An American Girl’s Guide to Surviving Budget Airlines
Since the 1990s, European budget airlines have been making their presence known as a viable travel option. Many of the top names have excellent safety records and are a great choice for the budget-conscious traveler or the business employee whose company is too cheap to spring for your upgrade because they spent this quarter’s profits on the CEO’s trip to Cancun. With budget airlines, you get what you pay for, which is pretty good considering they still send you flying hundreds of miles through the sky for (usually) a fraction of the cost of other airlines. If you book far enough in advance, you can go city-hopping for less than the price of one tube journey, and I am barely exaggerating.
But just in case you’ve never traveled with EasyJet, RyanAir, or some of the more questionable budget airlines, here’s a guide on how to make it through a flight without loosing your cool or stepping off the plane with high blood pressure and a death wish for the person who sat in front of you.
Packing for a budget airline is a test of your ability to defy the laws of matter in a bag smaller than a loaf of bread. Taking more than allowed will cost your first born child and last year’s paycheck, so the name of game is sort of like playing “Survivor” with your carry-on items. If it can’t prove it’s worth on the island in 30 seconds or less or takes up too many valuable resources, leave it at home.
If you’re smart, you’ll wear as many clothes as humanly possible until your shoes no longer fit because you have 36 pairs of socks on. When in doubt, add another layer. Yes, you look like a complete idiot wearing six sweaters and two pairs of leggings underneath your jeans, but it’s far better to have the plane think you’re pregnant or stress-eating than to deal with the wrath of checking in a bag.
2. Finding your gate
Finding your gate requires a special kind of athleticism. Have you ever run a 5K in 6.3 minutes? No?
WELL HOLD ON TIGHT BECAUSE THIS IS HOW LONG YOU HAVE TO GET TO YOUR PLANE ON THE OTHER END OF THE TERMINAL. Just ignore the stares of those smug British Airways passengers at Gate 1 whose airline could afford a prime location. They’re just jealous…
…who am I kidding, no one is jealous of you right now. Own it.
The chances that your plane doesn’t even have a real gate and is instead located 200 meters from some random airport door that you have to walk across the runway to are high. The chances that the flight will be rescheduled last minute or moved to a gate in another terminal 5 minutes before boarding are also high. Again, these are chances you should be willing to take.
3. Lining up
Budget airlines don’t usually board from the back of the plane to the front (or front to back). You just race for your place in line and hope to all that is good in the world that there is room for your physics-defying suitcase you packed earlier. The rules of etiquette for lining up are simple: there are none. While common sense and proper queuing may prevail in some instances (especially if you’re in a plane full of Brits), sometimes it becomes a free for all and you are left in a heap of rubble wondering how everyone who was behind you 10 minutes ago are now 3rd in line.
The “Premium” or “Plus” flyers usually have their own line and board first (which also costs extra money), but really, you’re all about to get onto a budget flight, so let’s not pretend anyone has real superiority here.
A budget airline flight is not too different from other airline flights, though if you didn’t pack your own snacks and water, you should be prepared to now hand over your second born child for the privilege. Seriously, the #1 rule is do not assume anything is free. If those oxygen masks drop, I’d be wary of consuming too much for fear of being billed later.
Depending on the plane, you should also be comfortable sitting unreasonably close to a man, woman, or child you’ve never met. This is a feature across Economy is most airlines, but budget carriers tend to pack you in even more to help them turn a profit. If you’re not looking to chat the whole ride, leave your headphones in from the very first moment. Chatty Cathy does not take kindly to you cutting her off halfway over the English Channel.
Now that the flight is coming to an end, it’s time to figure out which city you’re actually landing in. I know you bought a ticket to Copenhagen, but don’t be surprised when your pilot lands in Malmo, Sweden. “Oslo-Torp” airport is 73 miles away from Oslo, and London Stansted (a huge hub for budget airlines) is so far from central London that you might as well have just walked.