BUDGET AIRLINE 101
Over the past several years I have become equipped with the in's and out's of finding cheap flights and dealing with budget airlines. Sleeping on airport floors, 1 am buses and those horrid 6am flights, it all becomes second nature when you're a backpacker. Forking out £15 to get from one side of Europe to the other is an absolute dream, and if that means missing out on a few hours of rest, I'm okay with that. However, when you're paying next to nothing for a flight don't expect the lavish red carpet upon arrival.
1. THE SEATS ARE SMALL
If you think normal plane tickets are a struggle to fit in, just you wait. Budget airlines creates seats just big enough for a child which makes it a nice, tight squeeze to fit your bum into. Any longer than an hour long flight is a struggle, so mentally prepare to be uncomfortable. (I'd recommend if you're planning on sleeping to definitely bring some kind of neck pillow (or a boyfriend will do) to make your journey slightly more bearable.
2. FOOD IS A LUXURY
I always feel like a child in a lolly shop when I see my dietary requirement meal being carried towards me by the air hostess, unfortunately food is a luxury option backpackers cannot afford on budget airlines. Meals are not included and while they offer food to buy during the flight, I wouldn't recommend snacking on it. Stale sandwiches and sausage rolls which look like they've been processed a dozen times over, I'll give it a miss. Plus you'll have to fork out a second mortgage to pay for the overpriced snacks. Save your hunger (and money) for the delicious Italian pizzas when you land or bring your own snacks, you'll be thankful.
3. BEING ON TIME ISN'T AN OPTION
Budget airlines run a tight ship and being on time will mean you've not only got time for a quick snack before hand, but more importantly it means you won't miss your departure. Throughout the day these companies go through dozens of flights, meaning once the check in is closed that's it. Being conscious on how long it will take for you to get to the airport is important and you should be aware of exactly when check in opens and closes to avoid the worst.
4. DON'T EXPECT THE AIRLINE TO BE ON TIME
While you get rushed about left, right and centre to make it to the gate for the correct boarding time, the same rules unfortunately don't apply to budget airlines. There have been copious times where I've had to wait long past the departure time to even get on the plane (my flights have been delayed up to seven hours, thanks Ryanair) so prepare yourself to stand around waiting. Budget airlines play by their own rules, and there's no point getting angry because it slows the process down even more, just bask in the amazing airport scenery (sarcasm).
5. PACK LIGHT
When it comes to the weight limit of your baggage, budget airlines will have no problem denying your bag if it's too heavy. Make sure when you're packing you know exactly what you are packing and to make sure you know the weight limit you have paid for. They are even quite strict on your hand luggage and it's size, so double check the regulations on the size you can bring, otherwise you'll be forced to repack all your things on the airport floor, or have to pay extra for a larger allowance (both are just annoying situations).
6. HAVE YOUR TRAVEL DOCUMENTS READY
To save yourself the frustration of long queues and listening to the check in lady squabble with the passenger in front of you about baggage allowance, having all your travel documents ready is a must do. Check in online prior to arriving at the airport and if you can print it out. If you've fit all your clothes in to your carry on then you can even skip right past the line and head straight through to security!
7. FIRST IN FIRST SERVED
Budget airlines will charge you if you don't check in before arriving to the airport (approx 2 hours before departure), which means the longer you wait generally the
It's survival of the fittest when you're at the bottom. When you haven't prebooked your seats or haven't had time to check in online it's game on to not get a terrible seat. Try and line up as close to the front of the queue and being authoritative when picking a seat, fluffing about means you'll probably end up holding everyone else up or even worse, ending up in the middle seat next to strangers.
8. BE PREPARED FOR HIDDEN COSTS
When booking your flight be incredibly careful of extra costs they will add on to the initial face price. Baggage, priority boarding, even more money for choosing your seat, they'll try and catch you out with all of it. The most you should ever need is extra baggage if you've got your travel backpack, but for weekend or even week long trips you can usually get away with cramming it all into a large carry on.
9. CHECK THE PRICE OF RETURN FLIGHTS
If you receive Ryanair emails like me, you'll be drooling over their incredible £10 fares to all around (the same goes for pretty much every budget airline). However, be careful. It's the perfect marketing strategy to get you hooked on the idea of your trip away, later to find out the return is 5 times the price. It's unlikely, if ever, that you'll find a return flight for as low as the initial one way. Usually you can find return flights for as cheap as £40 if you're planning a week away, but other than that you may be left paying an excessive round trip if you're not careful.
10. BRING YOUR OWN ENTERTAINMENT
Unfortunately, budget airlines haven't graced us with the luxury of in flight entertainment (some play movies from the overhead, but unlikely) so bringing your own ways to entertain yourself is a must. Music, laptop, notepad and pen, cards, a book, it makes the time go a lot faster (and makes you forget about the uncomfortable seats).
11. BE PREPARED FOR THE EARLY MORNING FLIGHTS
No one wants to get on the early morning flights, that's why they are the cheapest. As seasoned backpackers, we know every little penny counts, therefore we have to take one for the team and go on those horrid early morning flights. That means waking up ridiculously early, sleeping on the airport floor (I've done this it's not the worst experience ever, except for getting followed around the airport by a strange Lithuanian man), or just not sleeping. All in all you're not going to get the best sleep but think about, it's an extra full day in your destination. Now that's a good reason to wake up early.