My Experience with Budget Airlines in Europe

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The more often I travel, the more often I come to the conclusion that I just don't complain enough.

I've been faced with plenty of situations that would warrant complaining from other people, mind you — lost reservations, missed flights, getting ripped off, unenthusiastic tour guides, annoying roommates… I've faced them all. But, at the end of the day, I look back on the vast majority of my travel experiences and only have positive memories.

Why is this? Well, you see, I'm just not much of a complainer. I'm laid-back enough to acknowledge that people make mistakes; that things are (more often than not) out of my control; that shit happens. Sure I might grumble a bit every now and again, but very rarely do I get so upset about something that I stew about it, or let it negatively impact my overall travel experience. To me, it's just not worth it.

This is probably why I don't understand why people complain so much about budget airlines in Europe.

Photo by Andy_Mitchell_UK, on Flickr

In Europe, where major world capitals lie mere hours apart by train or plane, a handful of “low-cost carriers” (LCCs) compete to offer the cheapest flights possible. This seems like it should be great news for people concerned with getting great travel discounts — right? Well it is. But at the same time it isn't.

You see, when the budget airline market is so competitive and said airlines have to keep coming up with more and more creative ways to cut costs, this usually translates to customers feeling the brunt of it.

Cramped planes. Poor customer service. Hidden fees out the ears. These are some of the common complaints people have about the budget airlines in Europe. And they are valid complaints, I suppose — the planes ARE sometimes cramped, the customer service DOES sometimes leave something to be desired, and the hidden fees ARE annoying.

But my question to these complainers is — what else did you expect?

Waiting for easyJet
Photo by abragad, on Flickr

The whole premise of a budget airline is to offer you the very base level of service for the lowest price possible. If you're only paying $30 for a flight, should you really be expecting gourmet food, a personal butler and loads of leg room? No. Probably not.

And, to be honest, my experience with these low-cost carriers hasn't been bad at all.

Manchester > Budapest on Jet2

Within 2 hours of arriving in Europe last summer, I was already on my first budget flight. A 3-hour hop from Manchester, England to Budapest, Hungary. I booked with Jet2, and airline that I admit I had never even heard of before it popped up in a flight search on Skyscanner.

Photo by Andy_Mitchell_UK, on Flickr

True to LCC form, Jet2 does tack on a lot of extra fees to its fares (for example, checking a bag will cost you £12.49, checking in at the airport instead of online adds an additional £10 to your ticket price, and choosing your seat costs between £3.99 and £8.49). But these were fees I was expecting, so I only grumbled a tiny bit before forking over my credit card number.

And the flight itself? Surprisingly fine. The check-in process at the airport was pretty typical, boarding wasn't stressful, and the plane itself was no more uncomfortable than the United one I'd just flown on from the East Coast to Manchester.

Photo by Keith Williamson, on Flickr

+1 for budget airlines in Europe.

Ljubljana > London on easyJet

My second experience with Europe's LCCs happened a little over halfway through my Euro trip. I had booked a one-way flight from Ljubljana, Slovenia to London Stansted on easyJet, and was interested to see how this budget airline would compare to Jet2.

Photo by Oberau-Online, on Flickr

Similar to Jet2, easyJet charges extra for checked luggage (£15.39 per bag), and even charges a bit more if you pay with a credit card instead of a debit card. When I flew with them, they still did the whole no-assigned-seating thing, but now you can choose a seat for £4.99. (You can also save money by finding discount codes for EasyJet Holidays, so perhaps some of those fees can kind of even out?)

Check-in again was simple, and the boarding, though sort of a free-for-all because of the lack of assigned seats, wasn't terrible, either. It just involved standing in line for a while, but everyone got a seat on the plane, so who cares?

by CLDoyle, on Flickr

Another +1 for budget airlines in Europe.

The Verdict?

True, I haven't flown RyanAir, which is usually the LCC that people complain about the most in Europe. But I think 2/2 positive encounters with budget airlines is a pretty good track record thus far.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't notice much of a difference between flying Jet2 and EasyJet than flying some of the U.S. airlines I tend to frequent when I'm at home. As long as you go into a LCC experience knowing what to expect (and realizing that the phrase “you get what you pay for” applies here), I don't really see a reason for so many complaints (and neither does this blogger).

I mean, people cram into chicken buses in Central America, pay for standing-room-only seats at Broadway shows, and sit on top of one another on Indian trains all to save money and don't complain about it. Why should flying on cheap airlines be any different?

And, I guess if you DO feel like complaining, take a second to remember that, without these airlines, travel would be much more difficult and expensive all across the world.


What kind of experiences have YOU had with budget airlines?



This post was brought to you my My Voucher Codes, which can help you save money with voucher codes (even on budget airlines).

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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49 Comments on “My Experience with Budget Airlines in Europe

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  1. Oh how I wish we had more budget airlines in the US!!!

