Low-cost carrier offers comfortable experience
Little to quibble about flying with easyJet from Gatwick to Budapest
European low-cost airlines at their best are a fast, cheap and efficient way for the business executive to travel.
On a good day you would be hard pushed to get a better service out of a private jet with rapid, high-tech service and convenient scheduling.
My most recent experience was flying from London to Budapest with easyJet. The first advantage of this flight is that it flies from the airline’s London Gatwick airport hub.
If you are traveling by rail, and in a congested country like the United Kingdom it is often the quickest and most reliable way to travel over land, then Gatwick is usually easier to access than Heathrow.
Even if you disagree with that you will certainly find Gatwick simpler to navigate. I hopped off the train, on to the shuttle to the North Terminal and then headed up an escalator clearly marked "easyJet, cabin baggage only".
For a business trip I found the large cabin bag permitted on this low-cost carrier quite ample, especially at this time of year.
Then a flash of the boarding pass – downloaded into my iPhone when I checked in online the day before – and I was into the particularly swift security clearance and on my way to a lounge.
My credit card from Citibank in the UAE includes Lounge Key access to hundreds of lounges around the world and doubles well with low-cost airlines that don’t include these executive havens in their service package.
Indeed in Gatwick North Terminal I was confronted with a choice of three different lounges: No1, Aspire and My Lounge.
A helpful lady at the Aspire reception candidly admitted hers was not the best and suggested the No1 lounge as being the only one to offer a la carte hot food. So that was where I ended up. I can’t say the food was on a par with the new Eithad lounge in New York’s JFK, but the Moroccan chicken was ahead of the finger food usually presented in these places.
The No1 also has a spacious lounge to watch aircraft arriving or the 75-inch TV tuned to CNN, as well as a bank of computers to get some work done and a library which seems mainly used for sleeping.
In the interests of this article I paid an extra £4 (Dh19) for "Speedy Boarding" to see if it lived up to its name, having never noticed much advantage when traveling low-cost before.
True you get called to the gate first ahead of the main crowd. But then I was held on the tarmac before boarding while the tortoises caught up with the pushy hares.
To be fair I was one of the first passengers to find my seat, although of course I had to get out of it again to allow others to find theirs.
Being an executive in transit I spent a modest extra amount to secure one with extra leg room in the middle of the plane.
This turned out to be a mixed blessing as on European airlines you do get some very tall passengers who book these seats and that can make it just as crowded as the regular seating.
Thankfully on this flight my companions were quiet and stuck into their Kindles. On the flight out I had suffered the company of a group of football fans seated around the aircraft cabin who talked loudly across the cabin as though the rest of us were not there.
If you want to eat on this two-hour trip then hot sandwiches and other snacks are available from the trolley. I picked a £7 "meal deal" and selected a slightly soggy Croque Monsieur, potato chips and sparkling water.
We took off on time and landed a pleasant 25 minutes ahead of schedule. Budapest airport is small and efficient and from the airport steps to my taxi was under 10 minutes.
The Budapest taxi rank is wonderfully visitor-friendly as an English-speaking person at a computer books your address into the system and gives you a taxi number.
In conclusion, then, for Dh1,150 return, including my extra leg room and Speedy Boarding in both directions, you could not fault the value for money.
However, I was an hour late on the way out and did not really enjoy the company of my new football fan friends.
But I continue to find these airlines offer convenient scheduling to many airports and they operate with commendable efficiency on a good day.
Peter Cooper has been a Gulf business traveller for the past 21 years