Cheap flights - good or bad?

Life in Spain Wed, 3 Jun 2015
Cheap flights

Most people with property in Spain have enjoyed cheap flights for a few years. Without doubt it’s one of the reasons why people choose property here. With good, predictable warm weather in the summer and milder winters on the coast, you’re not far away from family and friends either. If it’s a holiday home you’ve bought then even a long weekend can be worth it if you fall lucky with the flights.

However, the competition between airlines to beat each other on flight costs has had some unpleasant repercussions. It’s a balance between cheap and cheerful and an unpleasant flight. Long gone might be the days of free papers, four course meals and warm hand towels but you still want to be able to enjoy your two and a half hours in the air.

The scrum for seats

Some low cost airlines had perhaps pushed too far down the route of rock bottom service. Flying with them was starting to become a nightmare rather than part of the holiday experience. Many people were beginning to search elsewhere and paying more for the privilege too.  

No allocated seats and one item of hand luggage only was making boarding the plane a scrum that more and more people were coming to dread. Then airlines started to moderate their policies once more.  More concessions were given to the needs of the passenger, seats were allocated again and hand luggage options extended.

Ironically this change of heart from low cost airlines hasn’t necessarily led to a drop in profits. Instead Ryanair announced recently that their profits had grown by 66% in 2014 with an improved profit margin up from 10% to 15%. The airline puts this down to the introduction of more routes from airports, a new website and app and more flexible schedules for business travellers.

Some of us might add to this list a relaxation of their more troublesome rules and a return of some disaffected passengers. Of course, low cost airlines would never admit that their austerity had been a turn off for some.

Who really pays for cheap flights?

Even with these changes in practice, the cost of flying remains low. But at the expense of what?  In an article published in ‘The Conversation’ our attention is drawn to the knock on effect that budget flights can have. The authors of the article, Geraint Harvey and Peter Turnbull point out that one of the ways in which flight costs have been reduced is through poor terms and conditions and wages for ground staff.

They report that many of these workers are on split shifts and temporary contracts. Perhaps this is a sign of the times, but we shouldn’t accept these poor employment practices too easily. Ground crew do in fact have the crucial responsibility of our safety. Baggage checks and handling help us to fly safely. If staff are tired, overworked or disillusioned, this could have unforeseen consequences.

Not only could they become more likely to commit errors but they could be more vulnerable to the influence of organised crime. Ground staff might find themselves tempted towards malpractice by drug syndicates, keen to exploit holes in the system.

The presence of ‘precarious’ workers, working under pressure might lead to breaches of security protocol either intentionally - to save time,  or as the result of overtiredness and lack of training. None of these scenarios are ones that most of us envisage when we book our cheap flights.

Whilst cheap flights remain an option, it is unlikely that any of us will be able to resist them. However, it is to be hoped that airlines don’t cut corners too far and put our security at risk.

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