Flying Budget While Keeping Your Sanity (and your trip) Intact

Yeah. I’m a sucker for budget airlines. Name it — Cebu Pacific, Air Philippines, Zest Air, Tiger Airways, Jet Star, Air Asia— I’m on their mailing list. I’m the type who have my flights booked 10 months in advanced courtesy of a seat sale.  And yes I do spend a large part of the day trying to get through the internet traffic when there’s on online seat sale. On the precious flights when no budget airline served the route and I have to dole out a little more moolah, the comfort of a wide leg room, in-flight snacks and movies, and other amenities make me say, “Ahhh… I’ll never fly budget again.”  That is until the next seat sale comes along.

Lots of people have had unpleasant experiences with budget airlines.   I’ve been lucky as I have had nothing worse than a couple of hours of delayed flights and just one cancellation.  Or maybe I kinda like hanging out at airports.

Anyway, if you’re like me and fancy himself as a Nat Geo explorer or a Lonely Planet author always in search of the next great adventure but without the corresponding finances, budget airlines are the way to go.  It’s not all that bad contrary to what your envious office mate (who probably only took one flight in his/her entire sedentary life) or the frustrated I’m-gonna-blog-you-I’m-a-big-shot-tourist say.  Flying budget is a great way to save your money for things that would matter most during your vacation.  Shit does happen and it can happen again.  How you deal with it is all up to you. You can either laugh about it and treat it as part of your travel experience or be exasperated and feel like shit.  Your choice, really.  In the meantime, here are few things you need to know to keep you sane.

This Is Your Fate

You’re  poor.  So Shut-up.

If you want the wide leg room, the meals in aluminum trays, flight attendants in smart uniforms, and the over-all feeling of snootiness because you’re off on vacation while leaving the rest of humanity in slavery, go ahead and spend about $100 more.  If you can afford it.  If you can’t…. take a deep breath, swallow your pride, and repeat after me…. “I get what I paid for…. I get what I paid for…”

You’re not willing to pay for more so why expect the airlines to give you more?  You skimp on you trip.  They skimp on you.  Enough said.

Beggars can’t be choosy.

Surviving Your Fate

Sit Smart

Because the fares are cheap, budget airlines try to squeeze in as many people the aircraft can hold.  Almost non-existent leg rooms and 90 degree seat pitches are the norm.  So unless your petite you’ll be squeezed tight and literally rubbing elbows with your seatmate.  Woe to anyone on the center seat.  On the other hand, you can follow the advice of some fast-food joints and “Share a Seat, Win a Friend.”  In this case, you can “Share a Space, and Win a Friend.”  Engaging your seatmate in light conversation will help you while away the time.  Just make sure turbulence doesn’t make you jittery.  Having your voice rise an octave above when the plane suddenly drops a few feet will belie your relative lack of air travel experience. 

“I can’t fit,” heaved a hefy Russina behind me on an HCMC-bound Cebu Pacific flight.

If you’re on a red-eye flight, dont’ even attempt to start a conversation.  Sleeping is always preferred to talking.

A neck pillow really comes in handy for your winks.   If you’re lucky and the flight isn’t full (and I’ve had this twice on a BKK-MNL Cebu Pacific flight), there will be whole empty rows.  Cast your eye on it to claim it as yours and give the evil eye to whoever attempts to take it away from you.  As soon as the flight attendant shuts the door, unbuckle your seatbelt and skeddadle to the nearest empty row.  Stay at the CENTER so nobody takes the other seats.  After take-off and when the seat belt signs goes off, fling the arm rests up, lie flat, and enjoy :). 

Spare the extra cash and reserve a nice seat. You’ll be glad you did.

If you really must have a nice and comfortable seat, then go and buy yourself one.  Budget airlines nowadays try to make additional revenue by selling seat allocations.  If you don’t get one, the system randomly assigns a seat. Forget about checking-in early and asking the guy at the counter to give you seat 8F.  Most online systems assign seats as it makes check-in faster and easier. If leg room or a window is important to you, spare the additional hundred bucks for your preferred seat.  Air Asia and Cebu Pacific have premium seats that are double the rate.  These seats are usually in front and on emergency rows.  I’m fine with getting seat 1A or 1F for a measly Php 100.

The best seats in Air Asia are the red ones which cost more.




Tandoori in the Sky.

Do you really need to have something on a 4-hour flight?  Does being in high-altitude and breathing pressurized air still make you hungry?  Are you really that much of a glutton?  What were you doing while waiting for your boarding call?

