Why It Pays to Avoid Low-Cost Airlines


If it weren’t for London Luton Airport (let me declare now in case it doesn’t become clear in this post: AVOID AT ALL COSTS), Sunday would have been quite pleasant. After all, my friend and I each enjoyed our chai lattes and chocolate croissants from Caffe Nero while sitting on the steps at Trafalgar Square in front of the National Gallery. After enjoying the warm sun, we headed into the National Gallery to admire the art before exploring more of London’s streets.

For our last meal in London, we had burgers at Burger & Lobster, where the only two items on the food menu are, well, burger and lobster. Two observations: 1) Nearly every patron was Asian. As I walked to the toilets observing the rest of the restaurant, my suspicion was confirmed—not only were there only two non-Asian populated tables in the bustling place, but they all also ordered lobster. Was this place advertised in Asian media? 2) I immediately regretted not getting lobster after placing my order. Even though I was not in the mood for lobster, I figured I might as well have tried to get my money’s worth. When the burger came, it certainly looked nice and juicy, but I must admit the best burger I’ve ever had remains at Boston Burger Company. If you can’t stop eating a burger despite how full you are because of how good it is, that’s when you know. Unfortunately, we were both satisfied with leaving this one unfinished.

As we slowly made our way back to the Airbnb to prepare for departure, the unpleasantness started creeping into our day. Our host had apparently texted my friend about the noon checkout time (it was almost 2 p.m.), but she didn’t get it until we returned. OK. Our mistake. We left quickly, earlier than planned to get to the airport but, as we realized, maybe for the better as we weren’t exactly sure how to get to the airport, especially with my ridiculously overweight luggage. Public transportation would have been much cheaper but we ended up conceding, taking a black cab to London Luton Airport. The ride seemed like it took an hour. It probably would have cost a fraction of the 110 pounds we ended up paying (the meter said 150, but glad I asked fare estimate beforehand so he only increased his estimate by 10).

Black cabbing it to London Luton Airport
Black cabbing it to London Luton Airport.

And here is where the hell begins. (Warning: Language.)

I had no idea that Luton is a budget airport, meaning the airlines you’ve either never heard of or only knew of through ridiculous marketing schemes advertising unbelievably low airfare inhabit this nasty infestation/wild jungle that they call an airport.

Upon arriving, you immediately notice the obnoxious orange building with the letters e-a-s-y-J-e-t, each underlined, bolded, plastered on each section of the roofs.

easyJet at London Luton Airport
Obnoxious, much?

Only once you enter and push through all the packed food stalls will you see what you’re really there for—the check-in desks. Take your pick of blinding neon colors representing cheap airlines: pink and purple for W!ZZ Air? (I CAN’T STOP CRINGING). Orange for easyJet?

At first, all seems okay. Long lines. That’s expected. Until I was hit by a 60-pound charge (10 per extra kilo) for my overweight luggage (that comes to around $90, by the way). Sure, I had options. Transfer to my carry on? It was already digging into my arms. Transfer to a new bag and check that in to pay 30 compared to 60? No bag to transfer into that I would be willing to check. Ask if it could be waived? Wasn’t thinking, and what the hell. Screw it. Might as well use up the rest of my pounds. But want to pay in cash? You’ll have to walk to some other place and then come back. Oh, fuck that. Card, it is.

Already in a bad mood, I go through security, where a malevolent male security guard (his face expressed so much hatred) quite literally yelled, “DO YOU HAVE ANY LIQUIDS?!”—clearly having looked into my open bag and saw the plastic bag of liquids. Okay. I had just forgot to take it out. Why the fuck did you have to yell at me? Oh, that’s right. You didn’t.

At this point, I was seriously irked. The atmosphere was already claustrophobic, only adding to my anxiety.

It got worse.

Similar to the airport in Iceland, there are these contraptions where you can press a button about your experience. The kid in front of me pressed the happiest smiley face button at least three times in a row. That’s part of how this place is so fucked up. They think they’re doing it all right, thanks to these kids who just want to press some fucking buttons. I didn’t bother.

Then you enter what I and any reasonable person would call: The Zoo.

I only wish I had taken a photo to give you a sense of how ridiculous this airport was, forcing EVERYONE to wait in this mess of a food court, only flashing your gate number when you needed to start boarding. But hey, Google a zoo of people and I’m sure you’ll find something similar. Imagine China but somehow worse. All gates had no waiting areas as a result, and I guess this is part of how they “cut costs.” Eliminate actual gate areas, forcing everyone into one too-small section of the airport where they can spend money on food, drinks, shopping; sit on the floor because there is no seating; or stand in front of monitors waiting for your flight to be called so that you can escape this jungle. If you dare, wait in line for the bathroom, which my brave friend compared to China.

And it wasn’t just me who felt imprisoned. You’ll overhear the more sane people say, “I fucking hate this place.” The less sane will push you, causing you to spill Prêt à Manger’s Calming Chamomile tea you got to help calm you from the hell you found yourself in and aggressively telling you to get out of the way while running to the gate because she, like the rest of us, was supposed to have her eyes glued to the monitor until boarding time.

You can probably imagine how angry I became. I wanted to scream. I wanted to get out. I didn’t even want to get on the airplane. After waiting 15 minutes past our scheduled boarding time, staring at the monitor, we walked through the long, winding hallways, passing by some of the smarter, perhaps more seasoned Luton Airport goers who had managed to find seating in these empty hallways (no one had dared walk past the monitors toward their gate unless they were told to), passing by some sitting on ledges, others on chairs, and one lying upside down on the ground with her legs split against the wall, reading or whatever the fuck she was doing as everyone on this fully booked flight rushed to the gate at the same time down these halls. At the gate, a line formed.

Both of us mistook Murcia, an actual city in southeastern Spain, for the lovely slang ‘MURICA.

What came next only reinforced the unbelievable feeling of inhumanity this airport produces. The line led to a white-walled room (I remember it was white because the hallways were all painted—you guessed it—neon colors). One wall was glass, allowing us to see that the easyJet flight we were about to get on was actually just deplaning. Talk about a fast turnaround. But as we kept waiting to board, all standing in this room with nowhere to sit, an employee instructed us to move closer together to “allow for boarding from the back.” No one knew what the fuck moving closer together meant, because this room was big enough for all of us to stand with decent personal space among us. Instead, they decided to reinforce that we were like cattle, making us squish together for no apparent reason until the doors finally opened.

Somehow, we survived the flight, arriving in Munich and taking the train to the city center, where our clean Airbnb was located. First thing we saw on the train? Empty bottle of beer.

I couldn’t help but smile.

New city. New adventure.

Empty beer bottle on the Munich train
Empty beer bottle on the Munich train.

Just remember: The “savings” from these cheap airlines are never worth the emotional and physical hell you experience, especially at London Luton Airport. When it comes down to it, ask yourself if you would be willing to sacrifice your humanity for a couple bucks that you also end up having to pay in bag fees and sanity.

No exaggeration.