For years I’ve assumed that all budget airlines in Europe are essentially the same: EasyJet, Ryanair, Transavia, Flybe, and so on. They were, in my mind, necessary evils for those who travel within Europe.
While I recognize that taking the train is far more environmentally responsible, it’s usually more expensive. This is particularly true if you fly on one of these bare-bones budget airlines.
I wrote some years ago about my admiration for Ryanair: not that it was a great experience to fly with them, but the genius of the various ways they had found to make money.
The budget airline experience
Budget airlines have certain things in common, and they’re the reasons everyone complains about them:
- No food service, or very high prices for mediocre food and drink if anything is available.
- Strict limitations on luggage and high on-the-spot fees if you show up with luggage that doesn’t fit within their limits.
- Strict policies about closing check-in when they’ve said they’ll close it.
- Narrow seats and little leg room.
- No transfers; each flight is booked separately so the airline has no obligation to help you make a connection or catch a later flight.
I’ve never understood why people waste their breath complaining, though. For such low fares, what can you possibly expect? And you can’t put up with that limited discomfort for just an hour or two?
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Why I flew EasyJet
I flew EasyJet a few weeks ago roundtrip between Amsterdam Schiphol and London Luton to lead a workshop at a school outside of London. For these workshops that I occasionally lead, I get little choice: the flights get booked for me. It was EasyJet this time.
I braced myself for the usual discomforts. I expected my knees to be up against the seat in front of me, but, since the flight takes less than an hour, I wasn’t too concerned. Planning ahead, I brought a refillable hot cup and filled it at the airport after security with tea for the flight.
As for bags, I checked one, then brought two small ones: a handbag and a laptop bag. This was against EasyJet’s baggage rules. I only had the right to one carry-on bag. I brought a plastic grocery store bag folded in my pocket, figuring that, if they gave me a hard time, I could put both bags into it and still fit inside the maximum size limit.
I will no longer lump all of these budget airlines together. I was truly impressed with both of these flights.
- While most airlines, budget or otherwise, let you check in starting from 24-48 hours before the flight, EasyJet lets travelers check in up to a month ahead of time. One of the biggest irritations about budget airlines is the huge fees they charge to check in at the airport. Being able to check in so far ahead means you’re less likely to forget.
- Unlike on other budget airlines I’ve flown, I had enough leg room. I couldn’t spread out like on an Emirates A380, but my knees did not touch the seat in front of me.
- No one gave me a hard time on either flight about the two bags I was carrying. I guess sense prevails when the two bags add up to less than the size allowed.
- Both flights (on A320s) were remarkably smooth. I realize, though, that I might have just been lucky.
- Both flights were on time. In both cases, they claimed that they were arriving earlier than planned. I’m a bit skeptical of that, since they’re the ones who set when their flights are due to land. I think it’s common practice to guess flight arrival times later than they really are expected to be. That way they can report high on-time arrival percentages.
- Attendants were friendly and helpful on both flights, though to be honest they didn’t have time to do much. The fact that I gave them chocolates might have put them in a good mood as well.
- The interior of both airplanes seemed clean and newish.
- In both cases the boarding process was efficient and clear.
- As long as they’re in flight mode, you’re allowed to use your smaller electronic devices even during takeoff and landing. I had downloaded a Netflix series to my phone for just this reason.
Walking in the airports
Flying with these budget airlines does take extra effort, though.
At Schiphol, the budget airlines use gates that are a long walk away from the central hall. These particular gates, unlike the ones used by the more upscale airlines, don’t have moving sidewalks either. You have to walk. At the gate, you have to climb down a stairway, walk across the pavement to the plane and climb up a stairway to enter the plane.
I assume this is true in most airports in Europe. This isn’t surprising: they have to cut costs as much as possible to stay competitive. Airlines have to pay to use jetways: those tubes that allow you to walk on a level from the terminal right to the plane’s door.
Anyway, to give an idea, I walked about 4000 steps, according to my smartwatch, starting from where my taxi dropped me at Luton airport, to baggage drop-off and to the gate, followed by the walk from the plane in Schiphol to baggage claim and then to my train in Schiphol station.
My EasyJet review
So what didn’t I like? The only thing I can think of that I didn’t really like was the advertising on the flight. Each seat back had an in-flight catalogue and a posted ad on the back of the headrest. The flight attendants got on the intercom to tell about the deals the airline offering. Since I was wearing my noise-cancelling headphones to block out airline noise, I was only vaguely aware of it.
That’s all. I can’t think of anything else.
It doesn’t surprise me, then, that, in a survey in the UK asking travelers to rate short-haul airlines, EasyJet scored higher than Ryanair: out of 19 airlines, EasyJet came in 11th while Ryanair was last. It even scored higher than British Airways (15th), a full-service (and more expensive) airline. I bet British Airlines will be working on improvements soon!
More EasyJet flights
A few weeks after the flights you just read about, I flew EasyJet again: this time a roundtrip to Prague. And the experience was exactly the same, except that at Prague Airport we boarded through a jetway. I don’t know enough about the A320s to say if it’s because of the planes that the flights were all so smooth or if I was just lucky with the weather. Your mileage may vary.
Note: I was NOT sponsored in any way by EasyJet for writing this review.
Have you ever flown EasyJet or any of the other budget airlines? What did you think?