5 tips to make flying with budget airlines less stressful
When passenger air travel first really 'took off' in the 1920's it was a luxury afforded by only a privileged few - and those passengers were treated like royalty!
Seats were roomy, meals were served on fine china with real silverware and your every need was attended to by the elegant and smartly dressed flight attendants.
Even up until the 90's air passengers could expect to be fed and watered at no extra cost and although this still applies to the majority of flights today, many thousands of us are opting for the low-cost budget airlines such as easyjet and Ryanair to get us to our destinations. These operate a 'no frills' service and they make their money by cutting non-essential extras and aiming for the fastest 'turn-around' time possible.
Here are 5 essential tips to make your budget flight experience as stress free as possible.
Tip 1 - your flight begins at home!
One of the ways that budget airlines make money is by letting you do their administration for them. You search for your flights, complete the booking form, and now - the new innovation - you check yourself in on-line often paying a fee for the privilege of doing so! (All the while using your electricity, computer, ink, paper, time etc. - but that's a whole new hub!).
Make absolutely sure that you've completed the forms correctly, booked in and printed out the relevant paperwork and then - even more importantly - put the booking form with your passport and remember to take them to the airport.
Sounds too obvious? The budget airlines make money from you having to go back and correct errors and Ryanair, and, i'm sure, soon to be others, charge a hefty fee if you've forgotten your booking form. (£40 in Ryanair's case - and I do speak from experience).
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Tip 2 - let your weighing scales be your friend
You may try to avoid stepping on the weighing scales most of the time but in these days of restricted baggage allowances it's essential to know exactly how much your baggage weighs before you arrive at the airport.
There's nothing more stressful than finding out at the check in desk or baggage drop that your bags are a couple of kilos over and you either have the choice of paying an excess baggage fee - Ryanair currently charge £20 per kilo! - or ditching some holiday essentials at the airport.
Also, check that your cabin baggage meets the size allowance - some airlines refuse to let you carry it on board if it's too large and make you check it in for an additional fee of £35.
Tip 3 - ♫ ♪ get me to the plane on time ♫ ♪
It may be tempting, because you've already checked in online, to turn up at the airport with less than the two recommended hours to spare.
As we're talking avoiding stress here, my advice is - be prepared for the unexpected and arrive at the airport with more time to spare than you think you need - if things go smoothly you can always spend time looking at the overpriced gadgets and gizmos in the so-called duty free shops.
Possible delay factors
- Incorrect paperwork - make absolutely sure that your passport or other ID is valid and not about to expire, have all of your flight documents to hand - as mentioned above, if you've checked in on line make sure you have your printed boarding pass - not just your flight confirmation print out - if you don't have it, you'll be sent away to have it re-printed, time-consuming and expensive!
- Problems with baggage - I recently arrived at the airport with the hold bag that I have been using for the past six years - on this occasion it was deemed to be 'oversized' and I had to take it to a special check-in desk where the check-in clerk decided to meet his daily quota of bags to examine and completely emptied mine leaving me to repack it - this sent my stress levels soaring as I only made the flight by the skin of my teeth!
- New security checks - these have become more thorough in recent years. Be prepared to have to remove your shoes and belt, your laptop will have to come out of its bag and make sure you are carrying only small amounts of liquids and that they are sealed into transparent plastic bags.
A selection of cabin baggage
Tip 4 - avoid the stampede!
One of the most stressful aspects of budget flights is that, generally, you are not automatically assigned a seat number. If you don't want to be amongst the crowd scrambling for seats you either have to pay extra to pre-book a seat or pay for 'speedy boarding' where you are supposed to be guaranteed to be among the first to board the plane - useful if you are travelling as a family or a group and want to be seated together. In practice, this sometimes doesn't work, as when passengers are 'bussed' to the plane and you then have to take your chances along with everyone else.
Personally, I normally travel solo and prefer to wait until the majority have gone through the boarding gate - some of whom have been standing in a queue for a considerable time - I then join the end of the queue and then board the aircraft by the rear steps if possible, working my way towards the front to spot an empty seat. I prefer to sit on the aisle seat and I have no qualms about asking anyone who's hogging all three seats to themselves to either let me pass or to move over - they generally will do the latter and, with luck, the middle seat will remain empty for the duration of the flight - somewhere to deposit book, glasses etc. this is especially useful if travelling with Ryanair as they have decided to dispense with back seat pockets meaning you have to juggle everything on your lap!
I follow a similar procedure when the plane lands. I have never understood the practice of everyone standing as soon as the seatbelt sign goes out scrambling for bags and coats - there's nowhere to go! I just sit and relax and wait for most people to leave the plane and then leisurely follow. I recently did this at East Midlands airport, a bus was waiting at the bottom of the steps, I was last on board and 'hey presto' first off and through passport control!
Tip 4 - food for thought
Right - you've made it onto the plane and now you're in need of refreshment. The budget airlines charge for all food and drink at inflated prices - another obvious way to add to their profits. The food is generally nothing special for the money. For example on easyjet you can buy various 'combos' such as a pastry or muffin and a hot drink for about £3.60 or a sandwich, packet of Pringles crisps and a bottle of water for around £6.50.
However, If you are flying out of British airports or Dublin in the Republic of Ireland, you can usually pick up a 'meal deal' at the 'Boots' outlet for around £3. You get a sandwich, wrap or salad plus a snack such as a bag of crisps, or piece of cake plus a soft drink including smoothies. It's excellent value for money and will keep you going on a short-haul flight to the continent.
But there's nothing to prevent you from taking your own food on board with you - drinks, of course, have to be bought once you've passed through security but you are free to pack up your own gourmet picnic and pretend that you're flying first class after all - if you can ignore the lack of legroom that is!
How about smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches on wholemeal bread, a slice of asparagus quiche, peking duck wraps or a selection of sushi followed by a fruit tartlet or just some lovely fresh strawberries to nibble on - yummy - and all easy to eat on board! Just be sure not to bring anything that could be classed as liquid through security - you'll have to wait until you're in sunny Spain for the gazpacho - oh, and don't forget to pack some wet wipes.
Do you fly with budget airlines?
My personal experience!
I do hope that you have found these tips useful and informative. I have learnt most of them from personal experience since moving to Spain six years ago and having to fly back and forth to the UK several times a year.
I must say that it doesn't get any easier the more that I do it - in fact my last flight was the worst ever. Flying with Ryanair, I first had to pay £40 as I had forgotten to bring my boarding card with me - it was still waiting for me on the bedside table on my return! I then had the problem with the 'oversized' bag - see above. I was already flustered by the time I joined the slow moving queue at security and then I set the alarms off - it turned out be the underwiring in my bra (maybe we'll soon be asked to remove those!) and the various metal rivets on my jeans. This necessitated the most thorough body search I have ever endured, one step down from 'rubber gloves' I suppose!
I entered the airport lounge and anxiously scrutinised the screens to see which boarding gate I needed - to be confronted with the message 'Boarding Gate Closed'. By now, I was whimpering with stress and anxiety as I fought my way through the hoards of happy browsers in the duty free area - now an obligatory money-making obstacle course in the airport - I could see the plane on the tarmac, engines running, ready for take off.
Thankfully they let me through - well they had to really as it would have further delayed things to rummage through the hundreds of bags to offload mine. I just had to brave the disapproving looks of my fellow passengers as I made my way down the aisle to a seat. The plane still arrived at its destination half an hour ahead of schedule.............
So, as you see, I am well qualified on the subject of this hub - happy flying everyone!