The Rant: The True Cost Of Budget Airlines

Why full-fare flights are worth every penny.

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It’s 8:56am as you saunter into the building. The receptionist greets you with a cheery “Hello”, but you don’t have time for this. You fumble with your security pass, briskly swipe it, swipe it again, the light blinks green and you’re into the entrance.

A lift has just arrived. You scrabble through the foyer, barging colleagues out the way. The lift hasn’t even emptied of people coming out and you’ve jam yourself in there, positioned next to the door.

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You prod the button for your floor, the door closes on your co-workers — suckers — and check your phone — 8:57am. C’mon, c’mon. The lift stops. Some woman tries to shimmy around you. You sigh and reluctantly move out of her way.

The doors open on your floor, but not fast enough. You turn to the side, squeeze through the gap, bursting out on workers waiting to go to other floors. Another dig for your security pass and you’re into the office.

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Through the kitchen, zigzagging through breakfast makers, arranging their fruit, ladling milk into bowls and tinkering with the microwave. Your advance spins a woman clutching mugs on the spot, spilling piping tea over the drab utilitarian carpet tiles.

The final sprint, and you leap onto your chair, turn to your desk, and stab your PC’s on button. You wrestle your phone out of your pocket, check the time — 8:59am, the digits flip, 9am. You’ve done it!

The PA fires up and a fanfare sounds out across the office. The voice of the MD crackles over the speakers: “Steven Fletcher is on time once again.” Two female members of Payroll emerge, wearing sequined leotards, to hand you your pay — in comedy oversized check form.

This does not happen. In no field does the very basic function of just turning up to work warrant this level of pomp or ceremony, unless you are maybe a head of state. Or, in this instance, a budget air carrier.

There is a certain airline — you know it — that is not only smugly satisfied about being adequate, that is getting somewhere at the time it is expected to arrive at, it makes a song and dance out of it. They like to blow their own trumpet. In fact, if the seatbelt sign wasn’t on, at the point of landing, the sorry, heavily made-up cabin crew with the personality defects and the steely eyes would no doubt be forced to waltz down the aisle, grasping celebratory cartons of duty-free Benson and Hedges and reels of scratch cards.

The funny thing is, it does deserve some kind of grand acknowledgement. For the vast majority of us, the ability to climb into a metal tube, pull up to 50,000ft, and disembark a fairly trifling slot of time later in a location several hundred or even thousand miles distant is the single most incredible thing that you can do in your life, and it has become mundane — routine, even.

Will Self once argued that aircraft should be fitted with glass bottoms, so you could witness firsthand how extraordinary this feat is. But passenger flights tend to be more prosaic, and carriers want you to remain calm — even in the unlikely event of an emergency landing. Hence the floors are not transparent and the ambiance is generally neutral, with only a pop of corporate-branded colour.

But not so the budget airlines, where opening your eyes results in searing pain. The violent blue and yellow livery pierces your vision, forcing you to rest your attention on the advertisements inside the cabin, as though the interior of this aircraft is the exterior of a low-rent F1 car.

Many airlines provide food and even booze as part of the package. Fly with British Airways and the drinks are as stiff as the upper lips — and you can enjoy seemingly unlimited alcoholic beverages throughout your flight. Again, not the budget airlines, where a limp ham sandwich and a warm Heineken will set you back north of a tenner.

This is on top of the booking fee, admin fee, baggage fee, overweight baggage fee, “speedy boarders” fee — so you can skip the queue and sit on the bus waiting for the chumps who didn’t fork out for a “speedy boarder” pass, who then get the plum space by the door in the bus, making them the first ones to board the plane, where they snag the seats that by rights should’ve been yours, because you can’t reserve seats. Unless you pay the fee.

Then there’s the proposed fee to use the toilet, the proposed fee to have a seat because buying a ticket no longer entitles you to a seat, the proposed fee to breathe oxygen. You have to pay extra to get the stewardess to crack a smile. There is, remarkably, wi-fi, but there’s a fee to use it. Add to that the cost of the train, bus or taxi to get you from the airport where you land across the gulf of countryside and industrial estate and geopolitical boundaries to the town or city where you were supposed to be landing in and suddenly the whole enterprise doesn’t seem so budget anymore.

So you vow never to use said airline ever, ever again, with no exceptions. And then the next stag do in Eastern Europe rolls around.

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