February 13, 2019

Cheap-o-Air In Style

How to not only survive but also enjoy traveling with low-cost airlines.

Whether it is for business or pleasure, traveling is cool. However, unless you have no restrictions on your budget, it can be a bit of a challenge. Buses are dirt cheap, but there's a moment in life when you move on — either because your time becomes more precious or you just cannot be bothered anymore, as the comfort level on these long bus journeys is more awful than not. Trains are a step up, but for the strange ways railways are operated in many countries of western Europe, low-cost planes are often cheaper than the train.
Therefore, getting on board of a budget airline is inevitable.
And while these low-costs can be a major pain too, if it is done right, it is convenient and comfortable. Here are a few tips I learned while traveling with them.

Late check-in for the best seats.

If you want to have a seat of your choice in low-cost airlines, you have to pay extras. If you don't, their algorithm will try to assign you some dreadful one, just so you'll pay them the next time. You can either get over it and survive whatever position they throw at you; or, do your check in as late as possible — at that time, most of the other passengers already checked in, so the worst seats are usually taken already — so you'll end up with a better spot, free of charge. The dream.

Recently I checked-in less than two hours before the departure, and hello: one of the best seat you can get in an economy class. My legs could be a yard longer and I'd be still OK.

Use the apps.

Not having your boarding pass ready results in an ugly fee, so you better print it in advance. But that gives you another paper to worry about, and if you don't have a printer on hand, it can be a headache to do it in a public library or so. Been there. However, nowadays, most of the airlines have an app, in which you can generate the boarding pass. If you have a smartphone, this is convenient, free, and eco-friendly.

Priority boarding is a scam.

The budget airlines are selling an opportunity to board the plane early. But let's face it, their airplanes aren't a synonym of comfort, the seats are odd, and the personal space is nonexistent. So, why would you want to get into that cramped space earlier than necessary, nevermind paying extra for it? Speaking of boarding, it brings me to...

Board late.

It's common that as soon as the gate opens, everyone rushes to stand a queue, sometimes for as long as an hour. Unless you enjoy queuing, don't do that. The seats in the plane are assigned anyway; there's literally no gain to be there before others.
Just keep seated and relax.

Wait until the last call, then board into the plane with no queue, and you won't have to sit in them small airplane seats for any longer than it is necessary.

How to luggage.

Low-costs are trying to milk money off your luggage, which scares many people off. But the truth is, going for a vacation lightweight is the way to go. The smaller luggage you have, the better the experience is, because A) you don't waste valuable vacation time waiting for your suitcase coming on the baggage carousel. B) you don't get all sweaty dragging that heavy luggage around, and C) you have fewer things to worry about.
In 2019, I spent nearly two months traveling across Europe and China with just a carry-on and I did not felt like I am missing something. I wrote an article on what I got, and how to pack lightly here.

If you really need to carry tons of stuff, go during the winter! No airline takes the weight of the clothes you wear on you, so make use of it and repack half of your suitcase into the pockets of your coat. Walking with a big jacket with T-shirts stacked in every pocket is kinda stupid, but so are all of their restrictions. And as this saves you money, in the end it's you who's the winner. Another good tip is to have a backpack rather than those suitcases with wheels, as the airport staff thinks that you put heavier things into the wheeled box than you would into a backpack, which you have to carry. I had a small, but heavy backpack many times, and they let me pass without measuring the weight of it.

The luggage limits are truly restrictive only when you are moving, but that sucks even with proper airlines, not only low-costs. I remember when I was relocating from the US to Europe, packing an equipped 2-bedroom apartment and a car into a few backpacks was one heck of an exhausting process.

Ok, then, but what to actually bring / have in an airport and on a plane?

Above Dublin in 2018. Roundtrip flights from Edinburgh for under 40 quid.

Must Haves

Airport etiquette. Airport security can be a scene from hell, but learning what is expected from you make things faster and more comfortable for you and everyone else. Please, don't be that person who go through the detector four times and always fails. "Oh I forgot, my phone is in my pocket. Oh I forgot, my metal belt is on. Oh-uh!"

An empty water bottle & a snack. Fill the bottle after the security checkpoint, and stay hydrated, while you can laugh at them companies selling bites for some ridiculous cash.

Comfy walking shoes. Many cheap flights board from gates that are miles away from the entrance, as they are cheaper to operate than those right behind the security. Moreover, budget airlines often don't use a jet bridge for boarding; instead, you need to use those portable boarding ramps. And if it's raining... I've seen an individual with high heels sliding down, and it didn't look fun. Decent shoes makes these walks a piece of cake.

A plan what to do during the flight. Use the time in the air, be productive. Talk to people, watch a movie, take a nap, take a book to read, or write your own. If you are just going to sit, doing nothing, even if the flight is as short as an hour, it will feel like an eternity. This then transitions me to:

Full batteries. So you don't board a plane, open that laptop only to realize that you have last ten minutes before it goes flat. Or that you won't land in a new country with a dead phone, so you are on your own translating and finding directions.

An extra layer. just to be safe. Sometimes, planes are saunas; sometimes, they are fridges. You can always layer down, but if you don't have a layer to put on, you might land into your vacation with a cold. And that would suck!

Earplugs. Or better: Noise-cancelling headphones. Out of all products that suppose to make your travel better, these are the top. Forget blankets and pillows. I can't even think how many times these headphones saved potentially horrendous journey into a treat.
Having control over silence and sound, yes please.

What's your tip? Let me know!

If you liked this post, I'd recommend my stories about airports, and cheap travels:


Airport Stories

travel tips

Travel Cheap, and Travel Well!

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Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Essays


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