ADVICE Low-cost airlines
PHOTO: BriYYZ at flickr.com, CC-BY-SA
aren’t asked to subsidise those who want to bring hold baggage or who enjoy tasteless airline food.” However, foil-wrapped catering food aside, this view is unlikely to appease passengers who arrive at Ryanair’s check-in desk minus their boarding card and must pay £40 each for a ‘lost boarding card replacement’.
Jo Chipchase investigates which low-cost airlines offer family-friendly flights to Spain, and how to avoid hidden charges.
recent survey by cheap flight search engine Skyscanner showed that Spain is the most desirable destination from UK airports in 2010. For the thousands of people who travel between the two countries, the flight experience is an important part of the overall trip. However, service levels vary between airlines and, in particular, parents flying with young children will find the good, the bad and the just plain ugly. From the booking system adding ‘hidden extras’ to boarding practices that make your blood boil, choosing your airline unwisely can spoil your family’s enjoyment of the flight and waste money. In trying to identify which airlines operating between English and Spanish airports are the most family-friendly and which add the least hidden charges to the price of a flight, we examined seven popular airlines: Monarch, Ryanair, Flybe, Jet2, Easyjet, Thomsonfly and Aer Lingus. For the purpose of our research, we assumed that we bought a return flight between England and Spain departing on Saturday 20th February 2010, and returning on Saturday 27th February. One adult, one child aged under 16 and one infant aged under two were flying together. Where choice existed, the cheapest flight of the day was selected. Two bags were carried as hold luggage (one by the adult, one by the child), along
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with one pushchair and one baby car seat. We did not require travel insurance or seat selection. The flight was bought on a Visa credit card.
Hidden extras minefield Although airlines frequently advertise cut-price seats, which may cost £0.00, £14.99 or similar, the bargains may look less enticing once taxes and fees have been added. Of the seven airlines, Ryanair added the most hidden charges. The price of our flight for one adult, one child and one infant started as £119.96, based around fares of £14.99 outbound and £19.99 inbound and an infant charge of £20 each way (yes, more than the stated adult fare). By checkout stage, the fare had reached £219.96: a whopping 45.5 per cent increase. As part of this cost, a £20 ‘booking fee’ was added, £10 for web check-in, £60 for our two 15kg bags (ouch!) and £20 for carrying the baby car seat. Jet2 added 33.2 per cent to its original fare, Monarch 23.5 per cent – although it offered the cheapest fare overall – and Easyjet 15.6 per cent. Best of the bunch for price transparency were Flybe adding 12.5 per cent, Thomsonfly 12.4 per cent, and Aer Lingus adding a mere 12 per cent, despite being 24.9 per cent owned by Ryanair. Of the seven carriers, four (Monarch, Ryanair, Jet2 and Easyjet) add travel insurance to the
booking as a default option: the passenger has to remove it so it doesn’t appear at checkout stage. Manual removal, usually requiring the use of dropdown menus and tick boxes, could potentially confuse some customers. Monarch Airlines says, “It’s good practice for all customers to take out a travel insurance policy – we use the opted-in method to encourage this and make the purchase process as simple as possible”, but Bruce Treloar of Trading Standards points out that Air Services Regulations require the consumer to tick an empty box if they want to buy an add-on service, rather than removing a tick from a filled-in box – a rule not currently enforced. As for hidden charges, Treloar says, “Where a price is advertised for a flight, it should include the non-optional extra charges such as taxes and fees. Otherwise, it’s breaching the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, which confirm that all pricing must be included. The Office of Fair Trading says some airlines aren’t compliant, and it intends to take action.” Stephen McNamara, Ryanair’s head of communications, defends the way his airline charges for flights. He says, “Breaking down the cost of a fare to its most basic element – the cost of the seat – allows passengers to ensure that they only pay for what they use. Ryanair passengers
When flying with any airline, the baggage allowance is an obvious bugbear if your family has packed the kitchen sink along with the sun cream. Most carriers charge between £10 and £15 per ‘sector’ (ie per one way flight) for a hold bag. Monarch is generous with its baggage allowance, charging from £9.99 per sector for 20kg and with a handy 10kg allowance for infants. Thomsonfly charges from £6.50 per sector for 20kg and offers a 10kg infant baggage allowance but the hand baggage allowance is just 5kg. Jet2 charges £11.99 for 22kg but has no infant allowance. Easyjet charges a reasonable £9 per sector for 20kg. The most expensive is Ryanair, who weighs in at £15 per sector for just 15kg. If you exceed the baggage allowance, beware: Ryanair will charge an extra £20 per kilogram for your over-packing, compared to £9 at Monarch and £10 at Jet2.
