Back home in Canada we have romantic images of trips to Europe. People gladly talk about their dream trips. Sometimes they focus on glamour and romance – think Venice, London, Paris – while others yearn for a seat-of-your-pants backpacking adventure a la the 2004 film Eurotrip. But it seems you cannot have a conversation about traveling to Europe without someone exclaiming, “Oh, and there are such cheap flights to be had!” They say it as if it’s a big secret. Sure, you’ll lose some of the mystique of long train journeys, but you’ll save a few Euro.
If people only knew how unromantic the experience of cheap air travel in Europe actually is.
I’ve flown several times now between Germany and England with one of the “cheap” airlines, who I won’t name, mostly because I don’t want them to put my name on some hassle list. I get hassled enough going into England, thank you very much. With this particular airline though you find yourself more often than not flying from airports far out in the middle of nowhere, requiring an expensive coach trip just to get there, thereby losing the better part of a day.
You also frustratingly find yourself flying at odd hours of the day, either early morning or late at night. In the earlier case you must either overnight at a hotel or at the airport, or cut it far too close and rely on the inadequate coach service to get you to the airport in time. On the other hand, if you arrive late in the day you must navigate your way around a foreign city at night. While this might sound adventurous, it’s more than often not.
Your situation doesn’t improve at the airport. There a gruff, joyless employee will eye up your hand luggage, with the hopes of charging you 35 or 50€ after finding it “too big” for the cabin. At the gates then you try and queue like a civilized individual, but find that the stress and anxiety turn your fellow passengers into a flock of startled cattle, likely to stampede. You likewise become startled, and jump in to the mass, pushing against everyone else in an effort to get aboard the aircraft.
This airline usually has two queues, a regular and a priority option. The priority option is for people who don’t feel bad giving another 10€ to this awful, awful company, just for the privilege of boarding the trumped-up bus before everyone else.
Gah, just thinking about it all gets me worked up. At least on my last London trip I had roommate Svenja around to take some of the edge off. When I travel alone I arrive places obsessively early and wait for hours, stewing in my anxiety and hate. That’s probably not healthy.
Sure, you can travel cheap-ish with such airlines, but you give up all romance, all pleasure of steaming through foreign countrysides and through small little villages. You lose the time spent gazing out the window and reflecting on experience, life, and humanity. Trains have something more to them, a specialness you can’t find in an stuffy regional airport.