      Same here! Though, I tend to like the ones we do have (especially JetBlue!) way better than some of the regular US airlines…

    It’s not really about the room or even the fees if you don’t abide by the rules. We complain SO much about RyanAir because the staff seem to think they can act like complete assholes just because you are flying a LCC. Let me also state that I love a number of LCCs in Europe and I do fly RyanAir (but only when there is a huge price difference). The brunt of complaints are directed at RyanAir because of their often outrageous attitude.

      Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the attitude… and those I would definitely call more valid!

    Agree, you can’t apply the same standards to budget and traditional airlines. I guess, in most cases complainers are the first time customers of budget airlines who expected “traditional” services. Probably, they think that their airfare was cheaper b/c the plane is smaller 😉

    After living in Europe for years, I don’t think people really complain about budget airlines in general, except for Ryanair.

    I don’t see why people complain so much about it now because their dubious practices are well known. But back when I was flying them from 2007-2009, they weren’t as well known and I had huge problems which is why I refuse to fly them anymore. Honestly with the taxes their fares aren’t competitive anymore anyways.

    But I think there is a huge difference between companies like Ryanair and easyjet. I love easyjet. Ryanair is sued almost continuously for false advertising and intentionally deceptive T’s and C’s. they also are consideres dangerous by many airport workers because they are known to fly with not enough fuel and have forced landings all the time. it happened a lot in spain last summer. It doesnt help that their statf is horrible. they are paid bonuses for each bag they force customers to check at the gate. any complaint against ryanair is probably valid and in spite of their notorious reputation, it still bothers me when people say you should have known better or its a fiar trade for cheap flights. i find competitve rates on easyjet and ive never had problems with them. No matter how cheap a flight is, the airline should still maintain honest and safe practices, at least in my book.

    I wrote a controversial post about them on my blog last summer.

      Thanks for the link, Liz, and for the comment!

      I agree that complaints ARE warranted when safety becomes an issue. But complaining over hidden fees and tiny seats? Petty in my mind.

    I am a big believer that you generally get what you pay for. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same expectation and I think those folks are the complainers. With that said, I’ve never flown a budget airline in Europe, although I’m considering it for my next trip. Just need to decide if I want to take the train one-way from Oslo to Bergen and then fly back or if I want to do the train both ways. Maybe for the sake of a new experience, I should do a one-way flight! Although I guess I need to find out if any of the budget airlines offer that route. 🙂

      It might be worth it just for the experience! (Though, the eco-friendly traveler in me would of course suggest just taking the train both ways. 😉 )

    I love EasyJet, I have never had a real problem travelling with them. More recently though, just to add to what you’re saying, the free-for-all when you get on the plane is over because if you don’t book a seat, you get assigned one anyway, so everyone has a seat number. Also, to add to that, because of the teensy amount of snow we had in January, my flight with them got cancelled. All I had to do was click a few buttons on my EasyJet account & had a refund sat in my bank account within 7 working days. No issue.

    Ryanair, on the other hand. I have many, many issues with them. I should probably mention that I am a nervous flyer, the more I do it, the easier it gets, but when I flew to the UK from Fuerteventura with them, having not been on a plane for 3 years, lets just say after one of the stewardesses rather attacked me because I asked a question to the person sat next to me during the safety demonstation, I had a huge panic attack & the flight was delayed for over an hour. They seem to cause havoc in the airports, particularly in Fuerteventura, including asking a friend of mine to PRODUCE HER COLOSTOMY BAG to prove she needed a spare on the flight with her. In their opinion a doctors note was not enough. I actually have a link to the newspaper article about her: I can understand that when you don’t pay very much for a flight you shouldn’t expect very much, but I really dislike Ryanair & won’t travel with them.

      It definitely seems like not all budget airlines were created equal. Sorry to hear about your horrible experience with RyanAir!

    I stoped counting how many times I’ve flown with low cost airlines around Europe and beyond and to be honest it kind of annoys me when people complain about them (I mean when everything goes according to the plan as it was always in my case). If you follow their rules that are clearly said, i.e. the carry-on weight and size there’s nothing to worry about. And if you don’t – well, you’re the only one to blame for when you’re charged extra etc. On Monday I had 4 hours flight with easyjet from Marrakech to Berlin and it was totally normal, just like the flight with any other carierer. And I pais less than 100$ for return tickets so really I just wanted to get from point a to point b, I didn’t expect any luxury treatment for that

      The problem is, the people who complain the most are the ones who assume the rules don’t apply to them. And so, then, when they are caught for breaking those annoying rules, they get all upset. Totally nonsensical!

    EasyJet now has assigned seats for everyone, which makes the whole boarding process much easier!

