Hugi Magazine #33: MP3 Power

Hugi #33 header graphic

Travelling with low-cost airlines (By Maija "DiamonDie" Haavisto)

Flying is now cheaper than ever, at least for Europeans. Low-cost airlines like Ryanair have taken up a major share of the market, not surprise considering the huge difference in pricing. When I flew to Breakpoint 2003, the cheapest flights I could acquire cost some 300 euros, which was actually a rather good deal. Soon afterwards Ryanair started to fly from Finland to Frankfurt and my flights for Breakpoint 2004 only cost about 40 euros, just a fraction of the previous year's price. Unfortunately I was unable to go in the end, but 40 euros was a much more tolerable loss than 300 euros would have been.

Ryanair is probably the best known of the cheap airlines and their prices are hard to beat. It has been a subject of huge controversy, with a large userbase who is happy to pay a fraction of the price of they used to pay for their flights, but also plenty of critics. In fact it has been voted as the world's most disliked airline and gets more complaints than any other European airline. Nevertheless it has become a staple for many demosceners who are happy to trade customer service for extremely low prices.

EasyJet and Sterling are another two large companies offering bargain flights. They both cover a big range of airports and easyJet even flies to such exotic destinations as Istanbul, Casablanca and Ibiza. Unfortunately for Finns and Scandinavians there are no routes from the Nordic countries, though you can get to Tallinn from London and Berlin. The Icelandic-owned Sterling flies to all the Nordic countries, except for Finland which it recently dropped from its coverage.

Flybe is a British company, which flies to many destinations in the continental Europe as well, including over a dozen airports in France. But outside of the UK, France, Germany and Spain it doesn't offer many other destinations, and none in the Nordic countries. It shouldn't be confused with FlyMe, which was based in Sweden. It only operated for a few years until filing bankruptcy in March 2007.

Germans are lucky when it comes to cheap flying. Almost all low-cost airlines fly there. Germanwings is a big airline that offers almost 70 European destinations which cover most European countries. Unfortunately for Breakpoint travellers it doesn't fly to either of the Frankfurt airports, but it does serve the Cologne-Bonn airport which connects nicely to Evoke. Air Berlin serves 16 German airports, but mostly flies to holiday destinations. Unlike most low-cost airlines it offers connecting flights and even some free services (like meals) on flights.

Blue1 is a Finnish subsidiary of SAS and their prices aren't the cheapest of the lot. Most routes start from about 50 to 100 euros. They offer a good number of destinations from Finland and some from other Nordic and Baltic cities. Especially if out of season, you can usually get very decent prices even a month before departure, which is unlikely to happen with eg. Ryanair.

Of course there are many other airlines that aren't as big or as well known. SkyEurope and Wizz Air mostly serve the Central Europe, eg. Czech, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Austria and Poland. is based in the Netherlands and flies to mostly holiday destinations such as many airports in Greece, Italy and Spain. It's not likely to be of much use to non-Dutch sceners. Italians can use MyAir to fly to Romania, Bulgaria and Spain.

There are some websites that help you with choosing the cheapest alternative for your journey. ebookers is a popular service, but it excludes the cheapest airlines, so you're not likely to get any round trip under 200 euros. Wegolo is a service that shows the cheapest prices for 75 cheap airlines and a whopping 700 destinations all over the world, not just Europe. And the fares they show include all costs, such as taxes and other surcharges. Both of these sites let you reserve hotels as well, though in most cases you can get better bargains from separate booking sites. And EuroCheapo is a good listing of decent budget hotels with reviews.

...and the bad things

Naturally there are some cons to cheap airlines. Some of the expenses they cut only increase the efficacy, but customer service both before and during the flight is inevitably reduced as well. It shouldn't come as a surprise that there's no free booze or food offered. Blue1 used to serve free meals and other normal airline goodies on all routes as they were essentially normal SAS flights, but now they only serve food on flights inside of Scandinavia (and note that Finland still isn't a part of Scandinavia no matter what some people think). They still sell food, but they no longer have any decent corpse-free options.

