How to Survive Low Cost Airline Guide


Travel Tips / Thursday, December 28th, 2017

No bad surprises with our Low-cost Airline Guide!

I feel like people tend to forget what flying “low-cost” means. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have been caught dead traveling low-cost. At that time, I wasn’t traveling a lot and either very far (too far for a low-cost) or close enough to take the train. So to fly low-cost didn’t really do anything for me at the time.

Today it’s quite different. I’ve started traveling regularly, sometimes for long period of times, and I’ve flown low-cost more times than I can remember, on 4 continents.

How to Fly Low-cost Like a Rock Star (1)Photo by David Kovalenko on Unsplash

Why would you need a Low cost Airline Guide to survive your flight?

What does flying low-cost airlines mean

As everybody else, I tend to forget what “low-cost” means and why I used to not want to fly low-cost. As much as they’ll try to make you forget about it, low-cost airlines are all about spending the least amount of money possible to get you from A to B. Of course, that means little (quantity or quality) services and very slim means to do anything about it.

It’s low-cost, do not expect more than can be expected

So yeah, you shouldn’t expect the level of services of a regular airline at a low price. That’s not how it works. For a sometimes ridiculously small price, you’ll have the chance to take a plane to somewhere. But there’s got to be a reciprocal deal, here. Therefore, you have to be ready to have shitty seats with virtually no leg space, being seated far from your companions or having to pay for it, no free food or drinks and no luggage allowed for free in cabin or in the hold. That’s what flying low-cost is. And if you’re lucky enough to have a better experience than that, then you’re exactly that: lucky.

The point is, we’re so used to paying next to nothing to consume things (I’m thinking H&M clothes, Kiko makeup, downloading movies, etc.) that we forget that things and services have a price.

I just want to remind you of what “low-cost” traveling really means, and give you tips about how to fly low-cost airlines as smoothly as possible. The conditions change depending on each companies so I’ll indicate the companies when I know them, otherwise you’ll have to check what yours entails exactly. But you’ll have a pretty wide panel of experiences here and please feel free to add anything I would have forgotten in the comment section!

This is not meant to discourage you to fly on low-cost airlines, but to help you to not get too frustrated when things don’t go as well as you had planned.

 How to Fly Low-Cost Like a Rock Star (2)Photo by Ross Parmly on Unsplash

Make flying low-cost a smooth ride

The seats

The size of the seats will usually suck. You’re gonna be stuck in a tiny little seat with no comfort and your knees in your face for 2 hours. Be prepared.

If you want to choose your seat allocation, you will have to pay. And more often than not, the website will say “from 5€” but the only seats left to choose will be at 20€…. Good luck with that.

Some companies don’t allocate seats beside your travel partner. It’s definitely the case with Ryanair and we’re seeing it more and more on Easyjet: you will assuredly be seated far from one another if you don’t pay to sit together. While I would advise to just ignore this and use the two hours of your flight to get some alone time, beware if you’re traveling with a child. There’s a huge possibility that the computer algorithm won’t care at all, and your three-years-old toddler might be twelve rows from you, seating next to a stranger.

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The cleanliness

None. Moving on.
Kidding. Kind of.
Seriously, low-cost airlines or not, planes are gross. Chances are your seat tray haven’t been cleaned in a while (especially if you’re at the back of the plane) and you should know that people change baby diapers on those. Also, do not walk around barefooted or wearing only socks, and in no case you should do it when you go to the bathroom. You’ve been warned.

The luggages when you fly on low-Cost airlines: size of bags and number of bags + what if your bag is lost ?

The luggages… One of the biggest complaint I see when it comes to flying low-cost.

How to fly low-cost like a rock star (4)Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

The sizes and regulations depend on each company, so make sure to always check on the website and mesure your bags. Maybe you’ve always been able to take this 2cm too long bag with you and that’s great, but don’t be upset if one day they decide to mesure it and make you pay for 2cm! Because they will. That’s how it works, and it happens. There will be no sympathy, so if you take the risk, be ready to pay the price.

Some companies let you have a cabin luggage (or bag) PLUS another very small thing. They also provide dimensions for these, so it’s not just any purse or laptop bag, it has to fit in the dimensions (check those too!).
For example: the handbag that I use daily is usually too big to fit in the dimensions. So I fold it and place it in a smaller bag, or use it as my hand luggage for short stays.

How to fly low-cost like a rock star (5)Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Some companies only allow 1 cabin item, which means that you have to fit everything (yes, that includes keys, passport, and all the other important stuff that you might not want to keep in your pocket) in only ONE cabin bag. No purse with that. No laptop sleeve. Nothing (just your eyes to cry).
That’s the case with Easyjet, for example. With them, there’s a little trick you can use (but it’s going to cost you at least 2.5€ in most cases) : they allow a duty free bag on top of your hand luggage. That means you can go to the duty free shop, buy a bottle of water, ask them for a BIG plastic bag (not very green…) and put your purse/tote bag in that plastic bag. You’re welcome.

