Bags of Time

Our new series of monthly articles invites readers to send in light-hearted stories of their travel experiences.  This month, friend of the publication – Jon Stevenson – relives his flights with low-cost airlines.

It’s always the same.  Confirmation of overseas business trip = straight on to the internet to search for the cheapest flights.  I may have a work credit card (oooh – someone’s made it in life), but I have a conscience that doesn’t allow me to extract the urine.  I know deep down, that the Air of Ryan or the Easiest of Jets is going to be my destination website, but I still use a comparison site to check out the fares.  Sure enough, up pings the blue/yellow & orange/white at the very top of the search results and the inevitable first step is confirmed.

Although a part of me always wants to pay more at the point of booking flights (business or leisure) and buy a little bit of refinery, this is difficult to justify, particularly for short-haul flights.  If I am flying anywhere in less than 3 hours, I have always found it impossible to ignore cost over refinement.

And so I begin the booking process.  A process that – to be very fair – is pretty seamless with both of the ‘Big 2’.  I do the exact same thing each time; seat by the window at the back of the plane (for supposed ease of embarkment/disembarkment), no speedy priority upgrade (not since seat allocation at booking came in) and flight times that get me in & out of the destination as quickly as possible (I’m not going for the fun of it).

I usually fly out of Stansted if the destination/times allow and apart from the ridiculous single-carriageway section of the A120, the airport is very accessible.  I approach the parking areas and have my usual internalised moan about saving money on Meet & Greet and cheaper alternatives, by parking in the Blue car park (blue by name, blue by feeling) and then walk & grumble my way across the Green car park (£5.50 more expensive – so not buying into that BS), to the terminal building.  

I’m a seasoned, if not entirely happy, traveller and very used to Stansted’s pre-security automated barriers, so I have my boarding pass ready and occasionally having to submit to the ‘look at the camera’ instruction (no idea why this is sporadic), I can then proceed to security.  Despite the recent brag of being seasoned, I occasionally forget a coin or four in my trouser pocket.  I assure you that this isn’t to get my day started with a pat-down, but does remind me of the early hour and the (some-ways) relaxed nature that I am fortunate to take flying with me.

A quick side-step to avoid the aftershave reps and I am in my favourite coffee house awaiting the gate number.

Now the fun can commence.

I’ve been flying for years & years now and in that time, I have welcomed the chance that low-cost airlines have given customers to choose their seat first.  This should negate the need, not only to sit within view of the coffee shop’s screen, but to check said screen every 2 minutes, when it clearly states the time that the gate will be displayed.  Surely, there is no need to get to the gate as quickly as possible after the digital announcement?  But there is.  There is the issue of not wanting my hand-luggage to be ‘checked’.  By checked, I mean of course ….into the hold.  So, there I am watching the screen for the gate number and then hating myself for joining the throng of passengers trialling out for the Olympic speed-walking team.

It’s always a long walk with the LCA’s.  They have to pay the minimum airport charges to be viable and therefore get the furthest gate allocations.  Try as I might, I still don’t resist queuing at the gate immediately; so as to ensure that when the ’maximum of 90 bags in the hold – we now need volunteers’ announcement strikes up, I can smugly remove myself from the indignity of having a tag wrapped around my carry-on and having to wait a wholly unacceptable 10 further minutes at the destination, to grab my bag off the luggage belt.

Of course, all of this could be avoided by paying for sped-up-priority.  However, I still can’t get over the fact that surely all this really does – if you’re not meticulously planned and mildly compulsive like me – is sits you on the plane for 10 minutes longer than the last embarking passenger.

So I’m seated, buckled and ready for the impending roar of the engines, signifying the all-clear from Air Traffic Control.  All I have to do now is look forward to the reverse of all of this in 48 hours time.