Larry David always asks “what’s not to love?” whenever someone seems to be surprised that they actually like him. So, I wanted to find out, literally, what “we” as a collective audience don’t love about European low cost carriers, like EasyJet, Ryanair, WizzAir, Jet2 and others.
It’s a simple question: what’s not to love?
I ask this, because in reality, I think much of the “hate” directed at low-cost airlines is totally misplaced, either as a result of misinformation, stubbornness or very dated experiences.
For some people it’s historically been the airports, for others the (lack of) service, and for plenty of readers, missing loyalty points or perks are often mentioned. There are plenty of reasons someone could pass on European “LCC’s” as they’re known in the biz, but also so many reasons why they tend to offer superior value.
I’m genuinely curious to hear what people think, and share some of my thoughts. We’ll get to that below.
I Actually Fly European Low Cost Carriers
I’ve actually had great experiences on low cost carriers, particularly when legacy airline pricing was astronomically off base at the time.
When you grab a €5 fare and pay €20 for a front row seat that includes the “priority boarding” or whatever the heck it is these days, the value is hard to argue with. I’m just not going to pay €75 or more for the same flight, provided times work, when I might not even get to choose seats at that price on a legacy airline.
I’ve never found low cost airline sites more difficult to operate than legacy airlines, so I’d be curious to know if anyone feels otherwise. It all seems pretty clear, and with the assumption that you get what you pay for, it’s relatively easy to plan the pain points.
I use seat maps to see if the flight I’m interested in has seats in the first row, and if it does, I tend to book them. If it doesn’t, I might check another airline. Are budget airline call centers as good as legacy airlines? That’s a fair question.
I also often find that low cost airlines have more direct flights to the “leisure” places I want to go, than legacy airlines, which historically focused on operations onto business routes rather than holiday markets. Traveling often with our little girl now, “direct or bust” is usually the mantra.
That then raises the issue of: but which airport do they fly into? It’s not always the “best” airport, but it’s also not always the worst, or one any different to the rest of airlines. I actually think, in more European cities than not, you end up in the same airport.
I know there’s another side to the coin of the budget airline experience, such as delays, pesky airport staff and more, but I just haven’t had the “bad” experiences yet. I know they exist though, and they’re certainly not exclusive to budget airlines.
My good luck is probably down to sample size, because realistically, I only end up on a low cost carrier a couple times a year, at most. I often wonder if things would be better or worse if I was a frequent customer.
I also tend to end up on the first flight of the day, when the aircraft *should* already be parked at the gate and ready to roll. And — I’ve never checked a bag on a low cost airline in Europe before, which has to help the experience quite a lot.
But as people increasingly master the art of packing light, European low cost carriers are becoming increasingly hard to argue with, particularly with leisure travel en vogue right now. For a weekend break, what do you really need?
In Flight Experience
It’s been a fascinating decade, which many in the industry call a “race to the bottom”. In times of record success, legacy airlines tend remove every “free” amenity they can, to try and maximize profits. To some extent, low cost airlines did too, but much of the race was the legacy “full service” airlines copying the a la carte of budget carriers.
Yet here we are. In down times, all of a sudden, people become “people” again, and the amenities like food and water tend to come back on full service airlines. How much value can you put on a bottle of water on board?
I find the European low-cost experience to be pretty fair, particularly since most flights are relatively short. I can go two hours without eating. I’m not going to die. Others say they can’t even fathom not getting a free meal on a plane. I guess everyone has their own opinion here?
One angle which is funny to look at, is seat dimensions.
As legacy airlines became more and more aggressive during the mega years of the last decade, they actually went to smaller seat margins than some low cost airlines on new planes, like A320neos.
Yes, fact: In many cases, there’s zero difference between the margins on a budget seat and a legacy airline. Padding might be another issue, but after my last few flights, I’m not even sure!
Basically, this is another place where I feel the “hate” might not be earned.
What is it about the in flight experience that’s so unattractive, if the seat dimensions are the same and it’s actually easier to select a primo seat, such as first row, or exit row, without the need to be an “elite” frequent flyer?
If I Could Play CEO For A Day
One of my favorite games is to play fantasy CEO. It’s so easy to spit out general sentiment about an airline or hotel, but what would you actually improve, if you had a day at the reins?
For me, I think I’d focus on customer service.
These low cost airlines tend to be great during “normal” operations, but not exactly the most joyful during system meltdowns, overnight delays and other issues.
I, personally, would probably try to add better ways to get in touch, and try to get airport teams to be more compassionate. I would also love a “real” loyalty program, but that’s for another day.
So, What’s Not To Love?
I’d like to think I’m fairly level headed when it comes to travel booking decisions, and ultimately that often comes down to money. I know how much I monetarily value little things like lounge access, priority security or speedy boarding on a journey.
I also know that before a 6AM flight, they’re all basically pointless, since I want to spend as little time in the airport as possible. For people that don’t have any perks with any airlines, the decision is much easier: and generally comes down to price, airports or flight times.
But even then, I feel like once a passenger has had a terrible experience, they often do actually pay up, just to fly any other airline than the one that wronged them.
So, over to you GSTP readers. I would love to hear your thoughts on European low cost “budget” airlines. What do you love? What could they do better? What’s been a total nightmare experience etc? Is the “hate” deserved?