Flying budget airlines is like entering a different culture: you learn their ways and follow suit … or go home.
AUCKLAND, New Zealand- The guy checking in next to me didn’t understand AirAsia — or budget air travel in general. He walked up to the check in desk and passed across two suitcases like he was flying on a normal airline.
I was checking into my flight at the kiosk next to him.
“I see that you have checked baggage but you didn’t pay for it,” the clerk told him. “For these two it’s going to come to … $800 New Zealand dollars.”
$570 or so US dollars for two checked bags. This caught my attention.
“What!?!” I called over. “Did you just say he has to pay $800 to check in two bags?”
The poor passenger just stood there confused, babbling something incomprehensible. The clerk offered to find someone who could speak his language, as his cluelessness at first seemed to be caused by a linguistic hurdle rather than pure shock over the fee, but he declined. He was Malaysian, and most people from this country seem to speak some degree of functional English, and from the expression on his face he clearly understood what was happening.
“You need to pay for bags online before you come to the airport or else it is very expensive,” the clerk explained.
But he was apparently feeling nice.
“If you give me your bags right now the cost is going to be $800,” he continued, “but if you walk away from this counter, pay for the baggage online, and then come back, the cost will only be $100.”
And that’s what the guy did. Of course.
While I could get riled up over the pointlessness of this charade — why not just charge the guy $100 to start and cast off the fear tactic? — I’m not going to. Entering the realm of a budget airline is like entering another culture: you learn the way things work and follow suit.
Budget airlines have a different philosophy and business model than full service carriers — they are as streamlined, stripped down, automated, and fast as they can be — and if you clog the works, require additional services or additional time from staff who are being paid by the hour, you are going to be penalized for it big time.
Budget airlines essentially operate on a cooperative dynamic: both the airline and passengers do what they can to keep costs low. Budget airlines are generally not trying to sucker money out of you with their excessive fees and penalties, they are trying to alter your behavior as an air passenger to help them keep their margins as low as they can be. Then this money that the airline saves is theoretically passed back down to you in the form of low fares.
As we previously covered: How to fly budget airlines and stay sane.
So if you want to needlessly take the time of a budget airline’s staff — and all of the other passengers waiting in line behind you — because you didn’t want to be bothered to pay for your checked bags online in advance, you are going to be charged so much money that you will surely never make the same mistake again …