I started traveling regularly when I lived in France and worked at a job that paid hardly anything but offered lots of vacation time. Keeping to a strict budget was the only way I could afford to travel farther than my front door. Every dollar I saved meant I could travel further and longer, and flying budget airlines were one of the easiest ways to keep costs low.
As I got better jobs, my travel budget increased, but a funny thing happened: even as I moved on from hostels and grocery store dinners, I stayed loyal to budget airlines. Part of the reason was financial; I still have to keep to a budget, and flights are often the biggest single expense of a trip.
But those years of flying cheap also taught me that budget airlines are just a great way to travel. I still happily climb aboard those neon Spirit Airlines planes (which suspiciously seem to be the same color yellow as the lines they paint on roads) and fly with budget airlines whenever I can. And despite regular ribbings from friends and family for sticking with low-cost airlines, I know I’m coming out ahead in more ways than one.
Here are five reasons budget airlines actually give you the best flying experience:
Low Expectations = Happier Flights
They say the key to happiness is lowering your expectations. Budget airlines will start you on that path to eternal contentment. When I book a flight on a budget airline, I head to the airport knowing that I sacrificed comfort for value, and I’m mentally prepared for whatever sort of nonsense gets thrown at me that day. And if the flight goes well (which it often does)–then it’s a double win: I got a smooth flying experience at a budget price. On major airlines, you go in expecting a pleasant experience, and when something goes wrong (which it often does), you’ve lost both comfort and affordability. But what if everything goes well? You only got what you expected from that airline, so you aren’t particularly happy. It’s a recipe for disappointment.
You’ll Only Pay for What You Want
The cost of flying has skyrocketed recently, and if you book with a major carrier, even the cheapest package, you’re paying for things you probably don’t need like a plastic cup of soda, extra space in the overhead bin, those tiny bags of pretzels, etc. When you fly with a budget airline, you’re not paying for a single thing you don’t want. If you want an in-flight meal, extra bags, or priority boarding, then you can pay for those things, but budget airlines are pros at keeping the essentials to a minimum. That means you don’t waste a single dollar.
The Seats Don’t Recline
If this seems like a major issue to you, then you’ve never had the circulation in your legs cut off because the person in front of you reclined their seat alllll the way back. Reclining seats can mean your neighbor’s head is practically in your lap, you can’t access your bag on the floor, and sometimes you can’t even get out of your seat without politely asking the person in front of you to move their seat back up. Reclining seats have a long, fraught history of causing disputes on airplanes. However, this isn’t a problem you’ll ever need to deal with on a budget airline–because none of the standard seats recline! Take that concern right out the window because they bolted these seats to the floor.
Budget Fliers Bond Together
On regular airlines, the people around you are annoying. They mess with the armrests, play games on their phone with the sound on and no headphones, cough without covering their mouths…This is still true when you fly a budget airline, BUT there’s an upside, too. When you book a flight on a budget airline, you know you’re being a tightwad, and you know everyone else on the flight is, too. This communal cheapness creates an instant bond between passengers. We’re all in this metal sky bird together. Flight attendants will add this vibe, peppering their standard safety announcements with in-jokes that people who fly posher airlines wouldn’t understand. On one Spirit flight I took to Las Vegas, the flight attendants basically emceed the entire flight, giving recommendations for what to do in town and recounting misadventures on the Strip. It was more entertaining than any in-flight movie.
You’re Not Compromising Safety
The one thing you don’t want to risk when you’re flying is your safety. Fortunately, budget airlines are just as safe as the major airlines. The airline safety website AirlineRatings states that the major American budget airlines have practically identical safety records to those of the full-service airlines. All of them are COVID compliant, none have had a fatal crash within the last ten years, and none have a history of serious pilot-related incidents. Additionally, all have at least six out of seven stars for their overall safety record. So you can breathe easily: saving money on a budget carrier doesn’t mean sacrificing your safety.