Over the last few years, travelers welcomed a new type of airline known as “ultra-low-cost carriers” or, in travel industry parlance, “ULCCs.”
You may have never heard of many of these airlines, but they are a key reason we’ve seen airfares come down this year. When a ULCC enters a market, major airlines usually pay attention and lower fares accordingly.
Domestically, ULCCs include Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit Airlines. European ULCC’s include include WOW Air and Ryanair. Norwegian Air acts like a ULCC, but considers itself a low-cost, high frills carrier along the lines of JetBlue or Virgin.
Have you flown on an ultra-low-cost carrier yet? What did you think?
While ULCCs have been around a while, I still frequently hear from readers who are shocked SHOCKED to discover all the extra fees that come with those ultra-low fares. This include nearly everything from drinks and meals to carry-on bags and advance seat selection. Some even charge to print a boarding pass if you did not do it at home.
Here’s one of the most recent reader letters. Take a read and let me know what you think. Is it okay for a ULCC to charge for a bottle of water? Please leave your comments below.
Dear Mr. McGinnis,
As an expert traveler, blogger, and columnist who has written extensively about traveling and has been an advisor to frequent travelers at SFGATE, you were the person I thought of, who could address in your columns the risks of flying with a low-cost airline.
I would like to share with you my experience regarding a recent flight that I took on August 23rd on a low-cost carrier called WOW airlines, an Icelandic airline (wowair.com) from San Francisco to Paris. I decided to fly on this airline because the cost of the ticket was a lot cheaper than on other airlines ($760 round trip + $77 to check a bag). At the time, I was aware that flying with WOW meant that items such as food and beverages were not complimentary. [Currently, WOW Air is promoting fares as low as $440 roundtrip between SFO and Iceland for fall trips. From the east coast, fares are as low as $239 round trip. That is CHEAP!]
I have experienced this when traveling on other low-cost airlines in Europe such as EasyJet. I didn’t mind this, seeing as the duration of the flights were usually short, i.e. no longer than three hours.
However, I had assumed that on longer flights, the airline would provide passengers with food and beverages free of charge. I was stunned when I discovered that on the first leg of the flight from San Francisco to Keflavik, the main airport in Iceland, food and beverages were not complimentary. This was after all an 8-hour flight! I believe that flights that are transatlantic and longer than six hours, should provide at least some food to their passengers.
While I wasn’t thrilled about this, I told myself that this is the way low-cost airlines work. If I pay less, then, this is to be expected.
What I did not expect was having to pay for water on this flight! I had taken a water bottle with me and had drunk all of it. When I asked if I could refill my water bottle, the flight attendant came back with a water bottle and a portable credit card machine. She told me that it cost three dollars to buy the water bottle.
I was shocked. How could they charge for water? It’s a basic need! Plus, the cost was ridiculously high for a water bottle. I told her that I just wanted to fill the bottle with water, but she replied that they only had water bottles.
Related: What’s it like to fly Norwegian Air?
I refused to pay. This was really beyond the pale. How could a flight not have water readily available to its passengers? What if there was an emergency and a passenger needed to drink water ASAP? Would they charge him/her, too? Because I didn’t want to pay for water, I didn’t drink anything for several hours until I arrived in Paris.
When I came home, I wrote to the airline to inform them that I was very displeased with the fact that they charge for food and beverages, especially water on an 8-hour transatlantic flight. Soon after I wrote them, I looked at reviews of the airline online only to discover that it received scathing reviews due to poor customer service and its tendency to lose luggage, have significant delays, and be unavailable or unhelpful to passengers when they needed information about their flight.
I received yesterday a reply from WOW. Here it is:
Replied on Thursday August 25th:
Thank you for getting in touch with us. We are firm believers in the business model “you pay for what you use”. We are a low-budget airline so all extra services are not included in the ticket price and come for an additional charge.
We believe it’s unfair for our guests to pay for something they have no intention of using. That is why you are allowed to choose what you pay for, you do not pay for anything you do not use.
Feel free to write back should you have any more questions!
Have a nice day.
I found this answer unacceptable and appalling. As a result, I deemed it important to inform the community of travelers about this airline and its treatment of its passengers. By sharing our stories with travel experts and advisors, we can show that this kind of behavior is unacceptable and, in my view, amoral. I believe that low-cost airlines should be held accountable for the way they operate and treat their passengers.
Thank you very much for having taken the time to read this.
So readers, what do you think? Is it okay for an ultra-low-cost carrier to charge $3 for a bottle of water? Would you pay for it?
Please leave your comments below.
This post originally appeared on Chris’s SFgate blog, The Frequent Travel Adviser. The post has attracted more than 300 comments and was the most popular post on SFgate two days this week.