Budget Airlines – how it all started

Budget airlines, some of which are much maligned, have opened up the world to us, making it much more possible for us to travel to every corner of the globe. Here’s a quick history of no-frills airlines:

These days it’s hard to imagine a world without budget airlines. Whether it’s a 24-hour business trip or an escape to a city for a few days, the budget airlines are for the most part, everyone’s saviour, if not always our best friend.

Plagued in recent years by bad press about poor customer services, expensive (and sometimes compulsory) add-on services and employee disputes, budget airlines have come under fire from the media and traveller.

However, have you ever wondered how it all started? Let’s take a look back down memory lane to see where it all began with two of the biggest names in low cost air travel.

Back in 1984, Ryanair was renowned for their customer services – yes, really! If a flight was delayed, customers would be given complimentary refreshments. However, as a result of its focus on customer service, the airline wasn’t making any money; in fact it was losing millions. So its founder, Tony Ryan, brought accountant, Michael O’Leary, into a somewhat troubleshooting role. O’Leary’s initial advice was to shut the airline down before it went bust. However, Ryan insisted that O’Leary look at other airlines’ business models that were making money.

O’Leary set off to America to look at operations at Southwest Airlines, and headed back with advice on what was to become the future of Ryanair – fast turnaround flights, at regional (and cheaper) airports, with no frills attached – basic flying at a cheap price. Even in-flight meals were axed, with snacks available for a revenue-generating charge instead.

Today, Ryanair has grown to become one of the pioneering founders of cheaper air travel. However, after much upset with staff and customers, the airline is currently undergoing a review of the amount of ‘frills’ it’s taken away, with a view to actually reintroducing them, as passenger numbers decline and profits fall. O’Leary, the airline’s current Chief Executive Officer, is on a charm offensive to turn the fortunes of the once leading airline around.

Ten years later, in ‘flies’ Stellios Haji-Ioannou, with his own answer to a budget, no-frills carrier – easyJet. With no experience in the aviation industry, he was funded by his shipping tycoon father, and re-wrote many rules on air travel, however he used Southwest Airlines as his inspiration.

To start, he cut out the travel agent and got passengers to book directly with the airline. What’s more, in a bold move, not initially supported by Stellios, the airline was the first to trial direct online bookings.

As it grew and grew, it set up bases in 23 European countries, its largest being at Gatwick Airport.

easyJet benefitted greatly by the TV show, Airline, which was a fly-on-the-wall documentary of the airline’s staff and operations at its Luton Airport base – the ultimate PR coverage, as viewers found a love for airline, but mostly the employees.

Over the last few years the airline has shifted its focus on key markets through business travellers and has increased its holiday offerings as short breaks become hugely popular with travellers.

As a result of the huge successes of budget airlines, such as Ryanair and easyJet, many other airlines have shifted their focus. Monarch Airlines introduced a new business model some years ago, focussing on cheaper flights to key city-break, business and sunshine destinations. BA even moved into offering cheaper ‘no frill’ fares on key European routes. Flybe, bmi and bmibaby also followed suit by entering the market place with cheaper, no frills air travel.

Budget Airlines – the saviours of summer holidays?

Budget Airlines, those “jackals” of the travel industry which more often than not are damned for “penny pinching and price gouging” are now being praised by one tour operator for saving this summer’s holiday season.

Said Laurence Hicks, Director of tour operator and holiday rentals company CLC Leisure, “In the face of a double dip recession it looks like 2012 is going to be a bumper year for holidays abroad. Much of the credit must go to the budget airlines for making sure that holidays to the popular sunshine destinations remain affordable and accessible.”

His comments come on the back of figures from Easy Jet which reported that passenger numbers increased by 10.9% to 16 million in the three months to the end of June driven by demand for holidays to the top three beach destinations of Malaga, Alicante and Faro. Meanwhile, Ryanair’s latest figures show a fall in profits primarily due to keeping fares down while fuel prices have increased by 27 percent.

“Budget airlines have also helped keep the lid on scheduled and charter air fares,” continued Hicks. “Sales figures across the board have confounded the doom merchants who were predicting a staycation summer. The wet weather and favourable exchange rates have helped but what has become a bumper summer for holidays abroad would not have happened without affordable air travel.”

Have budget airlines saved the summer holidays, or, with all the extras they add on, are they just as expensive as traditional, full-service airlines?

Airport panic buying costs £395 million a year

As if holidays aren’t expensive enough, it seems we Brits are increasing the cost of our holidays by spending an estimated £395 million a year on last-minute “essentials” at the airport before boarding our flights.

In a survey conducted for Virgin Atlantic’s 747 In-Flight Entertainment Development Team researchers found that 90% of British travellers hit panic mode as soon as they arrive in the departures lounge and purchase around 12 items, including food and drink supplies and gadgets for children.

The survey identified the top ten must-have flight essentials are:

  1. Books and magazines – 32%
  2. Bottled water and other soft drinks – 28%
  3. Snacks -14%
  4. Tech gadgets for kids – 7%
  5. Ear plugs – 3%
  6. Flight socks – 3%
  7. Toiletries – 3%
  8. Tech gadgets for adults – 2%
  9. Flight pillow – 1%
  10. Back support cushion- 1%
    Other – 6%

While some of these purchases are unavoidable, such as drinks and snacks, how many of these are unnecessary extras that we really don’t need?

