May 8, 2012

Caveat Emptor: Disadvantages of Taking a Budget Airline

I'm a big fan of budget airlines. As I stated before, Low-Cost Carriers - as they are also known - democratized travel and made backpacking within reach to thousands of budding travelers. But, as that infamous brawl in NAIA Terminal 3 has shown, taking a budget airline can have its disadvantages. 

Here are some things that can make you do a Claudine Barreto to the unfortunate schmo taking a video beside the luggage carousel:
  • You get what you pay for. Sure, the fares are cheap; where else can you book a flight to a foreign destination for as little as $40? But there is a caveat to this - you pay for everything else. You want a choice window seat? pay a few more dollars. Want refreshments on board? Pay up. You don't get caviar h'ordeuvres seating in the Y-class of a budget airline. 
  • The ungodly hours. To save money most budget carriers operate red eye flights - they depart late at night and arrive at the destination at the wee hours in the morning - to take advantage of cheaper airport fees. That means most public transportation no longer operate when you arrive at your destination, so that the money you save from cheaper tickets might be gone because you have to take a cab going to your hostel. Or you may have to sleep in the airport itself and wait for dawn. 
  • Inflexible ticket options. Budget airlines often have no option for changing your itinerary. Missing a flight means booking a new (and often more expensive) ticket. Tickets bought on sale, most likely than not, can't be changed or they charge you with re-booking fees that are just as expensive as booking a new flight. 
  • Indifferent Staff. Again to save money, budget airlines often train their staff to multi-task. Flight attendants might also have to man the boarding gates, clean the interior, go around the plane selling you souvenir items, serve you a beverage that cost as much as 3x compared to if bought in 7-11, and try to fit in an over-sized luggage that somebody insists can be a carry-on. It would be no surprise that the staff is overworked, and can be indifferent to the passengers.  
  • No inflight entertainment. Unless you brought your iPad with you, entertaining yourself on a four-hour flight would only be limited to eavesdropping on the heated conversation between the FA and that annoying passenger who doesn't know the meaning of "low-cost carrier" 
  • Being nickle-and-dimed. Budget airlines operate on razon-thin profit margins (so I'm told) so they take every opportunity to earn money. They charge all these creatively-named fees on unsuspecting passengers to earn more: Convenience fee. Web check in fee. Fuel surcharges. Currency conversion fee. and the list goes on. One budget airline is even considering fees for using the toilet. 
  • That feeling of being like in a bus. A crowded bus with seats made for children. In rush hour. With colicky babies bawling behind you. And you just try to zone out the claustrophobic feeling by upping your iPod's volume so that you won't go postal on the annoying guy beside you who's hogging the arm rest. Yeah, that feeling.
With these, why are budget airlines still popular? It is inherent to the travelers to have a bit of masochism in them to endure all these? Is price solely the determining factor in booking a flight, that a small indignity gets trumped by the half-priced fare? Or have we, travelers, already developed a Zen-like detachment to every bit of discomfort that we encounter when we travel? 

For me, all I think of is the white beach and the rum-and-Coke at the end of my destination, and the armrest hogger beside me will be miles away.

Budget airline reviews:
- AirAsia
- Tiger Airways
- ZestAir


Aleah said...

The cheapest LCC I experienced was RyanAir. Imagine, 10 euros only from Italy to Belgium? That was the first time I saw passengers running to board the plane. There were no seat reservations, so it was on a first come-first served basis. Hopefully Cebu Pac doesn't stoop that low!

Kin Enriquez said...

Southwest Airlines in the US does not have reserve seating too. You get a number that will group you to who boards first, then you choose your seat once you're on the plane.