Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Flying Budget Airlines

Transportation to and from your destination can eat up the bulk of your travel expense. Traveling costs money. We all understand this basic fact and yet many of us overlook the actual cost of getting from Point A to Point B when studying abroad. I came to Europe with the idea that traveling by train (after hearing stories from an older generation) was going to be the optimal form of transport, being both cheaper and faster. Not so anymore. Welcome to 2015 Europe, where a flight between countries in Europe can run for $50.

Boarding our flight to Milan from Marrakech

Airlines have taken over as the cheapest and best way to travel in Europe. Low cost carriers such as Ryanair, Easyjet, and Vueling make flights feasible for those on a budget. Yes, they have bag restrictions and hidden fees in little fine ink, yes they attempt to sell you everything from handbags to lottery tickets during the flight, and yes you do have to pay for in flight goodies ranging from water to a kit-kat bar once on board. However, can you really do anything to justify not flying one of those airlines at a cost of 40 Euros from Italy to Morocco? The short answer is no. If your airline choice rests on whether you get an in flight snack or not, you're probably not a student studying abroad, or if you are, you clearly have no budget (It happens). Take a carry on bag, make sure to weigh it before you depart so you are not over their limit, buy a snack at the nearest convenience store or bring one with you, and enjoy the flight. One of my favorite flights while here was a Ryanair flight, the plane, a brand new Airbus, looked and felt cleaner than any other planes from established airlines I've flown. The crew was professional and the flight was enjoyable, everything from takeoff to landing went smooth.

The main downside to budget airlines. Your destination. Do you see that $50 Easyjet flight to Paris on advertised on their website? Well yes, technically they are getting you into Paris, but they are flying you to the Paris Orly Airport instead of the main airport, Charles de Gaulle. Of course the airport these budget airlines fly into is an hour or sometimes even more from the main city center (Orly is an example of just that). Not only can this be time consuming, as you have to find a train or bus upon landing, but it can also be costly. Flying back to Italy, low cost carriers mainly fly into Milan or Pisa and not Florence. A train from Milan to Florence can run upwards of 55 Euro. So research what airport you're flying into in advance and add up all the costs, everything from getting from getting to the airport originally, to getting to the train station from there and the price of each. At the end of the day, it might actually make economical sense to fly into Florence direct on Air France instead of into Milan on Ryanair. But each case is different and you have to do your research beforehand. Here's a travel story of mine to highlight some dangers of this type of travel... my roommates were coming back from Amsterdam and had flown into Milan Malpensa on a budget airline late on a Sunday night. First they had to take a bus from the airport into downtown Milan, about an hour long ride. Then they headed to the train station to buy tickets to Florence and what happened next?... there was only one train left going to Florence that night, and it only had first class tickets available. Over 80 Euro later, my roommates were headed back home to Florence, but that additional cost can make the whole idea of flying into Milan a waste of your time and money. Tack 80 euro onto a flight and it would have made sense to fly directly into Florence. Stuff like this happens when you travel, but a little research on train times could have easily prevented this.

My only advice when flying a low cost carrier is to be extra careful with every aspect of the trip details, from your ticket, to the luggage you are bringing. Some airlines, like Ryanair, require you to print your boarding pass a few days prior to flight and will not let you board without it, or they may charge you extra to board after finding a mistake on the pass. One horror story to prove this point, one of my roommates misspelled his name by one letter on his boarding pass and Ryanair refused to allow him to board, requiring him to purchase another ticket at the gate. So just make sure to double check everything. As far as luggage goes, if your backpacking and not staying a while, one carry on should be plenty. I did ten days of straight travel for Spring Break with nothing but my backpack and it worked out just fine. You'll manage and you will make it work.

In Pisa walking out to our flight to Marrakech

Budget airlines in Europe present a huge opportunity for students to travel throughout the continent on the cheap end. Additionally, the airports in Europe are very laid back relative to the American airports. Security does not take as much time as back home and you certainly won't feel as stressed. And you shouldn't, if you're at an airport, chances are you are headed on an adventure. Enjoy it. Another huge benefit is that trains and buses are generally linked from the airport to the city center or to other parts of Europe. Unlike the US, the entire transportation system is well integrated. Signs are usually in both the official language of the country and English as a second language so it is easy to find where you need to go and if you ever have trouble, ask someone. I've found Europeans to be more than helpful when giving directions to travelers.