Boarding blues and seat selection stresses
For parents travelling with small children, the airline’s boarding and seat allocation practices can dictate whether your family must jostle with the other passengers. Although some carriers board elderly and disabled passengers first while hot-and-bothered Mum with her over-excited infants must wait her turn with the able-bodied adults, some carriers take a more enlightened view. Easyjet and Aer Lingus offer pre-boarding to parents with young children. Samantha Day of Easyjet says, “Families with children under three are able to board before the other passengers but after the Speedy Boarders. Families with older children can purchase the Speedy Boarding product, which enables them to be amongst the first to board and choose where they sit.” While carriers such as Monarch and Jet2 preallocate seats – or you can select a seat online for a small fee – others, such as Easyjet and Ryanair, allow passengers to bag their own seats onboard on a ‘free-for-all’ basis. Leah Roswell of Monarch points out that thanks to pre-allocation, parents can avoid the last minute skirmish. However, Vicky Bates, a mum of two who travels between Andalucía and East Sussex, says, “The free-for-all system can actually be easier for a solo parent. There’s a better chance of claiming enough space for your baby to wriggle around without spilling other passengers’ drinks into their laps. On an Easyjet flight, when I was juggling my two infants and couldn’t find seats, I was impressed that the stewards went on to the PA system and told the passengers ‘the plane won’t leave the tarmac until someone moves and lets this family sit down’. On other flights where seats were pre-
allocated, I ended up sardined, pregnant, into a small space with my little boy cramped on top of me, until I asked to be moved.” She adds, “If you’re travelling solo with undertwos, my advice is to ask for the spare row. Almost every flight retains one and a sympathetic steward can often be persuaded to let you occupy it – if only to keep your boisterous infants away from other passengers.” While most airlines let under-twos sit in their own seat – except for take-off and landing, where they must be strapped to their parent in a safety harness – Ryanair dictates that infants must travel in their parent’s lap at all times. This is worth remembering if you’d rather not spend three hours with baby squirming on top of you. Monarch is helpful about infants occupying their own seat and provides a Travel Cares Harness for those aged one-plus.
Baby and toddler on board Although UK Health and Safety laws widely ban airline staff from holding baby, in case they drop her and Mum sues them for damages, the amount of TLC given to young families differs between carriers. Vicky Bates says, “I was once told off by a stewardess when I was five months pregnant and struggling with my infant and a laptop vital for my work. She said I shouldn’t have brought hand luggage I couldn’t manage and snarled, ‘how pregnant are you anyway’. Fortunately, another stewardess helped me with the laptop. On another occasion, my two little boys fell asleep on an evening flight. I couldn’t physically carry them through to baggage reclaim so we were eventually carted off with the disabled passengers. Sometimes, the Health and Safety rules breach common sense and there’s no proper help if you’re struggling.” However, some airlines have more helpful policies. Leah Roswell of Monarch says, “Monarch cabin crew will do everything possible to assist parents travelling with young children and would ask that parents speak to the crew if they require any assistance. For example, if a single parent needs to take one of their children to the on-board toilet, a member of cabin crew would sit with the other child.” Linda Crowe of Aer Lingus says, “Cabin crew members are trained to be proactive in their interaction with children and are ready to provide assistance.” Aer Lingus was recently awarded the ‘Most Recommended Airline for Travelling with
Best for overall price: Monarch, Ryan air Best for avoiding hidden extras: Aer Lingus, Thomsonfly, Flybe Best for baggage allowance: Monarch, Thomsonfly Best for helping parents onboard: Monarch, Aer Lingus Best for boarding young families: Easyjet Worst for hidden charges: Ryanair
Babies’ at the Holiday Extra’s Customers’ Awards which polled 18,000 UK Holiday Extra customers. On board, some airlines offer better facilities for children than others. Monarch and Thomsonfly both provide bottle and baby food warming facilities, while Monarch hands out free kids’ colouring packs to occupy young flyers. Easyjet, Jet2, Aer Lingus and Thomsonfly sell small toys and gifts that provide welcome distractions for little hands.
Customer service: we have lift off? Despite the family-focused efforts of some carriers, it seems that the UK airline sector could pull up its socks. The ‘2009 Family Brands Survey’ – commissioned by advertising agency Isobel in association with YouGov – placed the airline sector bottom of all sectors for family-friendliness. And the survey was bad news for Ryanair, which was voted the UK’s least family-friendly brand overall with particular black marks for social responsibility and not caring or listening. Steve Hastings, planning partner of Isobel, comments, “The airline sector is a superb example of the perils of rising consumer expectations. We want low-cost air travel but find it hard to give up the sensitivity, responsiveness and family-friendly consumer choice that belongs to high-cost travel. We conveniently forget that taxes take over 50 per cent of the cost of many air fares and are disappointed with a no-frills, no-service service.” To avoid no-frills turning into unwanted spills, passengers should inform themselves of any potential hidden charges before they reach the airport. And it’s best to avoid choosing an airline that targets single budget travellers with minimal luggage requirements if you’ve got toddlers and heavy luggage in tow and need special help. All prices quoted here were correct on 3rd December 2009, and should not be used as a basis for booking flights.
