Madrid Barajas is not the most comfortable of airports, I should know, I’ve slept in enough of them. However, last week was the first time I did so without having planned it. I won’t go into specific details of what I went through, firstly because tales of woe are fairly boring, and secondly because they can always be bettered.
Finally arriving at my destination, I was vowing never to fly budget again. But as my anger cooled and I began to think rationally about the experience, the more the business model I experienced the blunter end of became clear.
Traditional business is based on the principles of trust and good customer relations. A company charges its patrons a fair price for a service they are happy to put their name to. The same is true of budget airlines, as long as you understand that the service is not one in which they take any pride.
These companies have established a business model based on giving their customers the most basic service possible. By treating passengers with contempt and gleeful mistrust, then giving them the chance to make the experience less awful by offering bolt-ons like speedy boarding and exit-row seat bookings, they maximize their profits.
Micahel O’Leary of Ryanair, a fantastically outspoken CEO, said “these headbangers (environmentalists) want to make flying the preserve of the rich”. Budget airlines have certainly made air travel more accessible; anyone can now fly 3-hours to an airport close to anywhere else.
Yet another of O’Leary’s quotes: “What part of no refund don’t you understand? You are not getting a refund, so fuck off”, highlights the question: Are the low prices worth the risk?
As a customer of budget airlines, you are taking the chance that if things don’t go exactly to plan, you have either lost your money, or set yourself up for a purgatory of airport-dwelling. Refuse to queue, leave the airport and you won’t get your money back, stay for the sake of your cheap flight and you’re in for a lot of frustration. Even if you get the money back, your time has been wasted, and your stress levels will be through the roof.
It’s easyJet’s company policy not to allow you to speak to a supervisor when you call their customer service line. In Madrid airport last week, they had one person working to serve a queue of over 300 people. They bundle you on and they bundle you off, they send you here in the hope that you can finally get there, and when it all goes wrong, what are you going to do about it?
Because the airline knows you’ve opted for the cheap service, they base their customer service on making it as grueling as possible to get what you want. Why should they make any extra effort to help you, when you chose to fly with an airline that bases its low prices on no-frills?
So are the cheap flights we crave worth the stress if things don’t go to smoothly?
Well, is your departure airport a comfortable one?