Cheap airlines usually require that you book the tickets well in advance, which usually means at least several months. The prices increase with time and/or the number of seats reserved on the flight. If you book late, the prices may not be at all cheaper than on conventional airlines, so you get quite a crappy deal: normal price and poor service. So if you're a late booker without much money, it might make more sense to check out some major airline's last minute offers, season discounts or even fly standby (go to an airport and wait for a cheap seat), though that way getting on any flight isn't guaranteed.

Usually if you cancel your flight or would like to transfer it to a different date or a different person, you will not get any money back. There might be some kind of a transfer policy, but usually it costs more than you paid for the ticket. Blue1 lets you book flights with a flexible schedule: you can change your departure date, or even get a full refund of the tickets. The bad thing is that this costs an insane amount of money. With this policy the price of the flight can go up some 300%, making it much pricier than a normal flight ticket. Most travel insurances will refund your ticket if you have to cancel your flight due to eg. sudden illness. Travel insurances aren't expensive and getting one is usually a good idea.

Many cheap airlines use remote airports and on strange schedules. There's usually at most one departure a day (or one every other day) and the flights may depart in the early morning hours, or very late in the evening. When I flew Blue1 from Amsterdam to Helsinki the flight was supposed to be back at 2 AM, but it was late so we didn't get to Helsinki until 3 AM. Often the flight schedule may change and you're notified about it via email. That can lead to inconvenient situations. A German scener recently reserved his flights to Simulaatio from Ryanair, and only a few days afterwards he was told that the first flight would now leave at 6:30, and the second one was also moved several hours earlier.

Normal airlines tend to be fairly flexible. If you miss your flight, you can usually get on the next one if there's room and you don't have to purchase a new ticket. Cheap airlines seldom offer such service. If you miss your plane, too bad. Buy a new ticket. And in either case you'll usually have to wait at least 24 hours for the next departure. If a conventional airline messes up your travel, they may pay for your hotel accomodation and you usually get some food as well. Don't expect such service with Ryanair or easyJet. They may cancel your your flight if there aren't enough passengers, and you won't be compensated for anything but the price of the ticket you bought.

The list of downsides may seem long, but the low price is a very good bait for those of us who don't have much money. I'd rather fly a shitty airline (as long as it's safe and I don't have to be worried about accidentally ending up in Timbuktu) than not travel anywhere at all because of my small budget. I'm not so fond of flying in general because of the insane pollution it causes, but sometimes you want to travel from place A to place B without spending loads of time and a fortune of money on it. Unfortunately one caveat remains: there are still no cheap flights to Molvania.

You can take eg. these cheap airlines to the following parties (though we don't guarantee that all these parties will be hold in the future and that these locations will hold current). The distances are approximations.

Assembly/Altstork/Icons (Helsinki, Finland)
-Blue1 (Helsinki-Vantaa airport)
-Ryanair (Pirkkala-Tampere airport, then 200 km by train/bus)
-easyJet (Tallin airport, then 100 km by a cheap ferry)

Stream (Ylöjärvi, Finland)
-Ryanair (Pirkkala-Tampere airport, then 20 km by car/bus)
-Blue1 (Pirkkala-Tampere airport, -"-)
-Blue1 (Helsinki-Vantaa airport, then 200 km by train/bus)

Simulaatio (Varkaus, Finland)
-Ryanair (Pirkkala-Tampere airport, then 300 km by scene bus)
-Blue1 (Helsinki-Vantaa airport, then 400 km by scene bus)

Breakpoint (Bingen am Rhein, Germany)
-Ryanair (Frankfurt Hahn airport, then 60 km by scene bus)
-Blue1 (Frankfurt am Main airport, then 70 km by train/scene bus)
-Air Berlin (Frankfurt am Main airport, -"-)
-Sterling (Frankfurt am Main airport, -"-)

Evoke (Cologne, Germany)
-easyJet (Cologne-Bonn airport)
-Germanwings (Cologne-Bonn airport)
-TUIfly (Cologne-Bonn airport)

tUM (Karlsruhe-Durlach, Germany)
-Ryanair (Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden airport, then 50 km by car/bus)
-Ryanair (Frankfurt Hahn airport, then 200 km by car/bus)
-Blue1 (Frankfurt am Main, then 150 km by train/bus)
-Air Berlin (Frankfurt am Main airport, -"-)
-Sterling (Frankfurt am Main airport, -"-)
-Germanwings (Stuttgart airport, then 80 km by car/bus)
-TUIfly (Stuttgart airport, -"-)

