Monday, November 25, 2013

Thoughts on Flying on the Cheap

Last week or whenever it was, Westjet announced that it was flying to Dublin, Ireland for the low fare of $199 o/w. Now this post isn’t going to be a post about how much I dislike Westjet and how much I like Air Canada, but rather it is going to be my thoughts on Canadians and discount airlines, although I am going to take this opportunity (because this is my blog) to comment on this anyways. Firstly, I need to make the following very clear – last year I got SuperElite or Altitude 100K on Air Canada the hard way – flying 100 segments with about 90% of it in economy, and often on a small CRJ 100/200 – often to Fort McMurray – so no glamour there! The one person who really seemed to benefit from all of my travels was my chiro, Dr. Kim (at Bow Valley Chiropractic – shameless plug I know but he is amazing!) as those seats often did a number on my poor hips and glutes! So for all of you that think that I don’t fly economy – I do and I did and now I am just fortunate to have a job that allows me to fly business.

EasyJet Waiting Area - AMS

But now back to my point. There is no way I would want to ever fly from Calgary to Dublin on a 737 – no matter if it was Air Canada or Westjet – that is just far too long of a journey to be a plane like that. Now here is where the Westjet bashing begins, so if you are a Westjet lover you may just want to skip ahead. #1 - the $199 o/w deal is from St. John’s Nfld. To Dublin – keep that in mind because last time I checked a flight from Calgary to St. John’s was not cheap. So that “cheap trip to Dublin” isn’t so cheap anymore. #2 – I looked into the length of the flight (on Westjet) and it is about 14 hours with no less than 2 stops – one in Toronto and one in St. John’s – did you think about that? Yes – Westjet may have a direct flight to St. John’s from Calgary but direct and non-stop are not the same in the airline world. Now add to that some quality time in the airport in Toronto & St. John’s. #3 – on a flight that long, you still have to buy your movies (I know most people take an iPad but still) and you have to buy your food. At least on Air Canada you get free food & snacks and movies (I am not saying that it is good food– I am just saying it is free!) #4 – on a random search that I did, Air Canada/Air Lingus were cheaper than Westjet by a couple hundred dollars – I am just sayin’. . . .

Cattle class holding pen
Now to what this post is really about - I am not sure that Canadians or North Americans for that matter are ready for truly discount travel – and by that, I mean travel on airlines like EasyJet or RyanAir or the plethora of other discount airlines that none of us has ever heard of that travel around Europe. Why do I say this? Well firstly, we complain about being treated like cattle if we have to cue up too much and these airlines treat you just like that – they put you in pens! The waiting lounge in Amsterdam featured bleacher seating and everyone waited with baited breath for the gate # to pop up on the board (1 hour before flight) and then you saw the stampede to the gate! I am not sure why because EasyJet is assigned seating, maybe it is a Ryanair hangover – there it is survival of the fittest for getting a good seat.
Heading down to the pen

These airlines also nickel and dime you to death. Yes, we whine a little about having to pay for food on Air Canada and Westjet but on EasyJet, you pay for everything, including spending 3 euros or about $4 for a cup of coffee! So next time you scoff at the free beverage that you are getting, remember this. If you want to be treated a little more humanly and not have to be subjected to the cattle pens (that is what I call them) you pay a little extra – it is called “Speedy Boarding”. This also allows you and your 1 bag (will get to this) get on first without everyone pushing at you. And supposedly there is a “speedy check-in” line but if you don’t check in online and print your boarding pass at home, they charge you for that as well.

Now here is where I think North American’s, particularly our friends to the south, will really struggle with discount airlines – luggage. When they say that you get 1 piece of carry-on, you only get 1 piece of carry-on. That doesn’t mean 1 roller board + purse + computer bag. Nor does it mean 1 purse + 1 diaper bag + 1 roller board – it means 1 piece of carry-on of the very specific size of 56cm x 45cm x 25 cm including wheels and handles and they measure each bag to make sure that it fits into those bag sizers at the airports that we all ignore. So that meant, I was shoving my purse into my already small carry-on (North American sized roller boards are likely too big) prior to boarding. If when you arrive at the airport and decide to check in your bag then, you pay more. In Canada, where we have to pay for our bags and don't want to, we can still take on board our carry on even though it doesn’t fit into the sizer,  plus whatever other bags we can seem to physically manage at no additional cost.  You need  keep that in mind when considering how great low cost travel is. ;-) Oh, and lastly, a lot of these discount airlines fly in and out of places or airports that we may or may not have heard about and often the “low cost carrier” terminal is a bit of a hole! They often make the Peace River or Fort McMurray airports look really good!!

 So really, how was my experience, well on our way to Geneva, I had what I called “European Business Class”. In Europe, business class is often just the normal economy seat space but no one sits in the middle seat – that is what we had on our way there. On our way back, we were jammed in there like sardines as the flight was full and I got to experience the full discount airlines experience minus the cattle class ques. Would I fly them again – possibly. I am a points whore so I will always default to my main carriers first but sometimes these discount airlines have better schedules, fly to places the big carriers don’t go to and can be cheaper, and really, the flight was only 1 hour long, so it wasn’t that bad. . . .
The distance between my seat and my knees - tight!