Why I’m Totally Down For Budget Airlines
Jetstar Asia. Malindo. Air Asia.
Three budget airlines I recently had the privilege of flying and guess what? They were all fantastic.
Yeah, yeah, you think I’m cooked. But before you exit out thinking this is some sort of ad (it isn’t), hear me out.
I think the key is, as always, to manage expectations.
And yes, I recognise the three budget airlines I’ve named above are Southeast Asian carriers: a region of the world known for its air-based hospitality (Singapore Airlines, anyone?) But I’ve also flown a lot of low-cost carriers in Europe too and, yes, even one in South Africa. For the purposes of this article I won’t touch any American carriers, nor will I mention RyanAir – but just because I haven’t tried, so it wouldn’t be right for me to say anything.
But anyway. I honestly LOVE budget airlines. Here are some common arguments I hear when people say they don’t want to book a budget carrier – and my rebuttals.
They reschedule all the time
When you’re working to a strict budget and you’re dealing with the kind of beaurocracy to make your eyeballs roll so far back they get lost in your skull (read: Southeast Asian governments; the Eurozone) sometimes you’re gonna have to do some manoeuvring. Air travel is no different. All airlines get rescheduled at some point, and some play dodgy bait-and-switch routing games to get more sales (I could name names *ahem, certain Middle-Eastern carriers, ahem*). This is not exclusively true of budget carriers, nor is there even a pattern.
I get it. Malindo cancelled our flight Singapore-Penang and we ended up having to fly Singapore-Kuala Lumpur-Penang. It tripled our journey time and was a pain in the ass. But it happens. It’s part of travel. So we shrugged and moved on. We paid something like $60 per person for that flight (and Mister One was pretty much free) so who are we to complain?
They’re never on time
This complaint often baffles me. Yes, sometimes it’s the fault of the airline, but often it isn’t. And when airlines report their on-time statistics, they don’t differentiate between different problems.
On our flight from Melbourne-Singapore, we sat on the tarmac in Melbourne for over an hour before we could take off. Why? Because a passenger had boarded and then decided she was too ill to travel. That meant deplaning her and her luggage, which meant the poor baggage handlers had to search around for it. That isn’t the airline’s fault.
And even if it is, say, a staffing issue, sometimes shit happens. If a crew member gets sick mid-run there may not be anyone to replace them right away. And air-crew have minimum staffing rules for a reason. Would you rather fly with too few cabin crew?
Anyway, I tend to find the opposite. Time is money. The reason budget airlines are so ruthless sometimes when people are late, is because they can’t afford to lose their departure time. Working to a budget means tight turn-arounds. And that in-turn means budget airlines are super reluctant to be anything but on-time. I have flown many, many times with Air Asia, for example, and not once have they been late. Sometimes it’s just luck of the draw.
Their baggage allowances are too tight
Weight = fuel. Repeat: Weight = fuel. The more weight on board, the more fuel is used. Have you SEEN the price of fuel lately?!
Premium airlines can get away with being more lenient on weight restrictions because, as long as they don’t go over safe loading capacities, they’ve built plenty of fat into the price of your ticket. And probably charged you a fuel surcharge too. But budget airlines are just that – on a budget. They trim the fat, which means you need to as well.
There are too many hidden fees
I mean, we’ve all heard the horror stories about Ryan Air charging 50 pounds for a boarding pass or whatever, because the passenger didn’t print it at home. So okay, maybe sometimes the line gets crossed. But these days it’s all done online anyway so nothing is hidden. I did a mock Jetstar booking this morning to test it out again, and I was asked every step of the way… Do I want to add a meal? Am I checking in luggage? Do I want to choose a seat? All of these details were ironed out well before it came time to put my payment details in. The fees are not hidden.
The planes are uncomfortable and old
On our recent trip to Malaysia, our Jetstar flight from Melbourne to Singapore was on the Dreamliner (the Boeing 787). This is a state-of-the-art machine and let me tell you, it felt like it. In all these little details you don’t necessarily notice, like the humidity of the air in the cabin (no more itchy, dry skin or flaky nose or dry throat!). Or the way the windows electronically dimmed rather than having blinds. Or USB connectivity and WiFi in every seat. Yes, on a budget airline! And not only that, the seats were comfortable with decent seat pitch.