I like airline food. Honestly. I’m usually not very hungry during flights as I prefer to sleep but on rare occasions, such as on a PP-KL AirAsia flight, I hadn’t had lunch so I ordered a Chicken Masala.  I liked it so much I was tempted to order another one 🙂  Air Asia has cheap meals and they have promos when you order your meal online when you book your flight or do web check-in.

If you’re  a social-climbing snooty, you can add this to your Snooty Tips.  Having a Chicken Tandoori with Biryani Rice while the rest of your seatmates try to ignore you makes you look . . . well . . .   “moneyed.”  Hahahaha.  It screams — ” I have money.  I can buy airline food.”  If you’re just gonna have a cup of instant noodles, forget it.

Should you bring baon?  Why not?  I sometimes bring a chocolate bar with me and I always have a bottle of water.

Getting to the Point.

Budget airlines are point-to-point carriers. That means they ferry you from your point or origin to your destination as indicated in your ticket.  While checking-in for my home-bound flight at KL, an exasperated French man with a young child in tow was exasperatedly screaming his head off as his flight from KL to Singapore was leaving in less than two hours and he had yet to look for his check-in counter.  He had just arrived from Paris and had expected that since he had booked all flights with Air Asia, there would be no need to go through immigrations, retrieve his luggage, and check-in again.  WRONG! Those were two separate flights.  Anyway, Air Asia has since launched its Fly Through program that spares  passengers on multiple flights the hassles of luggage claims and check-ins.

If you’re flying in and flying out on the same day, LEAVE ENOUGH TIME in between the arrival of one and the departure of another.  It’s more pleasant to wait than to rush off the plane and on another one while at the same time cursing yourself for thinking there might be no flight delay or your luggage will be the first one on the carousel.

Where’s my luggage?

Airlines really have the right to offload luggage for safety reasons. Some really small airports such as those in islands have short runaways which means less “momentum” time for the aircraft to prepare itself to lift off from the runway.  They do need to tell you  in advanced though that they’re not putting your luggage on  your flight.  Whenever I’m checking-in luggage, I always have my essentials on my carry-on.  I can lose my clothes but not my medication and other stuff really important to me.

If you’re delayed or cancelled . . .

Nothing much you can do about it really especially if the cause of the delay or cancellation is congested airways and weather conditions.  Inhale.  Exhale.  If you are in danger of missing another flight, scroll up and read “Getting to the point.”  Can you ask for some sort of compensation such as flight vouchers or free meals?  As indicated in the terms of carriage, airlines are not obliged to compensate passengers for delays and cancellations over which they have no control.  The fancy term for this situation is force majeur which translates into “superior force.”  It’s a fancy way of saying, “Sorry but it’s not our fault and we couldn’t do anything to avoid it.”

Do take note that budget airlines operate with limited fleets which means that their aircraft are always up in the sky somewhere.  So don’t expect a  spare aircraft lying  somewhere on a hangar waiting to be put to use. 

Budget Airlines. Budget Terminals.

One of the reasons these airlines manage to keep their costs down is the low fees they need to pay the terminals which like them, are also budget.  Some cities have a single terminal for international flights such as  Bangkok’s Suvrnabhumi, but most have a separate terminal that’s as no frills as the airlines (even Bangkok has Dong Muang to service other domestic budget airlins). 

Expect to be walking to your plane.  Be lucky if there’s a shuttle.  Inside the terminal, expect little amenities.  If you’re planning to sleep in the airport to catch an early morning or late night flight, good luck.  Most budget terminals are not 24 hours which means they shut-down.  If you’re really on a budget and don’t want the additional expense to head to the city and get a room, take a shuttle to the main airport which would most probably be 24-hours and stay there.

Hongkong, Malaysia, and Singapore all have their budget, or to use the more proper term, low-cost terminals.    In Europe, Paris has Orly and Londonw has Gatwick.  The Philippines is an exception.  The budget airlines all operate out of the newer and better Terminal 3 instead of the ageing Terminal 1.

 Shit happens. 

Relax.  Think back of all the great travelers of the past and the inconveniences they suffered —- broken wheels, missing train tracks, bad-tempered horses, the list can go on.  You can scream, shout, kick, cry, and name drop all you want but it’s not gonna change.  The airline will go on with its business and while you can’t go on with yours.  You might have lost a day from your trip but you still have the rest of the days.  Lost luggage?  If you packed light (and you should have), then there’s nothing in there to make you lose sleep.

Some people swear-off budget airlines.  Good for them if they have the money.  But I don’t and I love to travel.  I accept these airlines for what they are.  Sure, it could be better and I hope they do make it better.  In the meantime, I have to admit it I’m stuck with them.  And if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.


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