Posts Tagged ‘europe travel’

Budget European airlines- not so bad!

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

Voyage in May-June 2008

British Airways- LGW (London Gatwick)-Pisa 43GBP

Vueling- Venice-Madrid 58E, 4.50E for bag

Spanair- Madrid-Palma Mallorca 34E

Air Europa Palma-Paris (via Madrid) 93E

Ryanair Paris-Shannon, Ireland

Aer Lingus Dublin-London 34E, 6E for 1 bag

Seeing how cheap it was to fly these routes, I have to say I had braced myself for the worst. I was expecting to lose my bag, be treated rudely, and stand in long lines and experience delays.

That being said, British Airways was the only one to lose my bag (and I am pretty sure they lost it in Atlanta, which has possibly the most arcane int’l baggage system imaginable). While others charged for a bag, it still seemed like a bargain on most flights. I had contemplated trying to do the whole trip with one carry-on, but over 5 weeks? It might have worked had I not bought any souvenirs or brought any guidebooks. Plus, the whole liquids thing just makes that awfully complicated.

To find these flights, I used airninja.com which lets you know which carriers fly which routes. For many of these routes there were few options, which made shopping a lot simpler. On a few websites, the airlines seemed to have problems processing my US credit card, so I ended up using my debit card from my credit union. This often resulted in being cheaper than using a credit card, as a few airlines charged for that privledge as well. My credit union charged very low fees for these transactions, usually under $2.

Kurt Masur in airport security

Kurt Masur in airport security

 

 

Vueling (pron. “Well-ing”) from Venice– Checking in was very slow, but orderly. (Very cute Italian guy working the counter.) Security line was also slow, but I was amused by the fact that conductor Kurt Masur was also in line- I had seen him conduct 2 nights before. Once in the terminal, food options were few, although things were also under construction. However, I did find a great salad, complete with little packets of oil, vinegar and breadsticks. Another long queue to get on the plane, apparently in Italy and Spain they don’t subscribe to the whole, “Now boarding rows….” system. I got a lot of reading done in airport lines this trip! The Vueling plane was the most cramped of all my flights, and I’m only 5’4″ so if I’m cramped, I can’t imagine a tall person’s discomfort. But it was a short flight. Announcements and in-flight mag were in Spanish and English. Seats seemed really worn, although the plane itself (Airbus 320) looked quite new. They have an agreement with MTV, so some of their planes are giant advertisements for that, painted with crazy rock-n-roll designs. Flight was on-time, and bags arrived with me. I would fly with them again, but not for too long of a flight.

Venice airport salad

Venice airport salad

 

 

Spanair from Madrid– Madrid airport is quite nice, especially the new terminal 4 built for the Olympics bid. However, it is a long walk, and a local told me they lose bags a lot from that terminal because the conveyor belts are so long. More food options than Venice, although in terminal 2 I was having trouble finding a newsstand. The plane was brand new, full of people, not too roomy, but again- a very short flight.

Air Europa from Mallorca– I had a good experience with Air Europa. The woman working at the counter told me (this was all in Spanish, which I haven’t studied since high school, but seemed to understand fine) that France doesn’t like e-tickets, so she would have to call someone to get a real ticket issued. She smiled and explained clearly, and was very friendly. She had me step to the side and helped others while I waited (I had seen other clerks in other airports not bother to help others while waiting for a supervisor) and every few minutes she would update me. I only waited about 10 minutes, and was being treated well, so it didn’t seem so bad. Once I got on the plane, I spilled some soda, and a stewardess magically appeared with napkins. While the flight was pretty full, I had a row of 3 seats to myself in the back of the plane. There was some TV entertainment available if you had headphones. The second leg of my flight (Madrid-Paris) was an Air France codeshare, so I was actually served food without paying! Both airlines offered free newspapers as you boarded (no English, but I did glance through a Spanish one)

The Air Europa staff definitely gets my award for friendliest and most helpful staff. They definitely have a more American style of customer service.

Ryanair from Paris Beauvais– Beauvais airport is really cute and in the middle of nowhere- it reminded me of Long Beach airport in Los Angeles. Getting to it was way more complicated than anywhere else. I took the metro to the spot where Ryanair has buses to take you to the airport. It’s one of those metro stops at a giant roundabout, where it’s really hard to cross the street. I ended up following 2 Irish ladies who had been there before and knew where the bus was. Then getting on the bus was hard too- the drivers were very terse, and kept pointing and giving bad directions, and some angry American girl was making it even worse. (BUY YOUR TICKET AT THE OFFICE NEXT TO THE BUSES.) Once on the full bus, it was a comfortable hour drive to the airport though. At the counter, the staff was helpful and spoke good English. They have strict weight limits, and my checked bag was a bit over the limit. He suggested I relocate a few things to my carry on, which was nice of him. They had a clearly posted weight limit for carry-ons too, but he only asked to see it, and didn’t weigh my backpack. Ryanair doesn’t assign seats, so you can pay extra to get on first, but people seemed well behaved, I don’t think it was worth it, unless you were worried about children, or are really picky about your seats.

Aer Lingus from Dublin– Dublin airport was very busy at 11am on a Wednesday! But service was very friendly, and I had a row to myself! Like all the airlines, they made announcements in English, but a thick Dublin accent can make you wonder if you really know your own language! This was another short, easy flight, no bag problems.

Really the worst airline experience was transferring from British Airways to American in Atlanta. You have to retrieve your bags at baggage claim twice, go through security twice– definitely allow a LONG connection time, and volunteer to check-in again with the new airline when you get to Atlanta in either direction. And wear those slip on shoes people!