Numerica (Montbeliard, France)
-Germanwings (Zurich International airport, then 200 km by car/bus)
-Air Berlin (Zurich International airport, -"-)
-Blue1 (Zurich International airport, -"-)
-easyJet (Zurich International airport, -"-)
-easyJet (Basel-Mulhouse airport, then 100 km by car/bus)

Euskal Encounter (Barakaldo, Spain)
-easyJet (Bilbao airport, then 15 km by car/bus)
-TUIfly (Bilbao airport, -"-)
-Ryanair (Santander airport, then 100 km by car/bus)

bcnparty (Barcelona, Spain)
-Blue1 (Barcelona airport)
-easyJet (Barcelona airport)
-Germanwings (Barcelona airport)
-SkyEurope (Barcelona airport)
-Sterling (Barcelona airport)

Solskogen (Ås, Norway)
-Blue1 (Oslo Gardermoen airport, then 80 km by bus/train)
-Norwegian (Oslo Gardermoen airport, -"-)
-Sterling (Oslo Gardermoen airport, -"-)
-Ryanair (Torp-Sandefjord airport, then 80 km by car/bus)

Kindergarden (Akershus, Norway)
-Blue1 (Oslo-Gardermoen, then 30 km by bus/train)
-Norwegian (Oslo-Gardermoen, -"-)
-Sterling (Oslo-Gardermoen, -"-)

Deadline (Stockholm, Sweden)
-Blue1 (Stockholm Arlanda airport, then 50 km by train/bus)
-Flynordic (Stockholm Arlanda airport, -"-)
-Germanwings (Stockholm Arlanda airport, -"-)
-Sterling (Stockholm Arlanda airport, -"-)

Demozone (Biddinghuizen, the Netherlands)
-Blue1 (Amsterdam Sciphol airport, then 80 km by car/bus)
-easyJet (Amsterdam Sciphol airport, -"-)
-SkyEurope (Amsterdam Sciphol airport, -"-)
-Sterling (Amsterdam Sciphol airport, -"-) (Amsterdam Sciphol airport, -"-)

Outline (Braamt, the Netherlands)
-Ryanair (Eindhoven airport, then 120 km by car/bus)
-Ryanair (Niederrhein airport, then 50 km by car/bus)
-Blue1 (Amsterdam Sciphol airport, then 140 km by train/bus)
-easyJet (Amsterdam Sciphol airport, -"-)
-SkyEurope  (Amsterdam Sciphol airport, -"-)
-Sterling (Amsterdam Sciphol airport, -"-) (Amsterdam Sciphol airport, -"-)

Function (Budapest, Hungary)
-easyJet (Budapest Ferihegy airport)
-Germanwings (Budapest Ferihegy airport)
-Wizz Air (Budapest Ferihegy airport)
-Sterling (Budapest Ferihegy airport)
-SkyEurope (Budapest Ferihegy airport)

Symphony (Piecnik, Poland)
-Germanwings (Gdansk airport, then 200 km by train/bus)
-Ryanair (Gdansk airport, -"-)
-Wizz Air (Gdansk airport, -"-)

Geekcamp (Altdorf, Switzerland)
-Intersky (Friedrichshafen airport, then 200 km by car/bus)
-Germanwings (Zurich International airport, then 100 km by train/bus)
-Air Berlin (Zurich International airport, -"-)
-Blue1 (Zurich International airport, -"-)
-easyJet (Zurich International airport, -"-)
-easyJet (Basel-Mulhouse airport, then 150 km by car/bus)

Buenzli (Winterthur, Switzerland)
-Intersky (Friedrichshafen airport, then 70 km by train/bus)
-Germanwings (Zurich International airport, then 25 km by train/bus)
-Air Berlin (Zurich International airport, -"-)
-Blue1 (Zurich International airport, -"-)
-easyJet (Zurich International airport, -"-)
-easyJet (Basel-Mulhouse airport, then 100 km by car/bus)