The sound of US$169 fares between Los Angeles and London nonstop with a budget airline sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? But before you jump on the bandwagon and book your fare, please take a deep breath and read on.
Book your flight on certain international budget airlines and you could possibly enter a nightmare in the twilight zone. You may end up with your trip plans or vacation destroyed!
There is little knowledge among the flying public on what really goes on behind the scenes of some poorly operationally ran low-cost airlines.
But what is really going on behind the scenes of a budget airline?
Running an airline is expensive. Very expensive. So how does an international budget airline make money?
One major way is cutting the traditional labor cost that quality operated airlines deal with. And that’s when problems often arise. Use of third party low-paid, no employment benefits contractors are often hired to handle the flights.
These contractors are NOT employees of the airline.
When everything goes as scheduled and the plane takes off and lands on time without a snag these airlines appear like any good major airline.
They are often plagued by consistent operational problems and lack of efficiency. International budget airlines frequently experience delays and cancellations.
Poor or non-existent customer service, and operational problems.
The very low operating cost structure results in cost-cutting steps which affect customer service.
Lack of proper training, lack of effective leadership, no or little authorization from and between the airline’s headquarter and out-station foreign contractors often create nightmares for passengers.
Operationally, cost-cutting methods prevent the airline from having to have their own maintenance and ground handling crews from staffing most out-stations.
The lowest-bidding contractor often gets the job.
Airline outsourcing often creates nightmares for passengers through frequent delays and cancellations of flights.
It costs money to run a first-class airline customer service operation. These low-cost airlines need to pinch pennies.
So if you pay your fare with peanuts, then don’t expect to get service worthy of a filet mignon!
Here are the 12 most common passenger frustrations encountered when you take a chance booking an international budget airline:
1. Not informing passengers.
No or little passenger information, or made-up lies in reasons for delay announcements at the gate. Third-party customer service crews often aren’t informed themselves about the reason for delays.
Thus, they simply make up a reason.
2. Fare refunds.
Getting the fare refund you’re entitled to in a timely manner is not easy.
3. Luggage problems.
Non-existent or poor passenger follow-up when your luggage is lost, delayed or damaged.
4. Airline management incompetency.
You will often find incompetent customer service operations management at the airline’s headquarter.
Common bad practices include:
Not giving the front-line airport contracted crews any authorization to make practical decisions involving a cost to the airline.
No airline employee manager is present at the airport, to oversee the contractors.
Third-party contractors are frequently left with no real guidelines for handling situations beyond normal operations.
When things do go wrong, for example when delays and cancellations occur:
The airline’s headquarter management calling the shots from another country is at a loss on how to solve problems efficiently.
5. Third-party ground handling crews.
Contracted crews are most often overworked and underpaid with no or little benefits to their job.
To their credit, however, I’ve seen some of these people doing a fantastic job for the conditions they work under.
But with their hands tied to upper management instructions from the airline’s operations headquarter abroad, the job is hard.
The contracted crew can only do so much with what they have available to try to keep customers happy.
6. Cheapest labor solutions and operational advantage.
Operating under cheap labor rules gives the airline the best advantage for keeping the cost as low as possible. For instance, here’s the setup for one international budget airline:
Air Operator’s Certificates (AOC): Ireland, United Kingdom, and Norway.
Dodging of labor rules for flight crews, by hiring staff from foreign countries with more relaxed labor laws. This means less pay and more work for the crews, but more profit for the airline.
If the airline’s scheduled flight is canceled, don’t be surprised to discover that some (inexperienced) foreign charter company’s airplane and crew show up as your substitute transportation.
If the airplane type showing up is different from the originally scheduled airplane be prepared to lose your preassigned seat.
You may even have to sit in economy class, although your original flight was reserved and paid for in premium class!
This is all in the interest of saving the airline money and it gives the airline a competitive advantage. But it is potentially detrimental to passenger service.
7. Delays and cancellations.
Delays and cancellations happen often. Be prepared to have your trip or vacation plans destroyed.
8. Compensation under Passenger’s Rights rules.
The airline won’t volunteer to tell you when you are entitled to compensation for delays or cancellations or damage/loss of luggage.
In many cases, the airline will also simply ignore giving you a loss/damage/missing claim receipt when you report your suitcase missing.
And that may be the last you’d hear from them about your missing suitcase unless you fight for your passenger rights yourself!
9. Calling Customer Service.
Calling many budget airlines’ customer service telephone number will make you angry!
Often there is no answer. If you do get a hold of someone you’re likely to speak to a contractor in India or a contractor elsewhere.
