I love the world’s no-frills airlines. You know the ones with hideous livery and brightly painted fuselages. They have zany names such as Wizz Air (Iceland), Wow Air (Hungary) and JetBlue (United States). I love them because they do what they say on the tin. They offer the lowest possible airfare in exchange for zero customer service.
Not included in the paltry price is: legroom, a friendly smile, “lunch” or . . . don’t make me laugh . . . a refund. Incidentally, I put lunch in quotes because I’m not sure what many airlines serve can be classified as a nutritional substance.
On short flights most passengers don’t mind bringing their own sandwiches or practicing leg contortionism to save a few dollars. Contortionism aside, a low-priced ticket from Fort Lauderdale to Philadelphia is something for which I would forgo a smile. These are tight economic times after all.
As for refunds, may I quote the father of the low-budget airline industry, fellow Irishman and CEO of Ryanair. “What part of no refund don’t you understand? You’re not getting a refund so (expletive) off!” Ah, that’s Michael O’Leary. The man who missed the customer service class in management school. The man who took the Southwest Airlines model and created Europe’s largest low-budget airline. The man who opened up the skies to the “great unwashed” in whose ranks I proudly include myself (although I do shower daily).
When you board a Ryanair jet the cabin crew won’t smile at you. They don’t waste time with silly things like seat allocation because they’re too busy trying to sell you stuff. Gaudy yellow advertisements cover overhead lockers and count yourself lucky if you’re not charged to use the toilet (something that was considered by the company).
Personally, I have no problem with no-frills airlines omitting customer service. There is a market for this. If you don’t like them don’t fly them. Airlines like JetBlue, Southwest and Ryanair shook up the competitive landscape and made flying affordable for all by unbundling the flying experience and making you pay for on board amenities. This is fair enough.
What is not fair are “premium” or “upscale” airlines adopting the low-budget business model and still charging premium prices. These full-service airlines pride themselves on their customer service especially on their long haul or transatlantic routes. It seems these full-service airlines have taken the whole “profit before people” paradigm to their long-haul routes.
However, leg contortionism and a hostile crew don’t really work on a seven-hour flight. Recently I was placed in a broken seat on a transatlantic flight on one such premium airline. When I asked Nigel, the flight attendant, if I could be moved he told me the flight was full and barked, “Your seat should never have been sold.” He then scoffed, “Our CEO only cares about profit.”
Oh dear. I guess Nigel won’t be promoted to the PR department anytime soon.
Anyway, due to the immobility of my seat I was forced to sit upright for an entire overnight flight. The woman in front of me reclined her seat, which meant I couldn’t fold out my tray to eat what resembled a steaming pile of dog food. Actually, I’m completely serious when I tell you that a tin of meaty Alpo would have been more appealing.
It’s especially galling when the airline positions itself as premium or upscale and charges accordingly. The airline industry can’t have it both ways. That’s just plane greedy! Either adopt a low-budget model and charge lower prices or charge more and offer decent customer service such as Virgin Atlantic has done. Premium airlines can’t have their stale cake and eat it too. Your lunch may be free on a full-service airline but you pay with the pretense of customer service and higher prices.
I guess Mae West was right; there’s no such thing as a free lunch — not in the airline industry anyway.
Lucie O’Sullivan is a freelance writer who lives in Miami.