European low-cost airlines fail to enforce charges and fees

european low cost airlines fees

Flying around Europe on low-cost airlines over the last few months has taught me a few things. Among the most useful lessons I’ve picked up: Baggage and check-in fees and charges are enforced quite unevenly.

European low-cost carriers present their customers with a frightening thicket of charges and fees. These charges, which serve as a revenue stream for the airlines, are less readily enforced by contract agents who are not direct employees of the airlines in question, though bona fide airline employees also appear to enforce them inconsistently.

Some anecdotes from the last few months follow.

In Tel Aviv in March I tried to inform the easyJet check-in agent–clearly not an employee of easyJet–that, having failed to pay to check a bag online, I would need to cough up some shekels to do so. Not only did she refuse to take money to check my duffel bag but she clearly had no idea that I was supposed to be charged to check by bag in the first place.

Flying airBaltic between London and Finland last month, I was made to weigh my carry-on en route to Finland by an airBaltic agent. Returning, the contract employee in Oulu didn’t ask me to weigh my bag, which, at 9 kilos, was right at the weight limit.

Three events, arguably, serve as a representative sample. I flew WizzAir last week to and from the Balkans. WizzAir demands that its customers’ carry-on bags not exceed ten kilos, but neither the agent at Luton nor the at Dubrovnik on my return weighed my bag to see if it had exceeded the limit. In both cases I was very likely just over the baggage weight limit.

This is a case not so much of lessons learned than of a pattern observed. Contract check-in agents don’t appear to have been taught about the intricacies of their employers’ rules and regulations, first off. Secondly, and just possibly, if your carry-on bag looks diminutive, you may be able to get away with a few extra kilos.

That said, this is not an official Gadling recommendation to start to think of these charges and fees as inconsequential. They’re imposed to make money and they succeed in doing so for their airlines. To some degree, I’m sure I was simply lucky in these instances. But clearly the fees and charges are not being enforced as fully as they were designed to be.

[Image: Flickr | jenny-bee]

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EasyJet apologizes for bacon and ham sandwich kosher meal on Tel Aviv route

easyjet kosherIn a massive case of cultural insensitivity, London Luton based EasyJet has been forced to issue an apology to its Jewish customers on the LondonTel Aviv route.

On a recent flight,the available dinner options were bacon baguettes and ham melts. Needless to say, this did not go down too well with its passengers.

Accountant Victor Kaufman says he couldn’t beleive his ears when he heard the options – and wrote a complaint letter to the airline after his flight.

When EasyJet launched their new Tel Aviv route, they had advertised a full range of kosher meals on their planes, offering dishes like salmon bagels and egg and tomato sandwiches. Their policy prohibits the catering company from loading any pork products on the plane. Obviously, in this specific event, someone messed up.

According to EasyJet, the wrong catering carts had been loaded, and they issued an apology for the screw up. As usual, they say they’ll do everything they can to prevent this from happening in the future.

Gadling’s favorite airlines for 2011

gadling favorite airlines 2011

Even with airlines falling over themselves in an effort to generate profits out of new fees and charges, flying retains some glamour and excitement. No? Not working for you? Well there are mileage programs to exploit and perks to chase. And even in the direst landscape for customers, there are always new routes to sample, smiling flight attendants to befriend, and reliable pilots to thank for safe landings.

Going into 2011, it appears that Virgin America is Gadling’s favorite airline. Virgin America sails above the competition with their standard of service, their appealing overall product, and their general freshness.

Other airlines we especially like or tolerate for one or another reason include easyJet, Qantas, VAustralia, Air France, Philippine Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, Jet Airways, Continental, Alaska Airlines, and Porter.

We begin with the observations of Kent Wien, Gadling’s resident pilot-contributor and the motor behind two Gadling features, namely, Cockpit Chronicles and Plane Answers.

Kent Wien. Air New Zealand. I don’t know if I was more impressed with their new line of coach sleeper seats or the friendliness of their flight attendants. Either way, Air New Zealand has managed to capture much of the recent jump in tourism traffic to New Zealand by offering an innovative cabin design and enhanced service which includes an in-flight concierge for the entire airplane. They’ve changed the look and feel of their galleys by hiding them away during boarding, since the first thing passengers see when stepping on to an airplane is the in-flight kitchen. And most of these changes were accomplished even after they were named by Air Transport World as the airline of the year for 2010.

Mike Barish. I continue to love Virgin America. They’re willing to show personality. They have a sense of humor and their use of social media is phenomenal. They have really embraced customer service and care about humanizing their brand.

Annie Scott. Air France has the best coach class of any airline I’ve flown this year, but Philippine Airlines gets ten points for calling their economy class “Fiesta Class.”

McLean Robbins. Virgin America. Am I one of many?

Meg Nesterov. Turkish Airlines has become my default carrier of choice, which is fine given their excellent service. How many other airlines will let you cancel and rebook a flight last minute and only charges a small change fee? Their in-flight meals even in coach are reliably good and always free.

Melanie Nayer. Props to Cathay Pacific. Great in-flight crew, and any airline that makes me a grilled cheese sandwich in flight is tops in my book!

Alex Robertson Textor. Porter, hands down. I like the airline so much I found a way to write a piece for their in-flight magazine. I want two dozen regional Porters around the globe, each with limited route maps, quiet, fuel-efficient planes, friendly fight attendants, and a single class of service.Catherine Bodry. Alaska Air.

Grant Martin. Virgin America & VAustralia. All of that positive press is happening for a reason. These two airlines have the best service out there, and their hard products are equally gorgeous. Get to Australia next year while competition is still high and ticket prices are rock bottom.

Karen Walrond. I fly mostly on Continental because I live in its hub city and that’s where my airmiles are. Here in Houston, we’re nervous about the merger between Continental and United. We hope nothing will be ruined in the process!

