Ahh, the Joys of Discount Airlines!

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t spend at least a few moments missing my past life in Europe. But if there’s one thing I don’t miss in the slightest, that I’m entirely glad to be away from, it’s my constant experiences with discount Europen airlines, namely everyone’s most hated name in travel, Ryanair.

On board a Ryanair flight to Brussels in December 2009. Smooth sailing?

A rant against Ryanair? What a novel concept in the travel blogosphere! Yes, you may have heard it before, but, after years of railing against the airline to anyone who would lend me an ear, I figure it was about time to dedicate a blog post to some of my most frustrating experiences with various discount airlines.

I must preface this by noting that, actually, as much as I hate these airlines, I am actually also slightly, secretly, desperately in love with them because of the fact that they got me to countless foreign destinations I never would have otherwise been able to afford while I was living in Europe. And, really, a negative flight experience isn’t the end of the world when you’re only on the plane for an hour or two.

I won’t harp on about all of the things anyone who has ever experienced a discount airline can attest to: ridiculous fees sneaked in at every step of the booking process, vomit-worthy yellow or orange interiors, no reclining seats, advertisements over the loud speakers every five minutes disrupting your sleep when you’re on a 6am flight…and, in my opinion, the absolute WORST part of flying discount airlines: the insanely strict carry-on baggage restrictions. I swear, every time I flew a discount airline, I could barely hear anything above the pounding of my heart because I was so nervous they would try to force me to pay an egregious fee because my suitcase was three millimeters too wide.

The most hated sight in all of Europe

The most hated sight in all of Europe

Here are some of my favorite (read: least favorite) memories dealing with discount airlines over the past years.

Luggage down my pants

I don’t reserve all of my discount airline hatred for Ryanair. Barcelona-based Vueling seriously got on my bad side as well the one time I flew with them, in June 2013. Vueling has a weight restriction for carry-on baggage, which is fair enough! No other airline has ever weighed my carry-on, so I expected Vueling to overlook it as well, and I was surprised when they told me I would not be able to fly with my suitcase, because it was a kilo or so over the weight limit. Yes, yes, simply a matter of policy, I get it, although they were unnecessarily rude about it.

I stepped a few feet away from the check-in desk to rearrange my suitcase, stuffing my heaviest objects down my pockets, converting chargers into belts, even giving myself a very lumpy potbelly with assorted objects under my shirt. I sheepishly returned to the counter, sure they would call me out on my blatant attempts to subvert their restrictions. Instead, they gave me a quick glance, shrugged, and handed me my boarding pass. Because moving luggage from a bag to my pockets really decreases a plane’s weight.

On a related note, several companies have created jackets with enormous pockets to get past airlines’ carry-on restrictions. I wholeheartedly approve.

Sheer brilliance!

Sheer brilliance!

Bratislava’s police check

In June 2012, my Central Europe trip was coming to an end, the last leg of our trip being a Ryanair flight from Bratislava, Slovakia back to Málaga, Spain. Being a three year Ryanair veteran, and knowing that they’ll do anything in the power to prevent you from flying, I quadruple checked everything to ensure we had all the correct documents, flight times, etc. When we approached the ticket desk for our passport check (never forget to get this stamp if you’re a non-EU citizen and are flying Ryanair!), the airline employee shook his head and asked, “Where’s your police stamp of departure?” What? What stamp? “You had to go to the police station before coming here. You’ll have to hop on the bus – there’s a station about thirty minutes away. There’s a chance you can still make your flight, but it will be close” I immediately began protesting, arguing that I had checked every last bit of fine print and had never seen such a requirement, but he looked at me with a smirk. “Just kidding. You’re all set to board.”

Okay, so perhaps he shared the world’s Ryanair frustrations and was actually making a very clever reference to the airline’s excessive restrictions. But having spent years wanting to pull my hair out after every Ryanair flight, at the time, I was not amused. I was about ready to punch that guy. But, hey, Mr. Ryanair Employee, two years later, I’ll chuckle at your prank…just a little.


Jetstar’s “generous” discounts

This post was actually prompted by a call I made yesterday to Jetstar’s customer support. Jetstar is Australia’s answer to discount airlines, and, while it’s more expensive than Europe’s options, I still managed to book a flight from Sydney to Melbourne for $94 round-trip. Or so I thought. I paid via direct bank deposit, because Jetstar charges a $16 debit/credit card fee, but noticed in my bank statement a few weeks later that my charge had been refunded, with zero notification or explanation from Jetstar. So I called customer support to sort out the issue, and the woman on the phone basically told me she knew nothing about direct deposit payments, nor could anyone else assist me. “Um, but that’s one of your primary payment methods.”

She informed me I had lost my reservation and would have to re-book the flight, which was unfortunate, because the price had increased by $10, but, oh well, what’s $10? But wouldn’t my payment just get rejected once again? What could I do to get it accepted? She had no idea. It was then that she offered to courteously waive credit card fees, charging me only $168! But the online booking was $104? “Yes, it’s more expensive over the phone.” I argued that it would make no sense to book by phone, so she then offered me a $50 credit if I booked over the phone…still more expensive than it otherwise would have been. Think I should gift Jetstar’s employees basic arithmetic lessons for Christmas? Fingers crossed my booking goes through this time, but I have very little hope.

Discount airlines in a nutshell

Discount airlines in a nutshell

Ryanair’s commendable PR team

One event that has shaped my opinion of Ryanair over the years is the response About.com Spain writer Damian Corrigan reported receiving from Ryanair’s Head of Communications at the time, Stephen McNamara. Back in 2010, Corrigan contacted the airline to get the scoop on why they had canceled more flights due to the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland than other airlines and were doing a poor job of reimbursing passengers. McNamara responded simply with:

“That is potentially the most stupid question I have ever received.  You show your complete lack of knowledge of the situation and the airline industry – which is why we ignore bloggers. Grow up Damian.”