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ADVICE Low-cost airlines
Airline comparison table Carrier
Price quoted at start of booking system (including seat and taxes)
Final price at checkout*
Gain in fare from original price in per cent
Proportion of fare that is extra charges added during booking
Fee for paying by credit or debit card
Hold baggage cost and allowance per passenger per sector
Excess baggage fee per kg
Cost for carrying baby car seats and buggies
Is travel insurance a default option in the booking cart?
Any other extras?
Flight and name change fees
Can baby’s buggy be obtained at the gate upon landing?
Onboard facilities for babies and children
London Gatwick to Malaga
Minimum fees of £5.49 for credit cards. £2.49 for using PayPal and debit cards.
£9.99 - £15.99 per 20kg bag if booked online, £18 if booked via the call centre or at the airport. Infants have their own 10kg allowance.
£15 per sector.
It’s necessary to avoid seat selection manually if you don’t want to pay to choose your seat.
Flight 10p per No Not policy change: minute. but ask £27.50 per if you have sector if a special booked need. online, £40 if booked via the call centre. Name change: £27.50 per sector.
Colouring packs with pencils. Baby bottle & food warming. Baby changing. Travel harness for babies aged 1+ in their own seat.
London Stansted to Malaga
An ‘admin £15 per fee’ of £5 per bag if booked passenger online, £35 per sector if booked is added, via the call unless an centre or at Electron card airport. 15kg or MasterCard allowance. PrePaid is used.
£20 per sector.
1 pushchair is free. £10 per baby seat or cot if booked online, £20 if booked via call centre or at airport.
Online check-in £5 per sector if booked online, £10 if booked via call centre or at airport. Lost boarding card £40.
Flight change: £27.50 per sector online, £40 if via call centre or at airport. Name change: £100/£150
10p per minute & £1 per minute.
Southampton £391.39 to Malaga
Booking fee £2 per person per sector. Min booking fee £2.49. Credit card fee £2 per person per sector. Min fee £3.01 per booking. Electron card no charge.
£10 for the first 3 kg, £15 for the next 4-6 kg and £20 for every kg above 6.
Approx. £13 -£15 per sector.
Free – you are allowed one car seat and one pushchair.
£10 per sector for replacement boarding card if you haven’t printed one at home (not always enforced).
Flight change: £25 if done online, £30 if via the call centre. Name change: £30
10p minute No to call centre but but £1 per minute applies for certain enquiries.
Baby bottles can be warmed.
Leeds Bradford to Alicante
Booking fee £11.99 per 3.5%, min sector if charge of booked £2.99 on online, 22kg debit cards, allowance. Solo & Visa No infant Electron are allowance. free to use. Credit cards have a 3.5% fee, min charge of £4.99, plus a fee of 2.25%.
£15 per sector.
None (pushchairs not to exeed 10kg)
Online check-in costs £3 per sector.
£27.50 per sector for name or flight change.
50p per minute unless for booking amends.
Flights can be upgraded to Jet2plus for £29.99 per person per sector. This includes priority boarding. Infant seats are preallocated.
Yes, “depending on local conditions”.
Snacks and gifts to entertain little ones are available to purchase.
London Gatwick to Malaga
Debit cards £3.50; credit cards £10.72; Visa Electron free.
£9 per sector if booked online, £18 per sector if booked at airport, 20kg allowance.
£12.50 per sector.
It was necessary to remove the default option of meals from the booking.
£25 if done online, £37.50 if via call centre or airport.
10p per minute.
Yes, after the Speedy Boarders but before the other passengers.
Snacks, gifts, toys etc are available to purchase.
Birmingham to Alicante
Electron free; Maestro and Visa Delta £2.95; MasterCard and Visa 2.5%.
From £6.50 per sector, 20kg allowance. Infants have a 10kg allowance. Hand luggage has a 5kg allowance.
£15 per sector.
Flight change: £15 Name change: £25
10p per minute (when we called there was 15 min queue).
Yes, where possible, after any passengers who have booked assistance.
If a customer has a special need.
Some gifts & activity packs sold onboard. Baby bottle warming. Baby changing table.
London Gatwick to Malaga
£5 ‘handling fee’ per passenger per sector (ex infants), regardless of card type.
£10 per sector.
£19 per sector.
Flight change: £30 if done online, £40 via call centre. Name change: £80
10p per minute.
Yes, pre- boarding is offered to those flying with infants.
Children’s toys and games are available to purchase.
£13 per sector, 20kg allowance.
Cost of phoning the call centre
Priority boarding for parents with infants?
Priority boarding £4 per sector online, £5 via the call centre or at airport.
* We are buying a return flight departing on Sat 20th February 2010 and returning on 27th February. Where a choice existed, the cheapest flight of the day was selected. One adult, one child and one infant (aged under two) are travelling together. Two bags were carried as hold luggage (one by the adult, one by the child). One pushchair and one baby car seat to be carried. No travel insurance. No seat selection. Flight paid on a Visa credit card. Prices correct on 3rd December, 2009.
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