Heathrow helps children pinpoint holiday destinations

According to research, our children are turning into a bunch of globe trekkers with almost 78 percent of children surveyed having travelled abroad.

The study, which was conducted on behalf of Heathrow Airport, surveyed 1,000 children between the ages of six and ten and found that by the age of ten most children have been abroad five times.

However, in spite of this amount of travel, it doesn’t seem to be help them with their geography. The survey’s amazing findings revealed that, although 78% have been abroad, 12% of those surveyed couldn’t pinpoint the UK on a map of the world, 41% didn’t know the UK was in Europe and 42% didn’t know where the USA was.

The most easily identifiable countries were: Australia with 78% pinpointing it on the map and Russia, 73%.

Heathrow is aiming to redress this lack of knowledge by installing giant globes in each of its terminals this Easter, including a giant 10’ globe in Terminal 5 departures, to help its younger passengers learn more about the world around them and make their journeys better.

Airport staff will also hand out 20,000 maps to young travellers, adding to their excitement about the destinations ahead and helping them to understand more about different cultures and geographical locations across the world.

Flying this Christmas – tips to avoid hassle and reduce queuing

If the recent snow has got you thinking about escaping the worst of the weather, or if you’re taking a domestic flight to visit family and friends this Christmas, here are some tips that will help you reduce the hassle of flying this festive season.

If you haven’t booked your flight yet, get on and do it. If you can avoid the busiest days – traditionally just before Christmas and 27 and 28 December, this will reduce your queuing times and the airport terminals will be less busy.

Whatever day you’re flying, expect queues and be prepared. Do as much as possible before you set off for the airport:

Check-in online

Most airlines allow you to check-in online by printing off your own boarding passes, or having your boarding pass sent to your mobile phone. Printing on your own boarding pass will save you queuing at the terminal – you only have to drop off your baggage, if you are travelling with checked-in luggage.

Travel with hand luggage only

Travelling with hand luggage only will help you breeze through the airport when you’re plane lands, no queuing at the baggage carousel wondering if your suitcase made it on the plane.

Arrive early

Because there’s going to be more people flying, you should expect to encounter queues at check-in and also passing through security. To ensure you have plenty of time, arrive early – not too early – but do allow extra time for queuing.

Hand luggage

Don’t forget the liquids in hand luggage rules – no liquids in containers larger than 100ml. If you are carrying presents in your hand luggage, carry them unwrapped as they could be subjected to checks at security.

Don’t carry party poppers, either in your hand luggage or checked-in luggage. These fun, seemingly harmless party accessories are actually explosive items and as such are banned from aircraft.

There are also restrictions on the carriage of Christmas crackers – so if you plan to carry some check with your airline and airport before travel.

Travelling to the airport

Plan your journey to the airport in advance allowing extra time – not only will the airports be busier at this time of year, so will the roads. For a list of route planners and further tips check here.

If you’re planning to travel by taxi, book it in advance; don’t wait until the morning of travel to book it.

Public transport timetables change over the festive period, sometimes a limited service is operated at weekends and bank holidays so check in advance.

Weather disruptions

Heavy snow is currently affecting the whole of the UK. If this continues over the Christmas period, there will likely be disruption to flights and transportation to the airports. Should your area be affected you should check with your airline in prior to travelling to the airport.

While the airport operators are responsible for the day-to-day running of the airports, ultimate responsibility for your flight rests with your airline so you should contact your airline for an up-to-date status of your flight. Check your airline’s website for details – you could try phoning, but lines are likely to be very busy. Alternatively, try twitter, many of the airlines, and airports, are on twitter – follow them and send them a direct message for up-to-date information.

Air Passenger Duty set to rise on 1 November 2010

The cost of Air Passenger Duty (APD) is set to rise again on 1 November 2010.

This extremely unpopular tax on air travel was introduced in 1994 and currently generates in the region of £2 billion for the Government.

Two years’ ago, the tax had two rates: Reduced Rates (for economy seats) and Standard Rates (premium seats including business class) and was levied according to destination, European or the rest of the world. The reduced rate was £10 for European destinations and £40 for all other destinations, Standard rate was £20 and £80.

In November 2009, four geographical bands were introduced based on the distance from London with rates starting at £11 for flights to Europe – Premium seats are charged at double the reduced rates.

Now, these rates are set to increase again on 1 November – the new fees are set out below:

  • Band A – flights to Europe £12
  • Band B – flights of up to 4,000 miles £60
  • Band C – flights to the Caribbean £75
  • Band D – flights to Australia and New Zealand £85

For Premium seats the charges are double at:

  • Band A – flights to Europe £24
  • Band B – flights of up to 4,000 miles £120
  • Band C – flights to the Caribbean £150
  • Band D – flights to Australia and New Zealand £170

British Airways strike: expanded flight schedule announced

British Airways has announced its flight schedule for the next strike period – an expanded schedule due to an increase in non-striking cabin crew staff.