On our Malindo flights, most operated on the Boeing 737-900. These are newer 737s that are slightly larger. I’m not kidding, our seat pitch was bigger than I’ve ever experienced on a premium airline in economy. They also had a wonderful-looking Business Class (though I wasn’t fortunate to test it out). I’m only 5’3, and my husband is 5’10, so we’re not the super long-legged customers for whom seat pitch is make-or-break, but even so… we certainly weren’t crammed in with knees to our chins. Air Asia was no different to flying any other 737 domestically.
Yes, on all flights we either had to pay for entertainment (Jetstar and Malindo) or it wasn’t offered (AirAsia) but guess what? It’s 2018, we packed our tablets and our phones. A quick download of a few episodes on the Netflix app using the airport WiFi, and away you go.
The staff are grumpy
Pffft. Maybe it was just Asian hospitality on this last trip, but even when I think back to my European backpacking adventures, the staff were always wonderful. Cabin crew have a really important job to do. They’re not there to be our slaves. They are not “glorified waiters” as I’ve heard before. They are highly trained safety experts whose first priority is to ensure the safety of everyone on board. The amount of training and professional development it takes to actually be cabin crew is pretty full on. So if they’re telling you to do (or not do) something, it’s for a reason, and that reason is not that they have a stick up their ass. It’s because whatever it is you’re doing (or not) has a flow on effect. Listen to them.
Lecture aside, what really blew me away on this recent trip was just how wonderful the cabin crew were with the kids too.
Quick note: obviously while flying, passengers are no longer allowed in the cockpit. This picture was taken upon our arrival into Penang: all other passengers had disembarked and the engines had been switched off.
It’s not safe
I have never once found any statistically significant data that suggests flying with a low-cost carrier is any less safe than flying with a premium carrier. The pilots still need a certain number of flight hours to fly the plane. The airline still needs to be accredited. If you want more details, this Travel + Leisure article goes into more depth.
Budget airlines: save some bucks
At the end of the day, it always comes down to this: things are budget for a reason. When you go to IKEA there are signs in the food court that say “clearing your own tray helps us keep prices low”. We read that sign, think “oh yes, such Swedish ingenuity” and happily purchase our $50 bookcase. Right? So how is flying any different?
I just found this direct (return) flight from Melbourne to Phuket on Jetstar.com. The equivalent flight (not direct, by the way) on a premium airline such as Singapore or Thai, would be about $1,000.
So what’s it gonna be? For me it’s easy: that’s $600 in my pocket… to spend on a lovely pool villa (or a few Mai Tais).
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As an Irish person, Ryanair is how I get most places out of Ireland. I found I did well with them when I had the system down as it were. I flew regularly to the the UK and back for three years and as never delayed or very late.
But when I flew randomly and as their rules alter it is harder. Their airports differ so much in how to carry out policy too.
Flying with kids on Than it is harder too.
So I splash out on See Lingus when I have to or can! For comfort.
However Ryanair has allowed me to travel Europe without breaking the bank.
The argument that they are never on time, is just so wrong… I am a frequent WizzAir, Ryanair and EasyJet flyer. I actually forgot how it is to travel with a non-budget airline… 🙂 I am so grateful that these companies exist.
YES! I haven’t flown Ryanair but Wizz Air, EasyJet and Air Europa we’re faves of mine. All excellent experiences every time!
Agree people have to manage their expectations (this post could be applied to a lot of things!!). I want clean and safe when I travel (flights, hotel, area). I don’t want to pay for luxury items if they are not needed. Would rather use my money for food and experiences.
So true! I like luxury hotels sometimes (I got precious when I worked in travel) but there’s no point, to me, paying more for the flight. Ten hours in a metal tube is ten hours in a metal tube, no matter who you fly.
I always read up on the airline before I book the flight. After all most of the time the flight is one of the most expensive while traveling.
Agreed! Flying is so much cheaper now than it used to be but there’s still such vast differences between the cost of options sometimes
I used to fly budget airlines to Northern Ireland to visit my exes family a lot. You know what you’re getting and it can be really cheap just expect there’ll be no frills.
That’s it Rachael. I think these days what you’re getting is that pretty clear so in theory it should be fairly easy to manage ones expectations (you’d think anyway!)