Another thing that happens a lot and is happening more and more: you’ll be asked to put your cabin luggage in the hold because there’s (allegedly) not enough space in the overhead compartments. Sometimes it’ll be on a volunteer basis, sometimes they’ll make you.
Advices for this situation: if you don’t have any luggage in the hold, try to negotiate on that ground (you didn’t put anything on hold on purpose, so no way now you’ll have to wait to get your luggage cabin from the hold). If this doesn’t work, or if you don’t mind (because you have a luggage in the hold, or because you’re cool like that), I would keep that in mind when making your hold luggage, and keep a spare tote bag in it. It takes virtually no space and it’ll be a life saver in this situation.

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Sometimes, luggages get lost, and it doesn’t happen only with budget airline flights. When you fly, you should always keep your valuables on you – including your medication!!! (did I stress that enough? Keep your medication ON YOU!) – and have a change of clothes ready if possible. Having a pair of underwear and a shirt in your hand luggage doesn’t take all that much space, and you’ll be happy to have it if your other luggage didn’t follow!

The checkin

As with any airline, be prepared to have trouble with the checkin. Hopefully, everything can be done by internet, or for free at the airport. I’ve never have problems with checkin on a low cost airline, but I’ve seen people having issues doing it digitally before the flight and then having to pay to do it in person at the checkin counter. 

If you have trouble doing online checkin with Ryanair, you should try to reach them before going to the checkin counter at the airport. If you go first, you’ll probably have to pay and won’t be entitled to a refund for the checkin issue. However, if you reach them by phone, chat or social media, they might give you a special waiver for the counter checkin fees.

If you don’t have to go to the checkin counter (usually because you don’t have to put luggage in the hold), know that you don’t necessarily need to have the app up and working on your phone on the day of the flight. You (or a friend/spouse/parent) can retrieve the boarding pass on the app, take a screenshot (or several, just to be sure!) and send it to you- and… voilà! It works for us every time!

 The lateness and cancellations and what to do about it

Low-cost airlines are usually more late than regular airlines, because they need to maximise their ROI.

I personally always assume a low-cost flight will be delayed (it’s very usual to leave a good 30min after scheduled time, but most of the time they catch up the delay on flight) and never ever book a low-cost flight too close to another flight/transportation or important meeting.
For example: I wouldn’t assume it’s okay to take a flight scheduled to arrive at 10 to be at a wedding at 12.

How to fly low-cost like a rock star (7)

Photo by Frankie Guarini on Unsplash

The kind of good news about lateness is that you have rights that go with it. I only know regulations in the EU so I can’t talk about the rest of the world but I’m fairly certain there are other rules out there. In the EU, until 2 hrs of lateness, you’re entitled to nothing. From 2 hrs of lateness at the port of departure, you are entitled to food, drinks, 2 calls/emails. Then, from 3 hrs of lateness at the port of arrival (that subtlety is important because you might have 3hrs of lateness when you leave, but they might catch up on flight and you’ll have something like 2h30 lateness at the port of arrival. That means you’re screwed, yep!), you can get mon€y.

Very important: if you receive a text or email or app alert informing you your flight might or will be late – especially if it’s by something like 20min to 1hr – DO NOT assume it WILL be late. I repeat: DO NOT MAKE ANY ASSUMPTION. You could miss your flight if you decide to come to the airport later or to do some shopping (or go poop) in the terminal until then. And then you’ll have to PAY for another ticket and you’ll be very very very angry. This is a common situation that is totally avoidable. If the lateness is short, or if they specify you should hang around: assume your flight is going to be on time. There’s a very real chance that it will, and if you’re not there, it’s gonna be on you!

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I don’t remember ever having a flight canceled but I can easily imagine how much that must suck! Good news is that you also have rights in that case! In the EU at least – I’m only knowledgeable in that area for now – you can get fully reimbursed if you give up on the trip, and if you decide to go on you can get mon€y depending on how long you have to wait for the next flight (from 125 to 300€). If you had to spend money because of the cancellation, you can also ask for compensation

The price

Sometimes you get a flight at 10€, sometimes you really are left to wonder why you would spend 200€ for the same flight with a low-cost airline. In that case, check if a regular airline that flies to the same destination wouldn’t be as cheap (maybe not cheaper, maybe a bit more expensive but acceptable in regard of the treatment you’ll go through).

Simone and I love ground travel so I would also recommend checking out other cool ways to get to your destination that don’t involve an overpriced low-cost flight.
For example: I snobbed a very expensive flight from Paris to Belfast and took the bus (and the ferry) instead.
Call me insane, but the landscape was amazing. Ok, it was 10 times longer and I didn’t really sleep a wink but that’s slow travel for you! We also decided to travel around the United States – from East Coast to West Coast – by bus and only took 2 plain rides in 3 months and more than 30 cities!

