Ten years ago, European budget airlines were widely celebrated as a positive symbol of then-contemporary Europe. The new budget airlines sold tickets online, easing the transaction process. Airlines flew cheaply to destinations both familiar and novel. The low fares and simplicity of travel ushered into effect by Europe’s budget air revolution were largely commended. Budget airlines were seen as an important, constitutive piece of Europe in flux, a Europe within which free, frequent and fast movement was a given.
Today, increasing awareness of climate change has meant that budget air travel in Europe is often targeted as an environmental disaster. On the consumer side, passengers are overwhelmed by a huge number of fees and charges—for checking a bag, for checking in at the airport, for preferred seating, for using a particular credit card—all of which continue to creep upwards.
The stories told about low-cost carriers tend to focus on the distance of secondary airports from the cities they purport to serve, the rudeness of staff, the inflexibility of various charges and the difficulty in obtaining refunds for canceled flights.
People continue to fly budget airlines in great numbers, of course, but they’re not enjoying themselves. How could things be improved? How could a budget airline actually build a fan base?
Here are five suggestions for improving budget airlines in Europe:
1. Offer transparency in marketing and pricing.
An airport named after a city 100 km away does nobody any favors. Acknowledge location and market around it. Eliminate last-minute charges for the use of a particular credit card. While you’re at it, get rid of perks like early boarding that make embarkation so regimented and unpleasant.
2. Provide a carbon offset opt-out option.
Under this proposal, passengers would be able to click a box to remove the carbon offset option from their flights and save a euro or two. Some would do this. Many would not. Here’s a better and more radical idea: get tons of press by announcing that all flights will be carbon offset in their entirety.
3. Develop a simple, well-scrubbed aesthetic.
Budget airlines shouldn’t be grubby. They should be enveloped in simplicity, ease, and lightness. Colors should be gentle and music should be soft. Flight attendants should have nice uniforms that reflect the airline’s aesthetic. (They should also look rested, competent and pleased to be at work.) License a pleasant 30-minute electronic score for boarding.
4. Offer tasty snacks for purchase.
If ancillary income is the key, offer something worthwhile—tasty treats with some real relationship to the departure or destination city. Also, keep mark-ups in check. On-board mark-ups need not be extortionate.
5. Brand around location.
Souvenir items sold in flight shouldn’t be anonymous. Why stock the duty-free cart with items that can be found in any international airport when cute objets of local relevance make better gifts? Fill the in-flight magazine with the insights of interesting people who populate the route map’s destination cities.
Can you think of other ways that budget carriers could improve their service? Do you agree or disagree with these points? Tell us about it in the comments section.