7 ways to improve your low-cost flight experience

Apr 19, 2020

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If you’ve managed to avoid flying a low-cost airline then you’ve done very, very well. Not only are airlines such as Ryanair often the cheapest options, but sometimes a low-cost airline is the only way to fly direct from the UK to certain destinations. So, whether you actually don’t mind flying low-cost because you just need to get from A to B, or you despise them so much that you’d rather pay more to fly a full-service carrier, there are some ways you can improve your flying experience.

1. Use an Airport Lounge

Believe it or not, lounges are for all — not just those passengers flying in business class, first class or passengers with elite status. However, the quality of lounges depends greatly on the airport you’re flying from and the type of lounge you find yourself in. Before you travel, research the lounges that are available at your airport.

Let’s use London Stansted (STN) as an example. The Escape Lounge is the only lounge in the airport and entry requirements are either paying $31 for guaranteed one-time access or using a lounge membership card like Priority Pass or Dragon Pass. As these membership cards do not guarantee access, you could arrive at the airport a little earlier than usual for a better chance of getting in — especially at peak times. Spending time relaxing in a lounge and having some decent food is a certainly a great alternative to paying for overpriced and often subpar airport food.

2. Pay for Seat Selection

Paying for a seat can be an annoying additional extra cost when flying, especially when flying with a family or in a group. Some full-service carriers now even charge for seat selection. It could make sense to pay for a seat on your low-cost flight rather than being allocated a seat at random, as it will most definitely make your journey more comfortable.

The two main factors to consider are the proximity to the front and back of the plane, as low-cost airlines tend to board and deplane via both the front and the back. The closer you are to the doors, the quicker you can leave the plane once you’ve landed. Then there’s the issue of legroom. If you’re tall, then paying for an extra legroom seat will make a huge difference.

Across the airlines, prices vary from $3 to $38. When deciding which seat to pay for, consider the amount that you paid for the ticket originally and whether or not the additional seat cost would add sufficient improvement to your journey. For example, if your flight to Berlin was $31, paying $38 for a seat on top of that would be a lot to pay — especially for such short flight.

EasyJet seating charges.
Ryanair seating charges.

Keep in mind that if you’re traveling as a family, some of the low-cost carriers offer preferred seat selection methods where you’ll be seated together without having to pay extra. Do your research to make sure you’re not overpaying for a benefit you’d otherwise get for free.

3. Use Fast Track Airport Security

Some airports, like London Gatwick (LGW), have fast track lanes where you can pay a little extra to be able to beat the queues at security on departure and also at customs on arrival. Depending on the time of day, this can save you significant time, especially in the peak summer months when airports are more crowded than usual. It can cost as little as $6 per person — a small price to pay for a more relaxing airport experience.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28: Border Force check the passports of passengers arriving at Gatwick Airport on May 28, 2014 in London, England. Border Force is the law enforcement command within the Home Office responsible for the security of the UK border by enforcing immigration and customs controls on people and goods entering the UK. Border Force officers work at 140 sea and airports across the UK and overseas. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
(Photo courtesy Getty Images)

4. Arrange Your Onward Travel Before You Arrive at Your Destination

Low-cost airlines can sometimes lead passengers slightly astray when advertising the cities that they fly to. They often fly to secondary airports, as they offer cheaper slots than flying into big hub airports like Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG), Stockholm Arlanda (ARN) and Oslo Gardermoen (OSL). These three cities are great examples, as they all have at least one secondary airport at on average around 60 miles away from the city itself.

Let’s use Paris as the example. The main airports are Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Orly (ORY), which are connected to each other and the city itself by the city’s urban rail network — the RER. The third airport is Beauvais (BVA), which is situated around 60 miles away from the center of Paris and handles all of the Ryanair flights for the city. The journey itself takes around 80 minutes and includes a 15-minute ride to the station from the airport (~$16) and then a $11 train to Paris Gare du Nord station. In this instance, it might be worth checking to see whether EasyJet flies from your local airport to one of Paris’ other airports. If you value the time and money you would save by not having to journey from Beauvais to the city over the potential higher price of another ticket, then this could make your low-cost experience a lot better.

5. Buy Snacks Before the Airport

If you decide not to indulge in an airport lounge, then this might be something you should consider. Save yourself some money and pop to your local supermarket and buy snacks for your flight that will fit into your hand luggage.

Don’t worry about having issues taking snacks like sandwiches, fruit or anything dry and packaged through with you. Be sure you eat whatever you decide to take with you on the plane, as some countries have tight restrictions as to what can be brought in from abroad. Then when you get on board, you won’t have to wait for the cart to arrive at your seat to then be subjected to subpar food.

6. Check the Airline’s Baggage Policy

I’ve heard countless stories of people being held at the check-in desk or at the gate about to board a flight and being told that their bag is too big, meaning a last-minute charge for it to be placed in the hold. Unexpected charges like this are not great at either the start or end of your holiday. Luckily, it can be avoided — it just means doing a bit of research about the size and weight of carry-on luggage before you fly. To help you with this, TPG contributor Lori Zaino has put together a low-cost airline comparison for you to check out before your next flight. And if you’re stuck with what you should be bringing, check out this guide for packing hacks when you’re flying with a low-cost carrier.

7. Download Your Own Entertainment

One good thing about this online world we live in is that there is so much entertainment at our fingertips. Use this to your advantage and download the next episode of your favorite series or a couple of films if you know you’re about to take a low-cost flight. Low-cost airlines haven’t taken away tray tables (yet), so maybe get yourself a decent case for your device that will keep it propped up and then you’ll never be bored on a flight again.

Image courtesy of United.
(Photo courtesy of United)

Bottom Line

Flying with a low-cost carrier doesn’t mean you have to have a terrible experience. All it takes a little bit of forward planning and research about your departure airport, the airline and the airport you will be arriving at. Who knows, you might even consider booking low-cost for your next trip rather than on a full-service carrier.

Feature photo by aviation-images.com/UIG via Getty Images.

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