Ah…yes the budget airline. For us here in the states is Southwest. But actually they rock. Great service, good prices, and on time arrivals. We have a few other budget airlines who are not quite so good…they shall remain nameless 🙂
I think I know the ones you’re referring to! That’s why I wanted to be clear I haven’t flown any stateside… wouldn’t want to look like too much of a fool!
I actually never had these problems with budget travelling, but thanks for the insight 🙂
Neither have I haha, but as a travel agent I hear soooo many objections!
Thanks for sharing these points for considering budget airlines. I have traveled in Air Asia as well as Malindo! I have enjoyed Malindo better. If the distance is short, Air Asia is fine. Despite that, I would agree that considering budget flights is a a great idea and sometimes, you get real good deals too!
I agree, I’m a huge fan of Malindo. I couldn’t believe the prices I was paying to fly so comfortably on state-of-the-art new planes!
Nice post Amelia. It was great to read about the positive side about budget airlines. In a country like ours in India, you will be amazed to know the sheer amount of regular fliers travelling on budget airlines compared to the national carriers. The budget airlines are ruling our Indian skies and they are taking regular international destination trips too. I have flown on many occasions and have been completely satisfied. Thanks for sharing.
This is really interesting insight! We are hoping to visit India next year and it’s good to know there are affordable carriers to choose from
I totally agree with all the points esp the flight skills of the pilot and the crew.. also since i am tiny, i couldnt be bothered by the seat pitch of lccs… but when premium carriers offer seat sale, that’s the time id need to choose them over lccs 🙂
Thanks Erica! I agree, there’s definitely times I’ll go with a premium carrier. If the cost is the same, then yes because I’ll be fed too! And again, if the price is the same, I’ll try to stick with airlines I can earn points with
Haha this was such a funny read! While I’ve never tried those budget airlines, I used RyanAir and Easyjet a TON while I was in Europe, and I didn’t think they were all that bad either!
Thanks Sarah! I agree completely. You got there safely and you didn’t have to spend days taking cross-continental trains, and that’s a big tick in my book!
I try not to travel on budget airlines also because I collect Avios from the bigger company that lately will save money. I see your points and agree with your reasoning.
Absolutely Federica. When you’re in a frequent flyer program that changes things. However for us, there were limited options with our frequent flyers anyway on our last trip (and the options that existed were MUCH more expensive) so we chose to save the money.
I totally agree with you! I’ve taken WOW airlines on two occasions, Jetstar in New Zealand, Norweigian to Copenhagen among others. I haven’t had too bad of a time to say i’m never flying budget again! They are worth it in my opinion.
Yes exactly! Jetstar runs domestically here in Australia as well as New Zealand, and they’re a fave.
100% agree with you on this!!! I hate the food on planes and love that with some budget airlines the cost is lower when I don’t request food. I have always found them to be just as comfortable as more expensive airlines. I most recently flew with westjet from London to Calgary and had zero complaints! Great post 🙂
Thanks Katie! That’s so true, I think the food thing is regional too… some of the best airplane food I’ve had was actually on AirAsia, and I wonder if it’s just the flavourful Asian cuisine?
As you said Amelia, s**t can happen on any flight and the preconceived ideas we have on these budget airlines should be reconsidered. Everyone’s experiences are different and we should give them a go before we judge. 🙂
Actually that’s a really good point… I’ve heard people absolutely slate even five-star airlines based on one not great experience. But we’re overall quicker to judge the budget carriers I think
I love budget flights. Probably the easiest way to travel from the UK at the moment!
Yes that’s so true!
We always fly with budget airlines. Usually Ryanair in Europe, but we’ve used others around the world, including Air Asia and Jetstar. Never had a bad experience as far as I can remember.
Exactly! I’ve had one so-called bad experience but it was ten+ years ago and a lot has changed since then (also, again, not really sure what I was expecting!)
We all do have preconceived notions about the budget airlines. We once had a bad experience with Indigo airlines (budget airline in India) but that doesn’t stop us from trying others. We took Norwegian airlines during our visit to Norway and had an awesome experience. It all depends. One can have a bad experience with Premium airline companies too. We are all set to book Wow airlines for our Iceland trip because budget airlines save our hard-earned money, you see 🙂 Loved the insights here!
Thanks so much! You’re so right… and yes, I have had some truly shocking experiences with premium carriers!
thanks for this amezing article, keep exploring