09 June 2009

Cattle cars in the sky

European low cost carriers

On the two occasions we have traveled to other parts of Europe while living in Italy we have flown on low-cost carriers, Europe’s version of Southwest Airlines. The first time we flew on Easy Jet to England and recently we took Ryan Air to Barcelona. Our goal on those two flights was location and price; however, both of those experiences were not pleasant, these carriers make Southwest Airlines feel like a first class carrier.

Ryan Air is very popular in Europe, especially with the British as they allow them to reach most of Europe rather inexpensively. Or at least it appears inexpensive. The advertised fares tend to be very low, sometimes as low as 20€ each way, that is until you add in all the additional fees. They charge to check any baggage, there is a fee to pay with a credit card and of course there are additional taxes.

Then you get the experience of the actual trip. The terminal areas are usually overcrowded with limited seating and boarding is a first come first served, many times lines forming at the gate an hour before boarding. Since they tend to fly into smaller airports boarding usually requires walking out to the plane on the tarmac to climb the stairs and with unassigned seating there is a dash for available seats.

Once you are on the plane the stripped down interior (no magazines, pillows or seat back pockets) gives new meaning to uncomfortable. Passengers scramble for seats and available overhead bin space to stuff their oversized carry-on bags, there is limited enforcement concerning baggage size. To add to the joy of your flight you have to pay for any refreshments; water and hot tea or coffee will cost you several euros. Periodically during the flight the attendants will pass through the cabin selling lottery tickets and other such items.

Departing the plane once you have landed is the reverse scramble you experience boarding, however we have not had problems with missing luggage.

These low coast carriers are a true example of the phrase “You get what you pay for”. If you are traveling in Europe and considering one of these be aware the experience is not for the faint hearted.

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