How to fly low-cost like a rock star (9)Photo by Usamah Khan on Unsplash

The service

First of all and if I’m not mistaken, flight attendants are not paid until the plane takes off. Also, they won’t be assured if they hurt themselves putting your hand luggage in the overhead compartment. They’re not out to get you or anything, they’re just human beings most probably being underpaid and not wanting to hurt themselves and have to stop working just because they’ve been too nice. If you can’t put your luggage in the overhead compartment, there’s too much stuff in it.

I think the service greatly varies on the person and the context. There’s no rule.

But let me tell you that my favorite flight attendant experience has been on a low-cost flight with Spirit, going from Boston to Detroit. The announcements were just amazing, by a stewardess with sass and class, and it made everything else feel better!

Just remember that 1. you paid next to nothing for the flight so you can’t expect over the board amazing service (if you get it, it’s great!!) 2. if you paid next to nothing, they must be paid next to nothing too.

The booking

Sometimes these websites just crash so bad you want to send your own laptop crashing down through the window. Take a huge breath, and repeat slowly a hundred times “it’ll work out in the end”.

Sometimes, the price changes between the time you selected the flight and the moment you’re going to pay for it. You’ll always be advised of the price change and it’s no use to get upset about it: it’s how their algorithm work and no matter how much you complain, they won’t do a thing about it. Even though it’s super awful.

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How to deal with an issue with flying low-cost: try Twitter

Social media is always a good idea. Especially Twitter.
I find it much easier to start to fix any issue with the customer service on Twitter. It’s not limited to airlines, by the way, I do that for everything. They are usually much faster to answer queries on Twitter, but it doesn’t mean they’ll treat it much faster afterwards. Also, some airlines don’t really have a customer service on Twitter.
For example: I wouldn’t expect much from Ryanair. But Easyjet is good and Transavia is great!

Anyway, it’s a good way to get things to move quickly. Other than that, and [disclaimer] I’m biased since the company I work at offers this service, but I would ask a third-party website to speed things up if I’m in a hurry to get my money back.

Should you fly low-cost?

How to fly low-cost like a rock star (11)Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

I would personally not recommend flying low-cost if any of the usual disagreement (like spending the night at the airport, having your flight canceled and not being able to book another one for a few days, shitty seats and cleanliness, overall troubles) might ruin an important event (like a honeymoon, for example) or the only vacations you have. It’s true that flight tickets can be super expensive on regular airlines and that’s what low-cost airlines are for: to make traveling possible for people who don’t have a lot of money.

It’s perfect for a weekend getaway. But for a long or important trip I would recommend to spend a little bit more money if you can and put all chances on your side for everything to go right. It’s true that regular companies aren’t perfect and sometimes the same issues occur, but they’re usually less likely, especially if you choose a good company. For important events like a honeymoon or you’re only long vacations of the year, research the available companies to make sure you won’t go through a hellish ride!

22 Replies to “How to Survive Low Cost Airline Guide”

  1. I totally agree with everything here! I’ve always said that, you can’t hace higher expecations on a Low Cost flight, the purpose is exactly the one you mention: take you from a point A to a point B for the cheapest price.

    This is definitely a great guide!

  2. I love this post! I fly Norwegian all the time and find these tips so helpful, like putting your bag in a duty free bag on easy jet. It’s also a great reminder that there are a ton of little costs and if you’re not carfeful, the low cost flight won’t be low cost!! Love!!

  3. Such an informative post touching on all the possible mishaps that could happen when flying. I love flying as cheap as possible and happily give up a little bit of comfort to do so.

  4. These tips are all so helpful! I’ve been researching ways to travel more frequently and on a tighter budget so I’ll def bookmark your post and go over everything you’ve mentioned. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Ooh goodness is it bad that I laughed when you said the computer formula doesn’t care if your toddler is seated next to a stranger. But it is so true, we are used to mass production with such low cost that we often don’t know what low cost actually looks like!

  6. I am a big fan of low cost flying. You just have to be willing to take the good with the bad and prepare mentally. There may be restrictions, there may be delays as well…but at the end of the day, you’re saving a few bucks.

  7. I love how realistic you’ve been here! You’re right in saying that we get used to having everything so cheap these days. My fella and I don’t mind shelling out a little bit to ensure long haul flights are as comfortable as possible, but if I’m just going to Europe with my gals we’ll go as cheap as possible. As long and my luggage and I get there in one piece I’m happy!

  8. I love flying low cost (in certain situations). When it’s a short flight it’s definitely worth it for the money you save, and as a bonus you can take that money and spring for nicer accommodations!

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