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March 26, 2007

easyJet Is Cheap

Repost:  Beginning was initially missing due to jet lag.

In all senses of the word, easyJet is cheap; they make an art out of cheapness.  Sunday was my first time flying on a European deep discount airline.  Didn’t love it but got a convenient direct flight from Ljubljana (which I misspelled in a prior post) to London.

Did I mention that the flight was also cheap? €129.74 even including a couple of add-ons described below.

The easyJet experience starts on the website.  Nickel and diming is the order of the day.  You get a chance to pay an extra €7.50 for the privilege of boarding first.  This can be important since there are no assigned seats but it is also a fraud at many airports including LJU because what you get to board first is the bus out to the plane and it’s still a free-for-all from bus to plane.  I fell for that one both because I like to board first and because I wanted a window seat so I could see the Alps.

You can only carry on one bag (true more and more in Europe) and you get to check one free.  Another checked in bag cost €7.50 if you prepay when you book and twice as much if you wait until you get to the airport.  I prepaid for this needlessly because I misinterpreted “hold bag” to mean a bag you are holding rather than a bag which goes in the hold.  I knew there was no way I’d have more than two bags total.

There is also a substantial charge (I forget how much) for using a credit card.  Some debit cards are cheaper.  Didn’t see any way you could pay without some sort of payment charge.

Unlike most airlines, easyJet doesn’t give complete flight status online – just an unsorted list of arrival times for some flights and a warning not to count backward from a late scheduled arrival to a late departure because you might get shut out of checkin by coming late.  The incoming flight from London to LJU was listed ontime so, although my flight didn’t appear at all on the list, I assumed it was still on schedule.

At the airport, checkin was quick and efficient even though there were no e-ticket machines.  At the scheduled boarding time there was a long queue (remember – the flight was going to London) of passengers waiting at the boarding gate; I was in front, of course.  The flight details and ontime status were on the display at the gate; but there were no agents!  There was also no easyJet visible on the ramp but I was hoping it was just out of sight somewhere.

At about the scheduled departure time, some gate agents showed up and talked lethargically to each other but not to us.  No move to open the gate.  At departure time the gate still said the flight was ontime.  Ten minutes after scheduled departure time, I broke ranks and asked the gate agents what was happening.  “We’re waiting for an arriving flight.”

“When do you expect it to arrive?”

“About ten minutes.”

“Thank you.”

I repeated the information to the people behind me who dutifully passed it back in the queue. People shifted their feet a little; some put bags down; but no one conceded his or her place in line and sat down.

Fifteen minutes later another man asked what I assumed was the same question is what I assumed was Slovenian.  I asked him what he learned.  “The flight will be here in fifteen minutes.”  I considered telling the agents that their flight was going in the wrong direction but didn’t.  The sign over the gate still said the flight would depart ontime thirty minutes ago.

No announcement was ever made, maybe they’re too expensive to provide.  Finally we spotted a plane with an orange tail on downwind and it did turn out to be the inbound equipment for our flight.  Most people had been on their feet for over an hour but they were very ruly.

On the bus, which I duly boarded first, savvy easyJet couples split themselves to cover doors on both sides to assure that one of them would have a quick exit no matter which side of the bus opened to the plane.  I was alone so had to gamble but luck was with me; my door opened near the rear stairs and I was in plenty of time to get a window seat.

The seat didn’t come with knee room but neither did any others.  No way to use a laptop so I put it overhead.

On board, true to form, no free nothing.  But a pretty good menu of drinks and snacks for sale.  I paid €5.50 for a tiny bottle of wine and a reasonable size bag of salted peanuts.  This part of their business must be getting better since you can’t bring potable water or any other drinks through security.

Lots of shopping opportunities including a chance to enter a lottery for frequent flier miles.  I bought a ticket on the Stansted Express train to London for 10% off.

“Do you have a pen I could borrow?” I asked the flight attendant who gave me my UK landing card.

“No, sir. I don’t,” he said flatly and hurried on.  Could have at least offered to rent me one.  The tone offended me; paying for snacks didn’t.  I got my revenge by refusing to return the pen I used to sign the credit card slip for the train ticket until I completed the landing card.

Would I fly easyJet again?  Yeah, if they have a convenient flight and there is no other deep discount carrier with a similar one (haven’t tried the others).  This time I’ll bring a pen and hope that easyJet gets its flight tracking straightened out.

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