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Europe Low Cost Airlines - Expanding Horizons for Visitors

Peter, from Sardinia

The way it was ...

It used to be simple. As a European, if you wanted to travel within Europe, you either found a discounted seat on a holiday charter flight or dug deep and coughed up the cost of a “scheduled” ticket from one of the main “flag carriers”: BA, Lufthansa, Alitalia etc. The former had the advantage of cost and arrival at a “tourist” location; the latter, the supposed security of being an “open” ticket, with arrivals at major cities/hubs and, hopefully, less screaming kids in the seat next/behind you.

While low-cost airlines are originally a North American example (JetBlue Airlines), they had failed to take hold in Europe, despite the attempts of Freddy Laker in the 70’s, until “deregulation”, which removed the constraints on new competitors and new routes. The impact has been explosive and directly affected the travel agendas for most Europeans’. More frequent (generally shorter) trips, to new venues and locations.

To get a flavor of the choices and prices, just visit any of the low cost operators' web-sites and click on a “destinations” tab. Here are some of the main ones:

OK so they are cheap, but how good are they?

Really, it just depends on your attitude and preferences. I have no relationship with any airline, but I do choose to use them, so please consider that the following may be biased (self justification).

Consider the top reasons for you not to use them

  1. If we arrive after the latest check in at the gate, they won't help.
    No, they won’t and I am sure it is distressing, especially if you have to pay for a seat on the next plane (which will be expensive). But, how many flights would you need to miss to equate to a flight on a premium plane? Previously in Europe, we arrived hours before a flight, but now that is a far shorter time. Solution: get there on time.
  2. We won’t get a hot meal.
    With most flights being less than 3 hours (and an average of far less), just pick up a sandwich at the airport and “suffer”. I personally never remember “airline food” being that good (with the exception of certain Far East long-haul flights).
  3. I will be charged a fortune for “excess” baggage.
    This is the most important consideration and needs careful planning. It is the most obviously irritating aspect of UK low-cost airlines; it is not an unusual sight to see passengers desperately moving their possessions between cases at check-in. If you want to take a large amount of baggage on your journey, this can make a considerable difference in the cost of your flight. Ryanair, in particular, favors passengers with just hand luggage (in their case, 10kg independently for each passenger; and it cannot be pooled even within family members). For EU citizens, this also means that you avoid the aggravation (and charges) of checking in at the airport. Instead, you check-in “online”. Currently, non EU passengers have to check in at the airport and pay a €4 check-in fee (per passenger/per trip; apparently you can claim to have this refunded?) and a fee of €9/per passenger/per trip for the first bag and €12 for 2nd/3rd to a maximum of 15Kg in total (in addition to hold allowance). Excess baggage is charged at €10/kilo. In summary:
    1. Have a regulation size carry-on bag and pack according to each particular airlines' allowances.
    2. If you are returning leave your other baggage at your starting point.
    3. If not, make sure you split the weight equally among your group, and only use one bag each, if possible. Taking the Ryanair example, if you, as a group, have an average of 25Kg each, you can avoid excess baggage charges and just pay an additional €9/passenger/trip to check in one case each.
    4. Security restrictions at some airports had been limiting you to one carry-on bag. Just in case, make sure your “handbag” can fit in your cabin bag.
  4. Extras.
    Although this varies from airline to airline, you could pay more to take hold luggage, check-in at the airport, and carry sports equipment. And oh, by the way, the price you pay may not be the first price you see, as taxes and landing charges are added.
  5. Lack of service.
    Basically, it is a bus - you get on quick (no reserved seats in most cases, less waiting in the corridor) and get off quick. What, no video? I could never hear them anyway!
  6. Their airports aren’t where advertised.
    Definitely true in certain cases, but the majority are just secondary airports. If this means new places to visit and smaller airports, then it may be easier to get to, the parking may be better, and it may be easier to get through. Considering those items, then I am not sure it is a negative.
  7. They don’t have good safety procedures.
    Not sure about the evidence, but I do think that it is the low-cost operators who are filling the European order books of Boeing/Airbus for new aircraft.
  8. Environmental impact.
    I can’t really disagree with this sentiment. Air travel in Europe has escalated, and the operators claim that new aircraft are better. But, nevertheless ... you can always take the train.

So what does this mean for you?

Certainly, if you purchase the tickets at the right time, you can save a lot of money. Prices vary by day, so you have to do a bit of digging around on their booking engines. (If you book direct, you have no benefit in using an agent or web intermediary, and you may pay more).

Perhaps the most important opportunity may be in discovering your own part of Europe, away from the usual transatlantic tourism trail. Sure, you have to see Rome, Venice, Florence, Paris or other great cities, but why not find another place where you can “slow down” and soak up the culture. And, isn’t all that on everyone else’s Flickr page?

P.S. Just booked our flight back to the UK (Stansted, London) from Sardinia (1000 miles) €120 for two including taxes (taking hand baggage only). Our train to Yorkshire on arrival (150 miles) looks like costing €180.

Resources

www.slowtrav.com/europe/flights.htm: Booking a Flight to Europe (bottom of the page also has links for "Flights Within Europe")


Peter is the founder of two sites that provide 360 degree photographs of Sardinia (www.360sardinia.net) and just recently added, Tuscany (www.360tuscany.net).

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