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Budget Airlines: Things to Look Out For

By: Jonathan Hedley - Updated: 3 Jul 2010 | comments*Discuss
Budget Airlines Low Cost Airlines Hints

The advent of budget airlines has drastically changed the travel and tourism industry in Europe over the last ten years. Ever since Go Fly - British Airways' budget subsidiary - was launched in late 1997, this niche (or rather, this Grand Canyon-like gaping crevice) in the market has been turned into a multi-billion pound industry - transporting thousands of ordinary people to places that were previously accessible only as a rare treat!

Gone are the days when a package holiday in Spain was the best value for money option, when a return flight to a European city would cost upwards of £200 per person. Nowadays, it's even possible to get flights for as little as one penny - plus taxes and hidden fees of course. Surely it's too good to be true?

You Get What You Pay For

The business model of the low cost airline is a work of genius. One only wonders why it wasn't touched upon sooner, given its simplicity. Take the service provided by any ordinary airline and strip it down to the bare bones - cut costs at every turn provided it's legal and within safety regulations. Modern technology, particularly the advent of the internet and online booking, has allowed companies to make incredible savings on administration.

The result is a flying bus - a form of long distance transport with no frills - it's a bit uncomfortable, a bit unreliable, there's no come-back if you have any issues and generally speaking, the standard of customer service is pretty basic - but it means that suddenly thousands of people, who could previously only afford maybe one holiday a year, can now pop over to Rome, Barcelona, Paris or Copenhagen, on a whim.

In short, one large advantage just about balances out the many small disadvantages.

Hidden Costs and Things to be Aware of

Flights on low cost airlines are almost all booked online with a credit card. You are charged per flight and each individual flight is a separate contract - so if you miss a connecting flight because your first flight was late, it's tough luck! Added to the cost of your flight are airport taxes and other fees which become visible at various stages of the booking process, depending on which airline you're dealing with.

Flights are non refundable and changeable only with a fee, though may be cancelled at any time by the airline. You also pay fixed fees for every item of luggage you have (for which there is a maximum limit) as well as for food and drink on the plane. The extra charges are forgivable given the cost of the flight and in reality, it simply makes it fairer for those who opt not to have these things.

Low cost airlines invariably use Boeing 737's with as many seats crammed into them as feasibly possible, so there isn't much legroom or elbow room for the average sized person. Added to this, budget airlines rarely fly to a city's main airport, instead utilising smaller, cheaper airports, sometimes up to 50 miles away.

Finally, the biggest disadvantage of flying with budget airlines is the poor level of customer service you receive. It must be noted however, that some airlines are significantly better than others. A certain Irish-based airline, which should remain nameless, enjoys a large share of the market because of its aggressive undercutting of its competitors and extreme cost cutting - to the point of virtually no customer service whatsoever.

Said airline, once upon a time, even refused to carry disabled passengers because of the costs it would incur, until they were successfully sued for discrimination. Eyeing an opportunity to win favours with the public, a certain rival airline with a distinctive orange brand reciprocates by charging slightly more money but allowing passengers who miss flights for whatever reason to get on the next flight, space permitting, free of charge.

Hints and Tips

Budget airlines are ideal for people who want to travel short distances around Europe with little or no luggage. The further in advance you book, the cheaper it is, though remember that there is little flexibility if your plans change. The best seats - if you want to be able to stretch your legs - are those in the very front row of the cabin or those next to the emergency doors. Checking in early usually puts you in the first boarding group and therefore gives you a better chance of finding a good seat.

If on the other hand, you have more than the average amount of disposable income, you're going long distance, you wish to carry things you don't want lost or damaged and most of all, a customer service ethic that gives you peace of mind is important to you, then you should look at other options.

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