Budget airlines weren’t around when Dante wrote his inferno, but otherwise there’s a strong chance that they would be featured in the ninth circle of hell (along with traffic wardens and tax collectors). There’s a lot to hate about low cost airlines – from their pop-up strewn websites to the constant upselling of overpriced panini. But do it right, and you can have an experience that may not be luxury, but is at least tolerable, while being good value at the same time: the main aim here. Here are five top tips to ease the pain.
Don’t spend any money at all on extras
Budget airlines make all their money out of baggage and add-ons. Don’t give them the satisfaction. You can fit a lot into your baggage allocation (see below). And for a short flight – as these invariably tend to be – you really don’t need any sandwiches or scratch cards or drinks or whatever. Just have some local food as soon as you arrive, which is bound to be better and cheaper. If you follow our instructions, you’ll be arriving quicker anyway.
…apart from priority seating and an extra cabin bags
The extra cabin bags are the thing here. Most budget airlines have an option where you can buy a trolley bag plus laptop bag allowance – and once you buy into that, they’re inclined to turn a blind eye to the dimensions and weight. Pack properly, and that’s enough for a trip of almost indefinite length. The priority seating ensures that you’ll be first on the plane and find a place that’s vaguely near your seat to stow it in. Whatever you do, don’t check in a bag or go for any seat other than aisle. If you do nothing else when flying low-cost, just follow those two golden rules.
Don’t stand clear of the doors
The priority seating may ensure that you’re first off the plane, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be the first to arrive. It’s very common for budget airlines to decant their passengers onto a bus to take them to the terminal; even for a walk that would otherwise take less than three minutes. Get your place on the bus wrong, and that hard-won advantage of seat 1C or 1D (aisle seats near the aircraft door) is all gone. Personally, I prefer 2C and 2D: the overhead lockers above row one tend to be stuffed with the flight crew’s stuff – so the second row is optimal when it comes to grab and go. Just make sure you stand next to the front right-hand door of the shuttle bus once you leave. Middle door is fine too. Don’t hang around: passport control can take forever, so you want to be there first.
Always have something useful or fun to do (while standing up)
This could be a book to read, or just a phone with a list of emails to get through, or something decent downloaded to watch or listen to. Even with our top tips, there will still be lots of moments spent hanging around and standing up on budget airlines: waiting to board the plane for example. The key to staying sane is to ensure that this isn’t time wasted. Don’t expect to do any work with a laptop or iPad as you’ll rarely have space or opportunity to sit down until you get on the plane. Even then, tray tables are tiny and you’ll be lucky to find even a seat pocket.
Noise-cancelling headphones are your best friends
Hell is other people, as Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote. And the worst form of hell – even worse than anything Dante could have thought of – is other people on a budget flight. You can’t make them go away, but a decent pair of noise-cancelling headphones (I use Bose QC35, which are excellent) can at least put them in a different dimension. And these devices also mean that you’ll miss the nauseatingly self-congratulatory Ryanair fanfare on landing. Go for the over-ear type rather than in-ear for maximum serenity. You’ll be surprised how far you can retreat into your own zen world, even though utter chaos may be breaking out all around you.
Anthony Peacock works as a journalist and is the owner of an international communications agency, all of which has helped take him to more than 80 countries across the world.