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Europe on a Shoestring


Kellie Arthur is a New Zealander living and working in London.

Any successful brand has to have synergy across all its elements. And like a textbook example from Marketing 101, the budget airlines preach this mantra. You may fly to another country for a pittance but you will be under no illusions that you are flying Air NZ.

Offers for '1p flights' or '££ off' leap out from the Ryanair and Easyjet websites. Offers seemingly too good to be true. But for airlines whose apparently main benefit is that they are the web's favourite airline or that they arrive on time, you get the feeling that they aren't telling you the whole story.

Kellie feeding her addiction

Don't get me wrong. I love the budget airlines. In fact, considering I recently booked flights to 3 different countries in one day could be indicative of an impending addiction. Whenever I think about moving back home, the thought of not being able to fly off for a weekend in another country for less than a typical night out in London, makes me reconsider. But for the novice budget traveller, there are certain things that you should be aware of.

The advertisement will tell you that you are booking a flight to a certain destination. This is in fact a blatant lie. Trieste Ronchi Dellegionari isn't actually in Trieste. Venice Treviso isn't actually in Venice. In fact none of the London airports besides Heathrow are within the M25 so technically speaking these aren't in London either. It is kind of like booking a flight from Christchurch to Auckland and then realising that the Airport is in fact called Auckland Hamilton. When you are aware of this, it is fine -you just ensure you make time to get there. But for the novice budget traveller who books a 6am flight from Glasgow Prestwick before realising that it is 45 minutes out of Glasgow and the trains don't run that early in the morning could be in a spot of bother.

There is also no need to stipulate a preference for aisle seat or try and blag your way into securing the fire exit row. Seat allocation isn't considered necessary so if you want these seats you are going to have to work for it. You get herded through security like a flock of sheep and then you run across the tarmac for a seat. In a country where people would queue for a queue, this erratic behaviour can produce beads to sweat to gather on furrowed brows. Of course, there is method in the madness. Seasoned budget travellers have strategies. You can see them assess the situation with military precision. "Today, gentlemen, we have two entry points. Here and here. There is aged female with walking stick and two children heading for the front entry. John, you are the fastest in the group. You run to the back of the plane with ample carry on luggage to secure the adjacent seats. On my count of three. 1, 2, 3.GO! GO! GO!"

Survival of the fastest

That is not to say that the seasoned traveller never gets caught out. They could be waiting at the departure gates. They could have sussed out the competition and easiest access points. And then out of the blue the departure gate changes at the last minute setting hoards of duty free laden passengers fleeing to the new gate. And don't think this will happen only once. Oh no, it is likely that the stampede of people will be seen running between two departure gates multiple times before the plane finally decides to land at one. This is always a bit concerning. I'd like to think that it is bored airline staff who are making the passengers fret for a bit of a laugh. Rather than the alternative mental image of an indecisive pilot humming and haring over which gate is preferred or worst still, a Kamikaze pilot weaving in the sky like I used to do on my Raleigh 20 in between the white markings on the road.

Once on board, the airlines' strict adherence to the budget brand essence continues. The lack of complimentary food and drink are a given. It's the little extras that really show the airlines commitment to being a budget brand. Garish polyester, unflattering uniforms, an overuse of green and blue eye shadow, the high percentage of seemingly pre-pubescent flight attendants, tatty in-flight magazines - these guys really do think of everything.

And you know, in a strange way, there is something endearing about the whole budget package. If putting up with these air travel shortcomings means I can fly to virtually any country in Europe for a fraction of what the big boys offer, then budget is all good with me. What I can't stand is when you see humourless people complaining about the service. These people need a gentle reminder of how relatively less accessible the continent was to the majority before the advent of the budget airlines. A quiet whisper in their ear about how they have just flown to another country for the equivalent of a night out at the boozer wouldn't go astray. If people like this think that in-flight food, complimentary newspapers and flight attendants with snazzy uniforms are worth the money, then put they should put their hand in their pocket and pay full price. Otherwise, I suggest they pack their lunch and a sense of humour, get their trainers on and run along the tarmac like the rest of us.


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