Lonely Planet Writer

Flying on the cheap


They say you get what you pay for, and nowhere does this annoying old truism seem more spot on than in the stripped-back world of discount airlines. Virtually everyone who has travelled on one of these cut-price people carriers has a tale of woe involving lost luggage, non-existent service or unscheduled cancellations.

Recently, passengers on a Tiger Airlines (one of Australia's cheapie options) flight from Hobart to Melbourne faced a three-day delay because one of the flight crew was ill and no replacement could be found. The passengers were steaming mad, the airline apologetic, the staff flanked by security to protect them from afore-mentioned passengers spitting comments about 'monkeys and peanuts'.

But are we right to expect any better? Or should anything prefixed with 'discount', 'bargain' or 'crazy sale' be expected to be less than stellar? When we go for the cheaper option elsewhere - rough sheets, rattley cars - we accept it's going to be second-rate. So why then do we find it so difficult to accept in air travel? If I buy a bottle of 'Old Sporran' scotch for $20, I don’t expect it to taste like the Macallan. In turn, if I buy a seriously discounted airfare, all I’m hoping is that it'll get me to my destination in one piece, and that's about it.

Perhaps it's because air travel is inherently stressful, that discount airlines seem to foster such loathing - because they charge for everything and can add to your pre-flight apprehension. Discount airlines are also insanely popular, and with so much ferrying of tight-fisted travellers going on around the globe, problems seem inevitable. It also seems that long-standing or 'legacy' airlines, (i.e. not cheap, but the nuts are free) haven’t overly endeared us to them by being comparatively expensive and frankly, still a bit crap. And of course, it's not like anything can go wrong on your traditional airlines, is it?

So, bargain basement or top shelf - what's your flying style?