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Monday, 29 July, 2002, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
The passengers are revolting
A sit-in protest on a disrupted no-frills flight has been hailed as a victory for consumer power. But as budget carriers focus on the bottom line, is there any chance that passengers' lot will improve?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that those who pay a tenner for a flight will miss out on a few frills. No in-flight meal or movie? No problem.
Over the weekend more than 130 passengers staged a sit-in on an Easyjet flight in Nice. Already strapped in and ready for take-off, they had taken exception to being asked to make way for another group who had been stuck at the airport for five hours.
Both flights eventually took off, and the protesters landed at Luton airport in the early hours of Monday morning.
In order to keep costs low, budget airlines fly to tight schedules - thus a missed take-off or landing slot means a long wait - and have cut right back on extras, such as refunds when flights are delayed.
If a refund is in the offing, it is usually only after a flight has been severely disrupted - four hours at the very least - and there's little chance of a complimentary coffee.
And even if everything goes to plan, travellers can expect bottlenecks, overcrowding and frayed tempers at the airport. With some airlines not allocating seats on check-in, passengers can be tempted to stage an unseemly stampede in their efforts to bag a spot.
Andy Pietrasik, the Guardian newspaper's acting travel editor, says holiday hassles are prompting once-reticent Britons to speak up when services are not up-to-scratch.
However, some of those involved in the sit-in had paid hundreds of pounds to fly from Nice to Luton, a fare many holidaymakers will match this summer when booking with the budget carriers.
Not only do the cheap fares on each flight get snapped up fast, only those flying mid-week have much hope of a bargain flight.
A better deal awaits?
Pietrasik expects the low-cost carriers will eventually agree to a passenger charter to offer customers a better service, especially as this sector of the market is booming.
BBC News Online reader Paolo complains that now Ryanair has a monopoly on direct flights to Turin, a weekend return ticket has tripled in price.
And Lawrence, a British expat living in Frankfurt, says not only have the no-frills airlines ratcheted up their prices as routes get more popular, passengers are stung for extra charges for overweight bags or checking in late.
"It's now quite easy to get BA or BMI weekend flights that are much cheaper than Ryanair, with the extra convenience of flying to and from the main city airports," he says.
Do you feel you get value for money from low-cost airlines? Let us have your views, using the form below.
Yesterday, a perfect 2 hr Ryanair flight from Stockholm to Stanstead, followed by 1hr 50 mins waiting for luggage (apparently due to staff shortages). I have had other long (1 hr+) delays getting baggage at Stanstead although I've never had any other problems with Ryanair's flights.
I had the misfortune to endure a 8-hour Glasgow to Luton Easyjet flight. Most of this time was spent sitting on the runway at Liverpool due to bad weather. Although the delay wasn't Easyjet's fault, we were not allowed off the hot and cramped plane and were offered nothing to eat or drink.
My brothers recently had to wait nearly two hours for their bags at Stansted. In response to their request for the train fare to London (they had missed the connecting trains), Ryanair said that as they were a low fares airline they couldn't afford to pay compensation.
After working 10 years in the travel industry I can only hope that the Brits don't begin to complain more than they do already. Believe me, British travellers are in no way reticent. When a delay is due to technical problems passengers should celebrate the fact that they did not take off.
I use Easyjet regularly from Edinburgh to Luton and Amsterdam, and the service is as good as the "Big Boys". And on short flights who needs free coffee and food? I have never had a serious delay and have even arrived in Luton half an hour early.
I sometimes fly Southwest in the US, which is the father of all these discount airlines. It's much cheaper, but you often have to fly at bad times and land at airports further from the city. If you want first-class treatment, expect to pay first-class prices.
I recently flew with Go and was horrified at the state of the plane. It hadn't been cleaned or checked! Being one of the few people who watch the safety demonstration, I checked under my seat and found there was no life jacket. I told a flight attendant, who came back with spare jacket, but what if I hadn't checked and we'd had an emergency?
The Ryanair flight to Copenhagen very convenient for me as it actually flies to Malmo in Sweden. But the flight sometimes works out more expensive due to travel at the UK end from Stansted. Apart from the Malmo flight, the budget airlines rarely come up with the goods when I have compared costs.
I recently was denied my right to board a Ryanair flight back from Brussels after check-in staff closed the desk early. No explanation was offered nor any apology and despite two letters I have not been offered any compensation.
I fly regularly with Easyjet between Edinburgh and Luton and have two comments:
I used to travel frequently with Easyjet between Gatwick and Amsterdam. One evening the plane developed landing gear problems (while in the air!) - we were told to fear the worst, and an hour later made an emergency landing. Three days after this terrifying ordeal I received a letter saying sorry. There was no mention of a refund or any form of compensation. Due to the lack of sympathy I wrote three e-mails and one letter to Easyjet and got nothing back.
Recently was flying to Hamburg, although it turned out that the airport Ryanair took us to was 90kms away and an 80 euro taxi.
These airlines give the chance to people who previously couldn't afford foreign travel the opportunity to do so. And as for Matt, perhaps he ought to send a letter of thanks to the airline and pilot for getting him safely on the ground. I would rather be delayed and know that I am getting on a plane that is safe, taking off in a time slot that is adequate, than have my safety compromised by unruly, ungrateful passengers forcing airlines to rush. My message to all airlines and their employees is you take all the time you need to get me home safely. I've brought a book and a bottle of water and I'll be waiting over there...
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