David Farley. Jet Airways.

Sean McLachlan. easyJet. Everyone complains about them, myself included, but damn they’re cheap and convenient. And hey, at least they aren’t Ryanair!

Laurel Miller. Qantas for their consistently excellent service, staff, and on-time departures.

[Image: Flickr | LWY]

EasyJet profits triple as budget airline attracts more passengers

Budget carrier easyJet almost tripled its profits in the past 12 months as fuel prices dropped and passengers flocked to book cheap flights, BBC reports.

The airline released figures for the past twelve months through September, revealing a profit of £154m million ($247 million). The previous 12 months saw profits of £55 million ($88 million). A total of 49 million people flew on easyJet in the past year, up 8 percent.

While a 9 percent drop in fuel prices helped all airlines, there’s been a continued shift away from national carriers such as British Airways and Air France in favor of budget carriers, and no budget airline has as much share in the European market as easyJet. The carrier now accounts for 7.6 percent of the European market.

The airline also announced it will pay a dividend for the first time in 2012, and will be buying 24 airplanes in order to expand its services.

[Photo courtesy Antony J Best via Wikimedia Commons]

Weekending: Sofia


Since moving to Istanbul, I’ve gotten the chance to travel to a lot of interesting destinations, from Beirut to Bosnia, that are much easier and cheaper to access from Turkey than America. For my first long (more than a weekend) trip, I went to Bulgaria for a week over US Labor Day and Turkish bayram (end of Ramadan holidays). Over the week, I traveled from the capital city Sofia to medieval hill town Veliko Tarnovo to Black Sea coastal Varna, and will explore the different flavors of each region in future posts.

The place: Sofia, Bulgaria
Travel writer (and Bulgaria fan) Robert Reid notes in his Lonely Planet Bulgaria guide that visitors to Sofia should not expect the “new Prague.” While Sofia may never compare to the Czech Republic capital in terms of the sheer number of historic buildings and monuments, you may discover a taste of Old Europe with the modern nightlife and budget prices that made Prague so popular in the past two decades. After the fall of Communism 21 years ago, Bulgaria developed steadily enough to join the European Union in 2007 (albeit as its poorest country), and hopes to join the Schengen visa zone next year. It’s now being touted as a destination for adventure and budget travelers with a small but growing amount of foreign visitors discovering its many pleasures.

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  • One of the major pluses for Sofia (and even more so in more rural parts of Bulgaria) is the price tag. Dinner for two can be had with a nice bottle of local wine for less than $20. High-end hotels that would cost hundreds of dollars in other European cities rarely top 100 Euros and many comfortable options can be found around 50 to 60 Euros (a Rick Steves tour group was staying at my hotel, the lovely but reasonable Arena di Serdica). Many of Sofia’s best sights are free, including the landmark Aleksander Nevski church (check out this link for photos of the beautiful interior, as cameras aren’t allowed inside and the postcard selection is lacking) and the daily markets are great to browse – try Aleksander Nevski Plaza for antiques of questionable province, Zhenski Pazar for Chernobyl-sized produce, and Slaveykov Square for books in various languages. Bulgarian beers and wine are generally 2-4 leva (under $3) and a generously-poured cocktail is only a few leva more.
  • Along with cheap drinks comes a fun, creative nightlife scene. While sipping wine in the candlelit converted barn bar Hambara, I wondered why New York doesn’t have cool spaces like that (answer: probably breaking a lot of building codes). Apartment (just down the road from Hambera on Neofit Rilski) is another well-known spot for travelers, expats, and locals, set in an old house with different rooms for different vibes. If you’re looking for something a bit more glam, Planet Bar de Luxe is delightfully over-the-top with purple tutu-clad waitresses and a gift-shop in the bathroom (and I thought Sarajevo had the best bar bathroom). Soviet-era dormitories have been converted into a hotbed of nightclubs and bars. Creativity isn’t just limited to the nighttime – great collections of art are housed in the National Gallery and the well-curated Sofia City Gallery, along with interesting graffiti and small galleries around town.

Downgrades

  • Sofia’s vices and nightlife may not be for everyone. After five months in a country where alcohol is heavily taxed, low-priced and tasty wine is a big thrill for me, but not everyone has “cheap alcohol” on their vacation must-have list. Vegetarians may soon grow bored with pizzas (practically one of Bulgaria’s national foods, eaten with ketchup and mayo by locals – try at your own risk) and salads in Bulgaria include meat and cheese almost as a rule. Like in much of Eastern Europe, smoking is legal in most public places and quite widespread; a recent ban was overturned and replaced with a law barring underage from bars.
  • While the city center is easy to explore with plenty to do, it is small and once you leave the center, the abundance of Communist-era architecture may be less than charming. You can choose to embrace it and marvel at the seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-a-time Soviet monuments like the poorly-covered up Monument to the Bulgarian State or the huge National Palace of Culture (NDK) eyesore. If you’ve had enough urban adventure, Mount Vitosha towers over the city with outdoor activities year round.

Getting there

Small but serviceable Sofia Airport is served by flights all over Europe, including low-cost carriers Wizz Air and easyJet. Bulgaria also has excellent bus connections throughout the Balkans and Eastern Europe, with a clean and convenient bus station not far from the city center. Read on below for other destination ideas in Bulgaria.

Make it a week

There are multiple day and side trip opportunities near Sofia including Rila Monastery, one of Bulgaria’s best and most famous monasteries; the tiny wine town Melnik; and ancient Plovdiv. You can also hop a bus to venture into the Central Balkans or out to the Black Sea for beach time, as I did. Stay tuned for more on Bulgaria travel.

Read my previous Weekending trips from Istanbul here.