Brust: ‘Budget’ travel not worth the cost of convenience

Columnist Amelia Brust discusses why budget airline prices may fly high.

Amelia Brust

Amelia BrustWas air travel ever really that cheap? As far as I know, it wasn’t. From its earliest days commercial flights have been for the rich, privileged and jet set.

Today, things seem not to have changed much. Ever book outside of economy class? Not pretty.

So I was skeptical when I heard former study sbroad students talk about using budget airlines Ryanair and EasyJet to book flights. I had heard of these mysteriously cheap companies, but only in passing. They received a boost in the mid-90s when the European Union deregulated the airline industry. Megabus in the sky, that’s how they make it seem.

Flights everywhere everyday, tickets under £100 round trip, book early enough and you can get £5 or even £1 tickets. You see the similarity?

Of course, you’re limited to one bag and the seats aren’t that nice.

But who cares? For £1 from London to Amsterdam I’ll sit in the middle between a screaming baby and a power cougher. Oh, if only I could.

The cheapest flights from London to Amsterdam on these sites were between £107 and £130 round trip, and those were for reservations more than two months in advance.

Even in pounds, that’s not exactly a bargain. Where are people finding these super saver flights, on What a joke that site is: £25 for a ticket, plus £190 in taxes, in very small print, and it leaves a day after you specified. So I gave up on the plane idea. It’ll just be buses and trains for me. But I still did some research into the matter.

Disclaimer: What I am about to describe I have not personally experienced. Therefore, I leave it up to you whether to take my word at face value.

Yes, relatively speaking, EasyJet and Ryanair are cheaper than British Airways or United Airlines. But with the dollar worth slightly more than Confederate money in Europe, it’s difficult to see the savings, so let’s just come clean about one thing: Traveling to and within Europe is not cheap. So, these budget airlines cut costs in any way they can.

There are fees — oh, buddy are there fees. Ryanair is a notorious offender in this arena. Ryanair has contemplated charging for using the bathroom on the plane — that is, if you can find one since two on each aircraft were taken out to add more seats. They already charge for checked bags, booking with a credit card and printing out your own ticket. The Irish company even once charged flyers retroactively.

Flights from Barcelona to Madrid in July were charged nearly £7.20 per passenger to make up for Spain’s airport tax increase in June.

If a city has multiple airports, like London, chances are your flight will leave from the least busy airport, i.e. the hardest one to get to. You’ve also got to be careful the airport you arrive at is close to the center of town or has a way of getting to the center of town. If you miss your flight or your flight is canceled, don’t count on being reimbursed for your ticket. Both EasyJet and Ryanair have been cited for delayed or nonexistent compensation on such occasions.

And when it comes to customer service — actually, let’s not. If you want to know what that’s like, watch BBC’s “Come Fly With Me,” made by “Little Britain” comedy duo Matt Lucas and David Walliams.

It’s not surprising these companies aren’t up-front about their policies. Both have gotten into trouble with the Advertising Standards Authority, the U.K. self-regulatory body that monitors the country’s advertising industry for misleading ads. Ryanair has a track record of even making controversial and criticism-inducing statements as a way of drumming up cheap publicity. EasyJet has made false claims of its low emissions.

Look, any time you have to cross a body of water to get to another country, even an area as narrow as the English Channel, you bring a catalogue of delays upon yourself. And the more heavily traveled your destination, the longer those delays take. Schengen Agreement or none, flying in Europe is a hassle. Of course EU residents don’t travel abroad every week, but they do so far more than we do. And they will use these companies because they’re practical.

If Southwest Airlines had terrible customer service but was still the cheapest way to get from Chicago to San Francisco on a weekend, you’d do it, wouldn’t you?

Amelia Brust can be reached at

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