There was a decent stretch of time when I would jump as gleefully as I could (which is more of a hop really) whenever a new budget airline route would open up. It meant that that was just one more place that I could get to cheaply. And it was with boundless joy once Easyjet and Ryanair started flying to places that I love, like Croatia.
But then, realization started to set in. For one, schedules rarely matched up with the longer-haul airlines. Sure, they were great getting to the destination, but returning was always an issue due to morning departures. This translates in to a mandatory one night stay in rather expensive cities like London or Frankfurt. A $150 hotel (if you’re lucky) stay in London immediately makes any $40 ticket, a lot more expensive.
Then there were the nasty ways that budget airlines make their money. If you read that article, you’ll quickly see that a carrier like Ryanair is the same if not more expensive that any other carrier. There are items afoot to change this practice. But, these carriers will undoubtedly find ways to squeeze more out of their passengers, such as how Easyjet now charges an extra fee for priority boarding so that you can get that seat by the emergency exit that you always dreamed of for the hour and a half flight from London to Barcelona.
Beyond all of this, I’ve found that there is a profound and unfortunate set of social changes that these budget airlines bring in, in that they change local economies and bring in bad tourists who are searching for beach, booze, brothels or all of the above. As for the economies, it is undebatable that if you open up an airport in a somewhat to very desirable location, then people will come and with them, money will follow. This article paints this in a very favorable light, but it is extremely stilted and downright offensive to me. I know from friends and firsthand experience in Europe that the arrival of budget airlines is no reason to be dancing in the streets. The first problem is the noise and pollution that air traffic creates. An airport like the one for Dubrovnik is quite far from town and in a very quiet setting, albeit no more. With passenger jets flying overhead, those living in Čilipi get a constant reminder as to the placement of this Communist transit point. Then of course there is the added traffic that a sudden boost of budget airline flights brings. While a place like Barcelona has good public transportation out to the airport, a place like Rijeka, Croatia does not where the airport is on a nearby island. These two lane roads that lead to the airports get packed with added traffic from taxis, tour buses, and everyone else that heads to the airport to pick up the tourists.
If planes were silent, public transportation a non-issue, and the world an otherwise perfect for air flight, there is the issue of the people that fly on budget airlines. They are for the most part, no one you would want to be stuck in an elevator with let alone share your hometown. The biggest group that are the most notorious are the Lager Lads from the UK who will hop on a budget flight to wherever and spend an extended weekend getting drunk and trying to get sex. Obviously the Lager Lad exists in all countries to some degree and it is those kinds of guys who fly to Split, Croatia, go out to the island of Hvar, pay twice what I pay for a martini in San Francisco, try to grope the local girls, and get beat up by the local guys.
But lets say that the Lad never comes to your town for some reason. At the very best, budget airlines still bring the very worst tourist. They are carting loads of people who want to pay next to nothing for a flight. While there is the off chance that these might be college students looking to research the migration of bears through the forests of Romania for their graduate thesis, it is much more th case that you’re going to get one of a few types:
– Aforementioned Lager Lads (or Lasses)
– Beach Tourists
– Cheap/Student/Hippy Tourists
Trust me, you don’t want any of these people in a town. A friend in Dubrovnik, Croatia says that all the new flights have brought in are a lot of drunks who leave a lot of garbage. Friends say the same thing that live on the islands of Korčula and Hvar. Prague has become full of these people. I saw this firsthand in these locations as well as in Istria, Venice, Barcelona, and Paris. Of course, the bigger a city, the less you feel these people. But somewhere like Tallinn, Estonia, all you get are these people because they go there with the single purpose of gettin’ a bit rowdy.
So, what does all this ultimately mean and what do you do to stop this? Essentially, if you travel, don’t take budget flights. They’re crappy, not the much cheaper (and maybe more expensive) than a “real” airline, and full of all the people I’ve mentioned. If you live in an area where a budget carrier is going to start service, protest like hell. Don’t let that carrot of immediate money being waved in front of you, fool you. The long term costs of this type of tourist pollution are quite disastrous. And of course, once it’s there, how are you going to get rid of it? These companies are like pigeons, going wherever some foolish person has decided to toss out some welcoming crumbs.