Being on hold for 1-2 hours before getting through is not unusual.
The tone of their voice (if you can understand their English in the first place)?…
Some sound like they HATE their job and their customer alike!
Customer support is virtually non-existent.
They don’t listen to the customer. Common occurrences are aggressive interruptions and rudeness, incompetence, and there is little if no help to be had.
I am using Norwegian Air as an example from actual and true bad personal experiences, although you find identical practices with other international budget airlines:
If you call about i.e. a ticket issue and if you call outside of their local Norwegian business hours (9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Norway time), the contracted agent answering will tell you there is nothing he or she can do for you.
You will be told to call back when headquarter is open. The problem with that: 9 a.m. Norway time is 12 midnight in my California time zone, while 6 p.m. Norway time is 9 a.m. California time!
In most of Norwegian’s email correspondence, they only list their phone number in Norway as their customer service number.
But they do have a toll-free 800 number which they are super-secretive about revealing.
Let me see, calling Norway from Los Angeles means the call will be expensive.
According to AT&T’s website, they charge US$3 per minute for a call to Norway.
Assume Norwegian has me on hold for an hour and fifteen minutes before someone picks up the call. Then allow another 15 minutes before I can hang up.
That amounts to $270 for ONE call to the airline’s customer service!
10. Friendly service disappears when you are stranded and need help.
When there is a delay or cancellation you will most likely get a denial if you ask to be rerouted on another airline. They won’t transfer to another airline, even when all of their other flights are full.
11. Standby aircraft or parts are not available.
A delay or cancellation means you are grounded. With no spare airplane or airplane parts readily available you are at their mercy until the airline can take you.
As a desperate measure to get you to your destination, the airline may quickly charter a third-party, lowest bidder airline operator to fly the leg.
That, in turn, could present further disappointments for the passengers. You may lose your long-reserved seat assignment, or worse…
You may have purchased a premium class ticket on the intended flight just to find yourself sitting in a middle seat of coach class on the substitute flight.
Getting your money back for the extra expenditure you have invested to sit in premium class?
There are lots of horror reviews indicating the airline refusing to refund any difference in purchased versus actual seat class for the flight on a substitute flight aircraft type swap.
12. The passenger himself or herself is part of the problem.
Before making an informed decision whether or not to fly an airline: Educate yourself about the airline, by reading up on articles and passenger reviews.
In that way, you can arrive at the airport prepared for unpleasant service surprises.
At the bottom of this article, you can find 4 things to know before you book an international budget airline. You are strongly advised to read that.
The 12 common problems listed above are typical among most of the low fare international carriers.
Since Norwegian Air is one of the largest ones I have chosen to explain my own actual bad experiences with them.
Norwegian provides cheap flights between the U.S.A. and Europe, in addition to many other worldwide destinations.
For example, you will NOT find Norwegian Air ground personnel in Los Angeles.
Rather, they are (most likely the lowest bidding) third-party contractor with no or incompetent upper management direction, decision making authority, or guidelines from Norwegian.
Norwegian operate great new airplanes and they have grown into a large airline by leaps and bounds. When everything operates as scheduled they are great.
The minute an operational hiccup occurs there’s no organization, leadership, or efficiency.
It’s like observing the Three Stooges running aimlessly around with no real clue about how to perform customer service.
This is totally unlike the major U.S. or other good quality international airlines we are accustomed to dealing with.
Sample International Budget Airline Reviews
Apart from repeated personal bad experiences with these international budget airlines, please take a look at some screenshots from customer airline reviews:
Here’s a typical sample of Norwegian’s famous reputation for terrible customer service worldwide.
This also represents any of the other international budget airlines with a similar reputation.
Every business will experience some bad reviews, whether justified or not. But when the majority of the reviews are bad I’d pay close attention to the opinion of my fellow customers.
Clever marketing, however, may still make bad service appear like a first-class operation in the mainstream media.
4 things to know when you book an international budget airline:
- Before booking, google and research DOT (the U.S. Department of Transportation) web stats and airline passenger reviews. Then make your informed decision whether to book with that airline or not.
- Allow extra time in your schedule for the anticipation of a possible delay and cancellation complications.
- Be extremely patient, prepare yourself for possible bad customer service treatment in the event of a delay or cancellation.
- Be aware of a higher than typical airline likelihood of delays or cancellations.
How to learn about your airline passenger rights
If you are stuck with your back to the wall after encountering airline customer service issues, please read Airline Passenger Rights, 8 levels of resolving airline disputes in your favor for your solutions to airline service problems.