Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How budget airline works - travelling at 0.01 euro

I couldn't believe it myself before my trip even after we bought the ticket online, round trip for two person at a total cost of 0.04 euro. I still can't make it how the airline can cover its running cost if not making money. Those who were traveling with us could not be paying the same as us. However, I searched again and found that the regular webfare for the trip of ours is 14.99 for one way. So a round trip ticket plus the taxes cost around 60 euro. All these low budget airlines are amazingly operating at a unbelievable low cost. When I told my Mom that we paid only four cents for this trip, her first concern was, is it safe? I thought we might fly with very small aircraft. It turned our to be around one third occupied Boeing-737.

Now I am safe and sound back from Milan, Italy. The budget airline we flew was Ryanair, a UK company. Let me tell you how the cost is lowered in these flights. First, these airlines operates between smaller airport. The cost of airport landing is a big part of the ticket. Smaller airport charges lower for renting terminals. In the Netherlands, flying from Amsterdam airport is always more expensive than smaller airport like Rotterdam in terms of taxes, fees and charges you paid upon the ticket price. The ticket we bought was again another promotion for one day that all surcharges were waived. So the result was, we have to fly out from Weeze, Germany, a small airport close to the Netherlands border. This way, people who live close to this airport get the most travel benefit of these budget airlines. We took quite a cumbersome journey to get to the airport: two hours train plus one hour shuttle bus journey.

Second, there is no seat numbers. I feel this is a big invention that make the transition time of the flight efficient. You don't get a seat number in your boarding card, and you are told to sit where ever there is an empty seat. Imagining the complicated and sometimes confused boarding sequences I have experienced in US: Some let the back row board first, and some let the window sears board first; this is quite a relief of trouble. In this flight, there is no class difference. Since everyone are paying for the low price, and everyone are equal. There is no business class, all seats are the same. Actually, people do not care that much on where you sit in a few hours' flight. It is the airline companies that make the selection of seats such a big deal. We boarded in the middle of the queue, and we sat at row 8.

Third, is the minimum employees. There were three crews working in the flight serving. They also came down to the terminal to board the passengers. They work so efficiently that as soon as the passengers getting out of the plane, the next flight starts boarding. The staying time of the plane in the terminal is less than an hour. Since there are no seat number for passengers, the boarding process also takes much less time. Surely, there are little necessary equipment as we take for granted in other airport, including the bridge to the plane. You basically walk (or bus) to the plane, and walked up the stairs to board the plane.

Fourth, almost nothing is free in the flight. A tin of coke cost 1.4 pound. We managed to get a free cup of water on the way there. The staff didn't sound very happy to serve that. We also felt a little awkward to ask again later since we only paid 0.01. On the way back, we brought a bottle of water with us. It seems, some people are buying drinks. We were the miser ones. There was a round of lottery sale, in the name of airline. Two euro for one. The in-flight magazines were not kept in front of you, they were distributed and collected later. You can pay 2 euro to buy a copy if you want. This sounds a little weird to me. It only shows that you are allowed to take those magazines home in other flights if they are kept in front of you. I have never seen people doing that.

The flight is safe and efficient. All safety card were pasted in front on you, which made the interior a little crowded feeling. The demo of flight crew were also professional. I don't know whether it was originated from my own security concern due to its unbelievable low cost, I paid more attention in those security demos and learned things that I didn't know before: You should blow the inflated jacket when you are out of the airplane, otherwise it would prevent you from walking out fast.

Also, on the door of the luggage cabins, colorful advertisement were displayed. In our flight, it was the Ryanair's own Christmas sale advertisement. I would think that they might want to sell these spaces also to other companies later.

I feel I buy a lot of their lowering cost strategies. It makes sense to me. Traveling is only for you to get from point A to point B, rather than to achieve some comfort you can easily get while not traveling. I remember when I was little, I was always fascinated with the little gift my Dad brought back from his flying trip. I still keep one little airplane model. In some way, the meaning of flying were connected more to the in-flight gift, free drinks, and food, than the mobility itself. Before my first flying experience, I expected more of those concrete things, than the flying experience which was kind of untouchable. It is reasonable to expect that flying is like taking a bus or train. I would pay for the mobility it provides. People can pay more if they need some extra service, but do not include those services into a bundled price. Italian airline was suffered a lot from the competition from Ryanair which slowly takes part in a bigger share of domestic flight in Italy. I look good upon the future of these budget airlines.

PS: the picture was copied from the NY Times article on budget air travel. I do not agree with what it says about Ryanair very much. You can read it here.

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