Tuesday, 27 May 2014

EasyJet - Not That Bad

I travel a lot, an awful lot and people often say I should write a book, but I can't think who would want to read it? However in my blog when talking about the places I go to I do mention the travel, especially if it is an issue.

This post is different, it is about good service, good service with Easyjet. The reason I was motivated to write this is because the UKOUG Apps & Tech conferences are in Liverpool this year and people are on social media discussing travel options and there is a pre-conceived idea that Easyjet is not a 'real' airline.

I live in Belfast and that means that for most long haul I have to travel to London first, and actually I do a lot of work in London as well so most of my travel involves British Airway who provide a good service between the two cities. They often annoy me but I do enjoy frequent flier privileges but that is not the subject of this post.

For domestic travel to other airports I can choose between a number of airlines and my one of choice is Easyjet. Easyjet are not really low-cost, more no-frills and it certainly doesn't mean they are always the cheapest but in general are good value, large aircraft and I love the un-weighed hand luggage.

 I hated Easyjet when they had free seating, I hated the rush and the pushing. Allocated seating is good but I want to chose my seat so I would pay Speedy Boarding, although because I know I will do enough flights (anything over 5 returns in a year) it is better value for me to by an Easyjet Plus card which gives me this for a year regardless of how many flights. In addition to the seating it gives me a frequent flyer priority queue at check in, again suits my preferred experience of travel.

 In the last month I have travel a lot with Easyjet for both business and pleasure and thought I would explain the good and bad.

 I went to Egypt for Easter diving. My dive holiday agent uses both charter and Easyjet flights depending on cost, but I have flown on charter to Egypt and the five hours from London is horrendous on the over cramped charter flights, customer service is not as good and I have seen more delays. On my last trip a friend flying back to Manchester was delayed 28 hours! yes 28 hours. 
As I have the speedy boarding I get a seat at the front of the plane, because it is an add-on cost, if I select my must-have seat on the aisle in a row where the window is already gone I have a high chance of a spare seat in the middle. On this last occasion it was slightly more expensive than the charter flight, so I had to pay the difference to the holiday agent but not much.

 First though I had to fly from Belfast to Gatwick, again by Easyjet. I elected to fly the day before as I had a meeting in London but if it had been the same day then Gatwick have a through luggage system which would have been ideal.  Easyjet are very strict with hand luggage size but not weight. Charter airlines give another 5kg to qualified divers but only allow 5kg hand luggage. My guaranteed hand luggage (larger size again for speedy boarding), carried my PC, iPad, Underwater camera housing, Diving Regs and very heavy logbook which weighed almost 11kg. Now I know I am tall so fulfilling the 'you must be able to put into overhead luggage yourself' is easier for me.

Both these flight legs, to London and then Egypt landed ahead of schedule. Now it isn't always plain sailing they do have delays especially at the end of the day as the turnaround times are so fast any delays have a knock on effect so my #1 tip is travel early if possible. There is a lot of being held in queues but I am at the front so less stressful and if you have ever been in Hurghada airport on a Friday you will know how stressful that can be.

 There are no included refreshments but you can bring on-board or buy from them and certainly no more expensive than an airport café, but my tip, a Boots Meal Deal. The return home meant an overnight stay at Gatwick and I was lucky I had enough hotel points for a free night but Easyjet airports tend to have much cheaper hotels than the high cost ones such as Heathrow.

Also on board there is no reclining seats, not much of an issue and does mean the seat in front of you does not push your laptop into your face but it does mean if you want any sleep you need to remember a neck cushion. No seat back movies either but then to be fair these are < 5 hour flights and we all have that kind of entertainment in our iPads etc.

 Last week I needed to be in Birmingham for the first UKOUG Next Generation Event so flew there Wednesday tea time and again no delays.

 Easyjet can be very low cost if you have flexibility and know a long time in advance. I flew to Tel Aviv for ilOUG conference and this was approved for funding through the ACE Director program  about 5 weeks out. Oracle travel priced my flights and it was over $1,000 which they would pay but I thought extortionate. Friday I was in Manchester and hoped I could get a flight from there but it was too early in the day and I was not flexible enough. However a quick train (booked in advance £26)  to Milton Keynes and it was only a £24 taxi to Luton.

 Did I mention my itinerary was a nightmare? Well I also had an EOUC meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria the following Tuesday, the day AFTER ilOUG. Direct flights from Tel Aviv to Sofia? No, well not quite true there is one on Mondays at 7am, no good, so then my options were via Frankfurt, Paris or London all with overnight stays. My fellow board member Fiona was also going to Sofia so I looked at Manchester and that worked. I landed back from Tel Aviv just before midnight Monday and flew out again at 7.30 the next morning with her to Sofia, again Easyjet. The flights to Tel Aviv plus the train and taxi was < $600, and the extra time was actually negligible.
Tel Aviv had a lightening baggage handlers strike and the Easyjet staff did their best to keep everyone informed. it didn't last too long but people get fractious and stressed. I was quite disappointed to discoverer that the most vocal of those being unreasonable were pilgrims to the Holy Land, not a good example.
At some destinations Easyjet are not at the central airport. This is because they select airports with lower taxes to keep costs down. At Tel Aviv this is a bit of a hybrid, it is the main airport but uses the domestic terminal and then bus you (a long way) to the international terminal. Not really a problem but not expected and added to travel stress. On this flight there was an Easyjet flight crew manager on board, she is land based but has to travel 2 flights a month to 'keep her hand in' and she was asking people about their travel expenses

 Now I know you have to pay extra for bags, but I have included that in my comparisons  and yes with BA I have lounge access but most airports allow you to purchase a one off visit an actually I am an IOD member and in most domestic airports that will give you lounge access.

 Friday I finished the epic few weeks by flying home from Stansted airport with Easyjet., this was the Friday before a bank holiday and the airport was packed, or 'bunged' as they say in Belfast. I was really depressed that Easyjet wouldn't open the flight until 2 hours before boarding but then I had the same issue in Norway last month with BA, and there didn't appear to be enough staff, but that seemed to be a Stansted issue, all areas, all check in, security, shops all seemed to be struggling with not enough staff. My flight took off on time and arrived early, despite being a late evening flight.
 So if you are coming to Liverpool, my advice is don't write off Easyjet, do the comparism and if it works, use them flying into either Liverpool or Manchester which is just 64 minutes away by direct train.
Oh and I have booked my flight for UKOUG, £72 including baggage.



Connor McDonald said...

Tel Aviv had a lightening baggage handlers strike

So they were striking about the bags weighing less ?


Ranit Biswas said...

Hi Debra,

Just discovered your blog (from Oracle-Base :)

Even though I have not been to these places but your writing almost gave a virtual tour.

I liked your writing. Please keep blogging, and I'm following this.

-- Ranit, India