We asked our Secret Cabin Crew informer to sit back and give us his thoughts on the world of the skies. Does budget always mean low quality? Far from it!
At the start of a new decade, it’s good to reflect on where we’ve been, and where we might be heading next. Air travel is very common these days, but it wasn’t always as simple, practical and affordable as it is today.
Starting in the 1980s with Ryanair, and the 1990s with easyJet, low-cost airlines have changed everything. These airlines took their chance when the government eased flying regulations, and they opened the door for millions of passengers each year to visit exotic and exciting destinations.
Now we’re in the 2020s, here are ten things that your low-cost carrier often does better than older flag carriers, and tips on how to get the most out of your flying.
Low-cost airlines have not only made air travel more affordable, they’ve also forced older carriers to cut their prices in order to compete.
Low-cost airlines also introduced a style of pricing called “yield management”. This is where flights go on sale almost a year in advance for an ultra-low price, often less than the cost of the taxi to get you to the airport!
A low-cost airline won’t always be the cheapest, and you need to compare the cost of airlines once you’ve added your seats, bags, and any in-flight food you might like. But overall, their price tends to be very appealing.
In the old days, it was unthinkable to find great deals and promotions on flights. With low-cost carriers, the game has changed. easyJet, for example, runs several large price promotions throughout the year. If you have the easyJet mobile app on your phone, you can get alerts for when the airline has a sale.
Price comparison sites, such as Kayak, also let you set an alert for a specific route and let you know when flights go down in price.
3. Cutting out the middle man
Most low-cost airlines sell at the cheapest prices on their own website, and you won’t get those tickets any cheaper by going to anyone else’s website. Often it looks like you might, but those other sites will add booking fees that will increase the price.
4. Pay for what you need
With a low-cost airline, you only pay for what you need, knowing that anything else is a bonus. There is no need to pay for luggage or food if you don’t need it.
Older carriers such as British Airways used to have all those extras included as standard in the ticket price, but in order to compete they have also started to sell only the basic fare, and price everything else as an extra. These extras, such as seats and bags, are called “ancillary revenues”, and they’re a huge money-maker for the airlines now.
5. More destinations
Airlines such as Ryanair fly to what the industry calls “secondary airports”. These airports tend to be further out from city centres, and don’t charge the airline as much to land there. In fact, some airports even pay the airlines to land there, because the area wants the tourists that the airline can bring them.
This has opened up many places for us to visit that otherwise would not have been served by the older airlines.
The best low-cost carriers often win awards and nominations for their lovely staff and crew.
From unforgettable funny moments to sincere and humble approachability, you’re often well looked after with a low-cost airline. Crew are often trained to the same standards as elsewhere in the industry, and of course must be trained in safety matters.
Low-cost carriers are usually the first adopters of new technology.
Whether it’s using a smartphone app to hold your boarding card, to buy an upgrade, or to guide you around the airport, they aim to make your life easier and to put you in control. Easy check-in, automated bag drops, and priority boarding can help you enjoy your flight that little bit more.
This might come as a surprise, but low-cost carriers tend to have roughly the same “on-time performance” as legacy carriers. Running on tight schedules to make the best use of the whole flying day means that they tend to run a smooth operation.
Punctuality figures from the travel data provider OAG show that the punctuality of low-cost airlines has actually been falling for the last year or two though, and the older flag carriers are back on top. However, as the skies and airports become fuller it is becoming harder for any airline to guarantee punctuality.
Airlines realise that passengers hate disruption, and it’s no fun for the staff either! So low-cost airlines such as easyJet have recently been investing lots of money into trying to minimise disruption, and to handle it better when it occurs. This includes padding the flying schedule with a little more time to catch up with any delays, and finding ways to communicate better with customers if their flight is delayed.
All airlines operating flights to or from the European Union are bound by a regulation called EC261, which specifies when compensation is available for flights that aren’t on time. This puts low-cost airlines and older carriers on an equal footing. After Brexit, this regulation will still apply to us here in the UK.
Aircraft maintenance is something taken very seriously by airlines and regulators, and follows strict rules and constant monitoring. Many airlines also have systems where the aircraft can radio ahead if it detects a fault, so that the maintenance team can have new parts ready and waiting as soon as the aircraft lands.
10. Newer aircraft
You’re more likely to fly on a newer aircraft with a low-cost carrier than with an older carrier. This is because a newer fleet of aircraft requires less maintenance, so can be in the air for longer, earning the airline more money.
Airways Life reports that the average age of the easyJet fleet is 8 years, for Ryanair it’s 8.5 years, and for British Airways it’s 13.8 years.
Plus, more modern planes are usually more comfortable—another win for passengers!
It’s an interesting time for airlines. With a new boss taking over from Willie Walsh at the helm at British Airways, will the flag carriers be able to fight back, or will the low-cost airlines continue to call the shots? We think the battle will be won and lost on price, punctuality, and customer service.