During the next strike period of 27 – 30 March the airline will operate:

  • All flights to and from London City Airport
  • All flights to and from Gatwick Airport
  • At Heathrow: up to 55 % of BA’s shorthaul and 70% of BA’s longhaul flights will operate

All flights operated by BA subsidiary, franchise, alliance and codeshare partners will operate as normal

For full information, updated details of flight operation and to check the status of your flight click here.

Airline baggage rules: check before you fly

If you are flying this year, don’t forget to check what your baggage entitlement is. Failure to do so could resort in you facing expensive excess baggage fees at the airport – as much as £20 per kilo in some cases – or having to pay to check-in your hand luggage because it’s too big or too heavy.

Airlines set their own rules with regard to baggage allowances – sizes of baggage and weight limits are not set by the airport and there is no cross-the-board limits amongst the airlines. Don’t assume that what is acceptable by one airline will be acceptable by another. Even if you are flying with your usual airline, don’t automatically think that last year’s weight limit is going to be the same this year. Always check.

If you are booking your flights online, your flight confirmation should state your baggage entitlement – that’s if you have booked to take a suitcase and your hand baggage limits. Most of the low-cost carriers give you the option of travelling with hand luggage only and checking in a suitcase needs to be pre-booked – some airlines will allow you to pay for checked-in baggage at the airport terminal but this is usually double the online fee. Some airlines allow more than one piece of checked-in baggage, but not all do.

If you are uncertain, check your airline’s website for baggage allowances, both checked-in baggage size and weight, and also hand luggage sizes and weight allowances. Baggage limits can usually be found in the FAQ or questions section.

Don’t get caught out by having overweight luggage as excess baggage charges can make a big dent in your holiday spending money!

BA unveils strike contingency plans

If your plans appear to be up in the air because of the proposed strike by British Airways cabin crew, don’t panic just yet as the airline has plans to operate around 60% of its flights should the planed strike action go ahead on 20, 21, 22 March.

Flights unaffected by the proposed strike include:

  • All flights operated to and from London City Airport will operate as normal
  • Flights operated by subsidiary OpenSkies between Paris and New York will operate as normal.
  • Flights operated by British Airways franchise partners (Comair in South Africa and Sun Air in Scandinavia) will operate as normal.
  • Flights operated by other carriers (including oneworld Alliance partners) which have a BA codeshare flight number will operate as normal

For all other flights, passengers should check with British Airways.

The airline has set up a customer helpline for passengers affected by the industrial action – the contact number is a free-phone: 0800 727 800.

Passengers with bookings during the proposed strike action can check their flight status and bookings here: www.britishairways.com/rtad/travel/public/en_gb

For up-to-date strike action information check here www.britishairways.com/travel/strike-ballot/public/en_gb

8 tips to help you book cheap flights

Okay, the recession is officially over, but that doesn’t mean that we are all feeling the benefits just yet. When we’re looking to book this year’s holiday we’re still looking for the cheaper options: cheap flights, cheap accommodation, cheap car hire etc., but we don’t want to compromise on quality.

So what can you do to save money and grab a bargain flight? The following tips will help you to save money when booking flights without compromising on your comfort:

  1. Book your flights early
    The old days of bagging a last-minute bargain are long gone. Nowadays, airlines release a fixed number of cheap tickets early, then, as the seats are sold and you get closer to the departure date, the price of the flights increases. Check it out now: find a flight booking engine and check the price of a flight next week compared with a flight on the same route in three months’ time and see the difference.
  2. Be flexible in your choice of destination
    Holidaying in a less fashionable, or up and coming location, could save you money on flights as high demand for the traditionally popular resorts will be reflected in the higher price of the flights.
  3. Be flexible on dates
    If you don’t have children, try to book your flights outside of the school holidays. Demand for flights rises during the school holidays and with it the prices. You are much more likely to find cheap flights outside of the school holidays when demand slows. Just a couple of weeks either side of the school holidays can make such a difference to the price. Consider flying midweek too, as flights are often cheaper during the week.
  4. Check out the flight options online
    Do your research and compare flight prices online before booking. It’s well worth shopping around and checking various websites to see what is available and what is included in the price so you know what represents a good deal.
  5. Travel with hand luggage only
    If you are travelling with a budget airline that charges for checked-in luggage, consider travelling with hand-luggage only. This doesn’t work for everyone, me included, but many people are able to travel light and save themselves money in the process. Alternatively, a family of four can make significant savings by taking two suitcases instead of four.
  6. Check in online
    Some airlines now charge you to check-in at the airport so, if your airline is one of them, check-in online. It’s quick, easy and saves time at the airport.
  7. Compare airlines and their charges
    Just because the flights are cheaper with one airline does not mean the total cost will be cheaper. Factor in all the charges added by individual airlines to accurately compare flight prices. What may look more expensive at the start could work out to be the cheapest flight option when you add on check-in charges, luggage charges, onboard refreshments etc.
  8. Consider a package holiday
    Package holidays are becoming much more flexible, so booking your holiday accommodation and flights together could work out cheaper than booking accommodation and flights separately.