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  Thursday January 29th, 2015    

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Flying low (cost) (11/06/2013)
By Frances Edstrom

This year Iíve had the opportunity to fly commercial airlines several times nationally and internationally. It seems to be universally thought that air travel is not fun, a lot of trouble, and an ordeal to be endured in order to get somewhere. I much prefer driving, or taking the train, but when time is of the essence, or when there is an ocean in my path, I fly.

On one flight, a passenger remarked, within earshot of the flight attendant, that he thought the aisles were narrower than they used to be. The airline employee was quick to state that no, it is suitcases that are getting bigger. It is a perception widely held that airline seats have become narrower, and the space between the rows less accommodating of passengersí feet and knees. This belief seems to have been bolstered by a recent LA Times story that Airbus, a French airline manufacturer, has called on the industry to increase the width of seats to 18 inches, but the industry has balked at the idea, even though the change would mean its passengers on long flights may sleep better.

Lines at airports are long, going through security is tedious, planes are uncomfortable and crowded, there are seldom meals or snacks, except on overseas flights. Airlines charge extra to check a suitcase, the overhead bins are packed to the gills, if you recline your seat to try to get a little shut-eye, your head ends up in the lap of the guy behind you. Yet the airlines pretend that they are the premium mode of travel, and charge their passengers a great deal of money to put up with these discomforts.

We flew on discount airline Ryanair from Barcelona to Seville, Spain. Ryanair is cheap, and doesnít pretend to cater to passengersí every need, or even one need, except getting where they are going. A flight from Barcelona to Seville, on November 12, returning November 19, would cost $135, including one checked bag. A roundtrip from Minneapolis to St. Louis, a roughly comparable distance, on the same dates on Delta Airlines would cost a minimum of $382.

How can Ryanair be so cheap? First, on our Spanish flight, we went through no security. The only thing about us that was checked was that we were carrying but one bag, up to 21x by 16 by 8 inches, weighing less than 22 pounds. And they mean one bag. Purse, briefcase, camera, diaper bag? Thatís your one bag.

There are no assigned seats. Those who are first in line get the best seats. The seats do not recline. There is no little pocket on the seat back in front of you. The safety precaution sheet is posted on the back of the seat, under an ad. (There are also ads posted on the overhead bins, as in buses.) No carts are rolled up and down the aisle by these flight attendants, who are dressed in outfits reminiscent of those worn by old Woolworth lunch counter waitresses.

When the planeís wheels hit the tarmac on landing, a recorded audio message plays a bugle call and a voice exults that Ryanair has once again landed on time. (In fact, we were ten minutes early.) They have a 90% or so on time record. Passengers exit down a rocky staircase to the ground from both front and rear doors.

I loved it! No pretense that these are still the glory days of air travel. Just get in and get there. I didnít even mind packing and repacking my travel purse several times to make sure I would have my medications and clean undies in case they lost my luggage. Oh, luggage? It was waiting for us on the carousel, having arrived before we did.

Most of all, I liked that it was cheap! Think if it were that cheap to visit your old auntie in Biloxi or Toledo ó wouldnít you be tempted to travel more often? 


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