Written by Ruby Hinchliffe
Illustration by Grace Biddle
Budget airlines. Flight cancellations. The two come hand in hand. Ryanair. Eurowings. EasyJet. These are but a few of the authors to my story of eternal agony and woe when it comes to booking flights across continental Europe.
You are at their whim as soon as you book their flight. Yes, you scored a cheap ticket you can brag about in the run up to your trip but is that ticket really secure? Are you sure it will get you there?
As with any airline, you can’t guarantee that your plane will ever take off but budget airlines are always more risky. The reality is that they can’t afford to run every flight they sell, otherwise they’d be bankrupt.
This was made blazingly apparent to me when my connecting flight from Dusseldorf to Berlin got cancelled. First it was delayed, hour by hour, until Eurowings decided to come clean and cancel the flight.
The company claimed the winds were dangerous and that the pilot wouldn’t be able to land in Berlin’s Tegel airport after 11pm.
So, what next? Instead of booking the flight of stranded passengers onto a new one, finding them hotels or even alternative transfers to their destination, Eurowings quite literally f*cked off.
I felt sorry for their employee that day. Angry passengers had encircled him, shouting and demanding he do something. Of course, he could do nothing because that’s what the instructions from above were. Do nothing and eventually they’ll give up.
When he threw all our passenger’s rights papers in the air and stormed off home that night I didn’t even feel angry. I was just shocked. Astounded at the operations behind the scenes of these cheap-skate companies.
It wasn’t just the customers, it was the staff too.
My only option that evening was to rally together with three other abandoned passengers – Scottish, Spanish and Indian – and figure out how the hell we were getting out of godforsaken Dusseldorf.
After a six hour train through the night with no beds and a bright white light above my head, I finally reached Berlin.
Eurowings hoped, like it must do every time it cancels a flight, that we would forget. I’m sure many did but I persisted. Not only getting my alternative train refunded, but also compensation for the flight that never was, albeit through a 25%-cut claims company and nine months later.
This is how they stay afloat. Most people don’t have the patience to wait nine months, to chase up the company persistently and then apply to a claims firm to secure their much-deserved compensation.
Most people move on. They’re bitter but they move on because it doesn’t happen enough to dissuade them from the lower-than-low prices on another flight somewhere different.
So it’s a false economy in many ways. Ryanair have recently made it nigh impossible to fly with hold luggage. When a group of us went on holiday using a connecting flight, six of us shared one suitcase for the hold, and it was still £90 in total.
This trip also saw 11 of us stuck on an unmoving plane for more than two hours. If your flight doesn’t take off for two hours even budget airlines are obliged to give you a refund.
But apparently, if you’re actually on the plane for those hours, this time limit means nothing.
Thank you easyJet for teaching me this. Your sweaty fart-infused air really did let that lesson sink in nicely.
On the way back we had equally bad luck as two of us missed a connecting Ryanair flight. The reason being because the first Ryanair flight was delayed.
The two unlucky souls managed to get a signed piece of paper saying it had been over two hours delayed. However, when they got to their connecting destination, a different Ryanair employee disregarded the signed paper and made them pay £100 for another flight.
No refunds in sight.
This is poor. Very poor. But the sad thing is we can’t and won’t do much about it. We might chase up a refund for a bit and give up or we might even get it if we’re patient enough. If we do get our money back, few of us have the will power or the financial liquidity to boycott all these airlines.
If we did, we’d be left with very few within our price range at face-value, so we all resort to the default risk-taker position because it’s easy and affordable (most, or some, of the time).
Perhaps it’s time to fly a little less. It’s certainly a popular choice amidst environmentalist concerns and all the finger-poking Prince Harry ‘the hypocrite’ articles.
Whatever your stance, at least reflect on the impact buying into these companies has. It’s one which trickles down through to customers and staff. It legitimises their dirty, beneath-the-belt tactics and perpetuates the survival of companies which, in all honesty, really shouldn’t be surviving at all.
Edited by Stephanie Kleanthous