January 18, 2018

Discount Airlines: Cheap flights that make your life easier, or do they?

Ryanair flight

European airline companies such as Ryanair, Easy Jet and Wizz Air pride themselves on having the cheapest flights around. As a poor college student or frugal backpacker these are usually the first websites you visit when booking a trip. Unlike the mainstream providers back in the U.S, these discounted airlines advertise monthly specials for twenty pounds (around $40) or less. By forming partnerships with hotels, hostels, trains, and car hire companies, customers do not only get deals on flights, but they receive help with all of their travel needs. As tempting as these “special offers” sound, it is important not to fall into the typical travel trap.

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Anyone that has flown with Ryanair, Easy Jet, or Wizz air, knows that it is never a smooth ride, unless you come prepared, and even then sometimes you have a strong urge to yell at someone. The number one mistake newcomers make, when dealing with these airlines, is to bring a bag that fits regulations. I was just as guilty as the next person in thinking that an average sized carry-on was perfectly suitable to bring on one of these smaller planes, I was wrong. All three airlines state that each passenger is permitted only one piece of cabin baggage for free, including handbags, briefcases, laptops, cameras etc. So everything you have essentially has to fit into one bag. Ryanair and Wizz Air demand that the carry-on have the maximum dimensions of 55x40x20, and doesn’t exceed a weight of 10 kilograms. Which essentially means, if you pack like I do, you’re shit out of luck. Luckily, Easyjet allows a slightly bigger carry-on at 56x45x25 and no weight restrictions, making it my favorite out of the three.

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Obviously, for people that don’t mind spending the extra money, checking bags is the easier route. However, for me, checking bags seems like the absolute worst thing imaginable when traveling. It must have something to do with the fact that Continental airlines lost all five of my suitcases when I moved from the U.S to London two years ago. I loved having my entire life floating around two different airports on two different continents; yea, good times. Also, when you travel alone, and you plan on hopping around a lot, the best thing to have is clothes, not an irritated lady on a phone telling you they will come in a few days.

Ever since that particularly stressful move, I force myself to only travel with carry-on’s, which is especially difficult with these airlines. However, even with all of the ‘small print’ and added fees, these flights are worth it, so get used to packing light. For most of my trips, I would bring this little red square rolling carry-on that I knew met protocol, and then July of last year I went backpacking and was forced to bring something different. My sister and I backpacked for six weeks throughout Europe and most of our stories come from our airport experiences. Now instead of my perfectly sized red suitcase, I had a slightly wider and longer backpack that pretty much became the death of me. On several occasions I had meltdowns in the airport trying to reorganize my bag, so that it would fit within the bag regulations case. Yup, my underwear and bras laying out in airport security was definitely one of the highlights. I was constantly trying to flatten my bag and wear as many clothes as I could just to board the plane. Let’s just say at two flights a day, it was a stressful experience that could’ve been made easier with a smaller bag. So next time I insist on packing the high heels I never wore, or the 18 tank tops that were overkill, my sister has promised to remind me of this hell we endured together.

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The worst moment was when we were flying from Milan to Athens, and we were both already sweating to death underneath layers of clothes, and Jenelle realized Ryanair had a scale out. I thought I was going to cry right there. After I weighed my bag at 14 kilos and Jenelle’s was much the same, we spent an hour ripping everything we could out of our bags and putting it onto our bodies. After wearing almost everything I owned at once, and my bag still was 1 kilo over I threw it down and started to undress. Ryanair charged us 40 euro each to check our bags which total averaged 150 dollars.

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Often times, when you approach the gate, the stewardesses’ will size your bag, and if it doesn’t meet protocol, they will put it into the hold and charge you 60 euro. Other times, I’ve actually seen passengers meet protocol, but there isn’t enough room on the plane so they will take your bag, put it into the hold, and still charge you anyway. If you’re not careful, all of the added fees can actually make the flight cost more money than if you’d originally gone with a different airline.

Destination-wise, Wizz Air has the most flights to the Eastern countries, like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Serbia and Turkey. Wizz Air also flies to the mainstream parts of Europe, but it is most popular for covering so many eastern countries. Ryanair is known for flying basically everywhere; the only advice I want to pass onto my readers is that they usually fly into the second popular airport in each country, rather than the first, which can make it difficult transportation-wise. Sometimes, the second-rate airports don’t have train stations and only cabs or buses, so you just need to be prepared and research beforehand. As for Easyjet, it doesn’t fly to as many places as Ryanair, but when it does fly, it typically goes to the main airport.

No matter how much frustration I have flying with these airlines at times, they can save you a pretty penny, if you can abide by the rules. And although package deals seem great, someone other than you is walking away with a profit, so use these flights to your advantage and plan your own vacation. Get risky, fly to new places, and whatever you do pack smart.