became the norm for everyone. As time has gone on however, budget airlines have been increasingly attaining a bad reputation. It seems as every day passes, they are trying to find new ways to gain money from passengers in order to recuperate any money lost on offering cheap seats. This however, for many airlines, has resulted in a serious detriment to their service, and it begins to beg the question, are we really better off flying with a budget airline? Here, I compare the difference, both in price and in service.

Price

Money talks. In an ideal world money wouldn’t matter, but in reality, people will put up with a lot if the price is right. I know I have. The problem with budget airlines recently however, is where do you draw the line? In the past, I have flown on budget airlines, had no frills but equally had no problems, and have got off the plane at the other end content in the fact I’ve paid only 30 GBP for a flight from the UK to Spain, or wherever else. When you pay that little for a flight you’re not expecting anything other than a vehicle to get you from A to B. Where the problem lies is when there is a problem (which increasingly there seems to be most times I get on a budget airline now).

For instance, European carriers such as Ryanair and EasyJet have both got rid of their customer service helpdesk in most airports, and have replaced them with a premium rate phone number, which can cost up to 1 GBP per minute or more if you are calling from a mobile. By the time you have called to complain, and been put on hold for several minutes, the call often costs more than the refund you may have been due! To me, it is fundamentally wrong for any company to make money from a complaints line. They are essentially getting paid for their mistakes, and it comes across as in their financial interest to make your trip inconvenient. Aside from that, it just doesn’t make sense from a business point of view in my opinion. By dissuading customers from calling to complain with a high charge for a call, they are preventing themselves from gaining an understanding of what their customer needs or wants, or being able to fix any problems that crop up that they may be unaware of. This is the main reason I believe they are gaining such a bad reputation right now, as they are clueless to what their customers want or need from a flight other than price.

Another huge downfall of the budget airline when it comes to price are the extra charges they often hand out to customers for things such as baggage, insurance, or the way they advertise a flight without the taxes showing until later. When you add it all up, you often find there’s not much difference between flying with a budget airline and one of the more luxury carriers. The only difference with a luxury carrier is you know you won’t be subject to increasingly strict baggage rules, or even worse, airport reps who gain a commission from your charges! This is something that particularly grinds my gears, as it then becomes in their interests to look for things to charge you for, irrespective of good customer service. So many times I have seen people who measured hang luggage pre departure to make sure they fit hand luggage regulations, only to find when they get to the airport they are made to pay up to 30 GBP per bag even if it’s only a centimetre or so out, or is the right size in squared metres, but the shape makes it to long or wide to fit in the box sized measurement at the airport. Aside from that, if you buy anything on board, expect it to cost a fortune for very poor quality food or drink, and if you’re going a longer journey you’ll have to pay extra for a meal.

Service

The whole idea of no frills is something that appeals to me, and in that sense budget airlines have the right idea in my opinion. So long as I have a seat to sit on, and I can get to my destination on time I don’t need anything else. However, on a recent Ryanair flight I actually witnessed a member of staff shouting at airline passengers! It may just have been one bad member of staff, but when you consider they have one of the worst complaints records in the world for any airline, you have to take it into consideration. Like I mentioned above, so long as nothing goes wrong a budget airline can be great! In life however, things do not always go that way, and staff in general across the board of all budget airlines in Europe are not as equipped as other airlines to deal with complaints or disgruntled passengers. Also, as far as I am aware, Ryanair are still under investigation for how they left many passengers stranded in Italy with little or no support during the recent Volcanic Ash situation that happened in Europe.

In comparison, when I have flown with airlines such as British Airways or Lufthansa, the service has been great! Everything from the in flight meals, free drinks, down to the comfortable seating just makes that journey so much better. On the one time I had a problem with British Airways they upgraded me for free to First Class, they had a representative to talk to at the airport (no premium calling charges), and actually made me feel like a valued customer. On the downside however, the more luxury carriers can be much more expensive at times, and also with BA in particular they have been particularly unpredictable at the moment due to problems with staff strikes.

Without a doubt the service is much better on a premium carrier, and depending on where you are flying and when, it can actually be about the same price as a budget airline when you include taxes and luggage costs. The question I have been asking recently is – are we really better off flying with a budget airline? Right now, I’m just not convinced…

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7 Responses to “Are we REALLY better off flying budget airlines?”

  1. Jools Stone says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Or better still, if you’re not going long haul and can afford it, take a train. Nicer scenery, less hassle, better experience all round I think.

  2. I still think if you’re Edinburgh based, the options are limited flying BA. Ryanair and easyJet offer more choice and even with the add one, still more competitive. I book in advance and take advantage of their best fares, if its for a few days just need a wee backpack with the essentials.

    Jet2.com sounds great with their package : included in price is check in luggage incentives plus excellent departure slots from Edinburgh….

    Touchwood, I haven’t been stranded by ashcloud type scenario uptil now…

    Jools- I love the train but the problem is we are in Edinburgh not Berlin.
    We have to take the train to London then hop onto the Eurostar to get anywhere in Europe. Until train times start improving, it takes an eternity and also costs more so for the moment we’re stuck with the low cost airlines -lot of us are not cash rich or time rich.

  3. Melissa says:

    Excellent post Jane. The situation in America is similar, but the problem isn’t just with budget airlines, it’s with all airlines. Some charge for more then 2 pieces of luggage, some more then one, some to have any luggage at all. The only airline that doesn’t charge for luggage is SouthWest Airlines, but they don’t provide food, only cookies, so you’re screwed on a long flight unless you paid for expensive airport food. And it’s nearly impossible to get a cross country flight anymore. I can’t remember the last time I flew West to East without having to stop in the middle. All while ticket prices are going up, for us to get less…

  4. Anil says:

    They get you with the initial low fare and tack on as many things as they can. Not worth it for me and I think frequent flyers are much better off spending a bit more on airline alliances where they can earn some miles.

  5. Knut says:

    I’ve flown Ryanair a lot over the last years. It’s the cheapest airline for me as I only travel with hand luggage and pay with a prepaid Mastercard (their only free payment option). The cheapest fare I’ve bought cost about 50 pence :). I’ve never had any problems with them. But you have to comply with their rules, always. Make sure that your hand luggage isn’t bigger or heavier than it’s supposed to, print out the boarding pass etc.

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