Bad budget airline experiences: Why budget carriers really aren't that bad

Jetstar is the worst airline in the world. Except, of course, it's not. Not even close. It doesn't even share the same woeful airspace as some of the truly bad carriers across the globe.

As Traveller pointed out last week, the recent Choice survey that named Jetstar the world's worst airline – which, technically, it didn't – was deeply flawed, in that only residents of select countries were polled, meaning the likes of Aeroflot and Ryanair and even something like Yangon Airways were unlikely to appear, and that there was no hard, quantifiable evidence involved. This was merely opinion, just the way people felt about the airlines in question.

And it comes as no surprise to find that people don't feel good about budget carriers. In my experience, in fact, they despise them, despite flying with them so frequently.

People get angry about having their flights delayed. They get mad when their bookings get changed without any notice. They fume at the insane charges for simple things like selecting a seat, or altering their booking, or, in the case of Ryanair, for printing out their boarding pass at the airport.

I get emails on a weekly basis from people wanting me to publish an exposé of the budget airline industry. People have had flights cancelled on them by Jetstar, or had some sort of booking drama with Scoot, or been delayed hours by Tigerair, or been shocked by the small size of the seats on AirAsia.

I understand the frustration. It happened to me too, recently, when Tigerair emailed to let me know that a flight I'd booked to Melbourne had been cancelled, and they'd chucked me on another flight – three hours later. The only option on the email was a button that said something along the lines of "click to accept changes".

There was no button for "click to request a different flight". Or, "click to ask for your money back". Or, "click to let us know you hate Tigerair with a raging passion". It took a good half hour of telephone haggling to wind up on a flight that would leave 30 minutes before the original one.

That was annoying. So annoying, in fact, that I've sworn off Tigerair for a while, given that experience came on top of a fair few delays on recent flights I've taken with them. But I don't hate Tigerair. Just the same as I don't hate Jetstar or Scoot or AirAsia or Ryanair or EasyJet or any of their budget ilk.

The trouble is that people who do get enraged by this sort of stuff have unrealistic expectations of the budget travel experience. They're expecting champagne travel on a beer budget; all of the reliability and service of a full-fare carrier at a fraction of the price.

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That's not the way the aviation industry works. It's not the way business in general works. If you decide to fly with a budget carrier, you're taking a calculated risk. Things might go wrong. And they might be hard to fix. But it's cheap.

You have to acknowledge, when booking with a budget carrier, that maybe your flight won't arrive on time. You have to acknowledge that booking a seat will cost extra, and meals on board will cost extra, and if you get caught trying to sneak far too much hand luggage on board, that will also cost a lot extra. You have to be prepared to queue once you get to the airport to check your bag in. You have to be OK with spending half an hour on hold to fix any problems by phone.

This is what budget carriers do. This is how they can afford to fly you from Sydney to the Gold Coast for little more than the cost of a good meal.

If people understood this when they booked, I doubt Jetstar would have come in at the bottom of that Choice survey. If people were happy to accept the emotional cost – the frustration and inconvenience – of booking with a budget carrier, in exchange for not having to put up with the financial cost, then maybe we would all be a lot more comfortable with the experience.

Of course, yes, there are some dodgy practices from these airlines that fall outside of the "you get what you pay for" sphere. And they deserve to be called out. But most of the inconveniences that people complain about really are the byproduct of paying a very small amount to fly across the world.

If you really hate that, pay for full service. And if things still go wrong – then, you have every right to complain.

Do you think inconveniences are part and parcel of the budget carrier experience? Or should these airlines be held to the same standards as full service carriers? Post your comments below.

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: I tried out five of the world's cheapest airlines, and here's what I found

See also: TripAdvisor names the world's best airlines for 2017

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