Ah yes, I just love putting money in the hands of airlines who head their communication teams with “professionals” whose comebacks rival, “I know you are, but what am I?”

In my wildest dreams, I’m a millionaire who never flies with a discount airline ever again. But until then, that’s the travel life, and, hey, aren’t the frustrations all part of the adventure?

What have been your biggest airline mishaps? I know you’ve had them!

20 Responses

  1. I agree with you – as much as I bemoan budget airlines, they’ve taken me all over Europe and even to Morocco! Policies changed when I was on a trip, and I nearly missed a flight from Pisa to Seville when I had to show my passport, get it stamped and pay and extra 10 euros – but far better than paying to spend another night or two in boring Pisa!!

  2. Mortimer Owl says:

    It tickles my feathers that you used my photo for this post! Fortunately, I rarely have to travel by discount airlines on my nightly patrols for moles and smaller rodents and lagomorphs.

    For those of you who give a hoot, the photo was taken on a shoot in (where else?) Bern, Switzerland for famed fowl photographer “Rooster” MacGuff. Naturally, I flew first class 🙂

  3. Nana says:

    Wow! I guess I need to stop whining about my most hated airline, “The Dreaded Lufthansa”, as I have named it. The travel companies serving my university are in bed with Lufthansa, and they are just the worst – miserable seats and equally miserable food and service, not to mention the compulsory stop in Germany before you can head to your final destination. However, after reading your post, I will look upon them with a bit more kindness – maybe!

    • I hadn’t heard those complaints about Lufthansa, but that does not seem like a great way to travel all the way from the U.S. to Europe! At least the flights I’ve taken on discount airlines have been three hours max.

  4. …See, this is why I think Imma just stick with regular European airlines (Lufthansa, Swiss Air, etc.)–there’s not as many ridiculous restrictions, the quality of the experience is better, and, in the long run, it’s still cheaper than having to fly in from the U.S. (ESPECIALLY thanks to bargain sites like Momondo!!)…

  5. take_me_2_barry says:

    This post reminds me of my pre-adolescent dreams of being a pilot. My days and nights were spent imagining myself soaring high amongst the clouds. Just me, my trusty Airbus airplane and whatever birds wanted to tag along.

    Of course, I would cut quite a dashing figure in the uniform… I still have a vivid vision of myself as a pilot:

    I stroll confidently through the airport, doffing my cap to the steward-ae who pass by. No TSA line for me, because I’m a pilot and I fly right through the metal detector.

    Now I’m in the terminal, my home away from home. Could be JFK, or LGA, or BWI, it doesn’t matter– they know me here — they call me Cap’m Jim. “Howdy Cap’m,” says a baggage handler smiling obsequiously. I fix him with a cold stare, he should know better than to look me in the eye.

    At once I’m at the gate where my trusty bird awaits. I call her Maggie after my lost love. Like the Maggie of my memories she is large and beautiful. She is also sleek… Also she has a beautiful tail. “How are you doing today, Mags?” I whisper.

    “Fuel is topped up, and the systems all check out,” says the maintenance chief. I whip around quickly… now I’m face-to-face with the man. “You think I don’t know that?” I hiss savagely. He slinks away like the beast he is.

    I walk aboard. I have a beautiful home with lush landscaping, but I’ve always thought that the cockpit of my Maggie is the only place I want to hang my hat.

    The copilot is reading a newspaper, which i strike away from his hands with my umbrella. “This isn’t the ****ing coffee shop” I say.

    The head stewardess pops her head in the door, “the little boy from 3F wanted to come up and see the cockpit, Cap’m Jim.”

    This is the best part of my day.

    She ushers him in and leaves as quick as she can. Good girl. It took her awhile to learn not to stick around where she’s not wanted, but I finally broke her in.

    “And what do you want to be when you grow up, young man?”

    “A pilot,” he says.

    The little wretch. Does he honestly think he can take my chair? Not bloody likely.

    I order the co-pilot out of the cockpit. “Sit down,” I bark to the now-frightened boy. “If you think you’re man enough to take my job then we’ll see what you’re made of.” I’m pulling away from the gate now without clearance. A real pilot doesn’t listen to the minimum-wage idiots in the tower. I rev up Maggie’s thrust and begin to take off.

    “Put your hands on the wheel,” I say to him, “we’re going to play thunderbird. His tiny, grubby hands are visibly shaking. His feet don’t even reach the peddles. “You’re losing control of her, son!” I shout as I wrestle the controls back. “Keep in mind, that if you mess up your family is going to die back there,” I say as I jerk my thumb back towards the cabin.

    “I don’t want to play thunderbird anymore,” he whimpers. Damn right you don’t son.

    He tentatively gets up from the chair. “You don’t want to be a pilot anymore do you?” I ask. “No sir, I don’t,” the little brat is crying now. Definitely not pilot material.

    “Well that’s good. You know, the world needs ditch-diggers too.”

    Just another day at TWA.

  6. Courtney says:

    Oy vey. I have such a love/hate relationship with budget airlines. *Knock on wood* I have good luck most of the time… but in 2010 when the Icelandic volcano erupted, Ryanair left me stranded in Marrakech with no way out. And their stingy refund did little to help fund my road trip back up to Spain via Tangier! As tempting as those 30 euro flights are, you really do get what you pay for.

  7. Sauroman says:

    Do not mock the dark lord.

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