    I think my problem is really with RyanAir only – I love Jet2 and EasyJet. RyanAir employees are very unfriendly, the extras are ridiculously expensive (even the mandatory ones, like credit card fees or online checkin), and I don’t know if I can hear another Ryanair advertisement while flying without going crazy.

    I love budget airlines in Europe – all of them, BUT Ryanair.

      Fair enough! Like I said, I’ll have to give RyanAir a go sometime so I can weigh in, too.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and perspectives. I hope to head to Europe this summer, so this is quite helpful.

    Yoo’re quite right about it being rather silly to complain about little things on budget airlines.

    Your point that your experiences with European budget airlines were about the same as using carriers in the US is interesting. I DO complain A LOT about US carriers. They’re NOT budget, but just about every experience with them is crap… at least compared to what I’m accustomed to in Asia. For full price, non-budget airlines I DO think it’s valid to complain about.

    Ok, I’ll look forward to some inexpensive flights in Europe. :))

    cheers, Lash

      Lots of people grumble about US carriers. And, while I usually try to hold my tongue, I suppose some of those complaints ARE more warranted, since airline prices here are so ridiculously expensive compared to the quality you receive most of the time.

    I’ve flown budget airlines in Europe a lot (probably around 30 times) but I have to say that some are much, much better than others (there’s especially a huge difference between the two biggest airlines- in my opinion Easyjet is much better than Ryanair.) Ryanair does three things that really annoy me: One, it makes you get an extra stamp on your ticket if you are not an EU or UK citizen, which either means you have to go looking for a little counter to get a stamp or you have to check in even if you don’t have baggage (which can take over an hour). Secondly, with Ryanair they are extremely obnoxious about carry-on luggage, and even if you are carrying a backpack as your main carry-on, they will make you put anything else you have on you, even a tiny crossbody purse, into your bag. And they always make me stuff your enormous backpack into the metal thing to see if it will fit, ugh, which it always does! And thirdly the airports are often up to two hours away from your destination. Easyjet does none of these things and is a good example of how you can fly a budget airline without it being a huge hassle!

      Yeah, Ryanair is definitely the one people complain about the most. I’ll have to dive in and give them a go next time, just to see what all the fuss is about!

    I’ve flown on Easy Jet, Vueling, and RyanAir at least a dozen times (altogether) and the least comfortable experience by far was with RyanAir. The fine print, extra charges, non-stop in-flight infomercials, and–at least in my case–rocky landings, make it a bit of a headache. That being said, l do think it’s wortwhile for the low cost–how else could l travel to Portugal, England, Ireland, France, etc from Madrid on a student’s budget?

    I recommend the book “Ryanair: How a Small Irish Airline Conquered Europe” by Siobhán Creaton for an interesting look at the Ryanair conrtovery!

      I think a lot of the heavy complainers forget that, without these budget airlines, they’d have much higher ticket prices to complain about! Like you said, LCCs make it possible for an even wider population to get out there and see the world – definitely a good thing in my book!

      (And watch, I’ve probably now jinxed myself, and will have terrible budget flights from now on! Haha.)

    After seeing all the complaining, I was a bit nervous when I flew EasyJet from Morocco, but it was a GREAT experience. It turned out that on my flight the flex fares were cheaper when you factored everything in, so I had no extra fees for baggage, could change my flight dates at no extra charge, got assigned seating that I was able to select, and priority boarding. It was a fantastic experience all the way around.

      Awesome to hear, Talon! And here I was, thinking these comments were going to be filled with horror stories! The fact that they are not just confirms my original thought that people just complain too much.

    Living in Ireland for 2 years led to me taking RyanAir a lot. I never had a problem with them. One time my friend has “Ms *mans name’ and they didn’t care–we expected them to say ‘thats not what your passport says…and charge him’ but they didn’t. I’ve seen people cry and throw fits, but I never found out why as I kept walking.

    You can say I had one problem when we boarded the plane and then had to get off again because of an issue with the plane. But that is more of an issue for Ryan Air, and good for safety that if there was a problem they were fine with losing their 99% on time record to fix this.

      Good to hear that not all Ryanair experiences are as bad as some of the reviews would lead you to believe!

    I have to agree with you. I have flown easy jet, and have had no problems. I’m similar to you, in that I don’t complain over little things, especially for the sake of a couple hours sitting on a plane. I will be back in Europe in a couple weeks and am going to try Ryanair.

      Good to hear, John. Hopefully your experience with Ryanair is similarly fine!

    Some people just like to complain. I usually prefer to travel within Europe by car or train, but I’ve used budget airlines a couple times in the past — Virgin Express from Brussels to Madrid and Germanwings from Cologne to Dublin. Other than a slightly crowded departure area in Cologne, I can’t think of anything to complain about. The fare was cheap and the aircraft didn’t break into small pieces mid-flight. Contract of carriage fulfilled.

      I love train travel in Europe, but sometimes you do just need a quick flight! Glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t see much worth complaining about!

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