Survive flying with discount airlines

by A.L. Shaff
Contributing writer

OK, after considering what to expect and what not to expect, a wise flier on any discount airline should still accept a few good hints from those people who have chalked up trip after trip and thousands of miles on Ryan Air and their counterparts.

These people became pros by not only surviving, but enjoying their trips with smiles.

First hint: Completely forget the “good old days” of travel by classy airlines — even the original low fare innovators such as Southwest or Trans Air  — because that service doesn’t exist anymore on any airline.

Rebecca Johnson, a Department of Defense civilian working in Baumholder, suggests that if you live more than an hour away from Frankfurt-Hahn Airport and you’ve booked an early morning flight, you should go up to Hahn the night before and book a room in the village adjacent to the airport. 

The room allows you extra benefits, such as parking at the hotel lot for only €3 per day instead of the seven or eight in airport parking.

Then, you get a good night’s sleep instead of driving the winding roads to Hahn in the dark the night before while rushed and tired. The bonus comes the next morning when the hotel van drops you at the terminal for free. It will also pick you up upon your return.

This plan ups the cost of the trip a few bucks, but also ups the enjoyment beyond cost.

Some more good hints: Since it’s a no assigned seats situation, go for priority seating. Then get to the gate early and grab seats near the front of the priority seating.

Alternate between you and a partner to hold that spot because once the non-priority people are allowed to go through a gate, it’s a race to the plane (not designed for the handicapped or strollers). At this point, heavy carry-ons become strategic liabilities.

Most important hint you’ll ever hear:  Never forget to confirm the day before flying, to print out a boarding pass, and to arrive at the airport with the confirmation and boarding pass in hand.

Checking in at the airport without a confirmation can cost as much as €40 extra.
Oh, and by the way, always check fares on Tuesday around midnight or early Wednesday when the airlines post new fares.

As planes fill, fares go up. Don’t plan to fly on Friday or Sunday if possible because that’s when every other traveler wants to get out of town or to return for work.
Plan a month in advance and monitor the prices, then be ready to pounce on the perfect fare, even if it’s to an alternate paradise you’ve always wanted to visit.  Greece can wait, but his month it’s Morocco!

What to expect, what not to
Surviving a flight on a discount airline such as Ryan Air is possible, and can actually prove quite enjoyable. The survival and the enjoyment depends on knowing what to expect and what not to expect, then practicing a few necessary strategies and following sound survival tips.

Since most American military members vacationing in Europe fly out of Frankfurt-Hahn Airport using Ryan Air, this article deals almost exclusively with their methods of operation as a model for similar discount airlines.

Ryan Air flies more international passengers in the world, so they set the patterns that other discount airlines (and now many big companies) follow, which involves both the bad and the good.

First, a vacationer needs to know what to expect, which can warrant praise or warn about real negatives (not always Ryan Air’s fault):

» Above all, expect bargain service for bargain prices. Be realistic about why the ticket costs so little. This ain’t your father’s Pan Am or American Airlines of the glorious ’70s!

» Expect that the online quoted ticket price indicates only a starting cost because the nickel and dime charges to complete a booking will mount quickly. 

» On a more positive note, expect to get off the ground on time, and expect to arrive on time, or even early. Ryan Air brags about its over 90 percent on-time arrival.  After all, they make their money by keeping their planes in the air with quick turn-arounds at both ends of the trip.

» Expect an entire fleet of newer, smaller, cleaner and well-maintained planes.

» If you don’t follow posted and online airlines procedures, expect to pay extra.
For example, if your baggage weighs too much, expect to pay heavily for every extra kilo, every extra pound! This rule applies for both carry-ons and for checked baggage. Example: A student packed his carry-on so full that it wouldn’t fit into the metal measuring  frame. So, he pounded and stomped on it until it dropped into the frame. Then, it wouldn’t come out. Eventually, he unpacked enough to lift it out, then paid €35 to check the stuffed backpack. Goodbye, discount flight. Expect rudeness and a sense of rushed agitation from some fellow passengers, especially those versed in discount travel strategies. About the only defense involves a willingness to sluff off such conduct as the human parade of takers and givers.
So, with good planning and a working knowledge of how bargain airlines actually make their money through added-on costs, the smart American avoids hassles and sweat while smiling through the short flight to a Greek isle, a visit to the Kasbah in Morocco or a weekend of plays in London.

What not to expect on a discount flight counts as much as what you can expect. With a little fore-knowledge, the wise traveler adopts an attitude of “let it flow” and watches as the others around blow their cool and stress out.

» Don’t expect your destination airport to be near your destination. Ryan Air and other discount airlines often use old American and NATO military bases or regional airports that often leave a passenger 50 miles or more from the final destination. For example, Ryan Air flies to Treviso, which still leaves a passenger 50 miles short of Venice. Even Frankfurt-Hahn, an old U.S. Air Force fighter base north of Baumholder, is 125 kilometers away from Frankfurt, thus requiring additional costs for a bus or shuttle to the big city.

» Don’t expect service from the airline cabin crew. Their jobs involve herding passengers onto and off of the plane quickly, counting noses, saying no and selling, selling, selling. On every flight, passengers get the opportunity to buy smokeless cigarettes, lottery tickets, reheated lunches, drinks, duty-free perfume and a variety of Ryan Air logo clothing.

» Don’t expect to carry a number of small bags, cameras and a purse dangling from your shoulders.  One carry-on means one carry-on. So, a camera, a purse, a roll-on bag, or even a briefcase counts as the one allowed bag on the plane. Exceptions to their rules cause them problems, so expect no exceptions.

» Don’t expect anyone to let you slide on the rules because you are military or you possess the most beautiful smile in the universe. The company makes money by flying light to save fuel costs, so they’ll enforce the rules. So, if you fly heavy, Ryan Air makes you pay for that extra fuel. 

Above all, stay amused at the human race. After all, they are the actors playing the roles in your travel stories of the future.