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KIRSTY STRICKLAND: Budget airlines pretended they were our pals – now it’s clear they hate us

Budget airlines are never quite as glamorous as the ads would have you believe. Photo: Shutterstock.
Budget airlines are never quite as glamorous as the ads would have you believe. Photo: Shutterstock.

Would you take a 20-hour flight?

It might soon be an option after airline Qantas announced it was aiming to make history by running the world’s longest direct passenger flight.

The London to Sydney route is due to begin in 2025.

In a statement, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce described it as “the last frontier and the final fix for the tyranny of distance”.

But can we rewind a wee bit?

Because I think, in their enthusiasm, the aviation bigwigs might have missed a few intermediate frontiers along the way.

Most notably, they seem to have skipped the one where they work to ensure that airline travel isn’t a thoroughly miserable experience for the 99% of people who can’t afford a first class ticket.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should make clear that I have a long-standing beef with planes.

I’m not scared of flying per se.

But before boarding any flight I’m always nervous about the people I’ll be forced to fly with.

Because more often than not, the tin can that we share is fit to burst with eejits.

It always surprises me when people cite crying babies as one of their pet peeves about flying.

Noisy kids don’t even make my top ten list.

If anything, I’m glad of them.

They help drown out the belligerent men hassling the cabin crew and the people who have been in the bar drinking double vodka and cokes since 6am.

Budget airlines leave no room for comfort

Much of the blame lies with budget airlines.

Ryanair enticed customers with its cheap and cheerful ticket prices. They lured us in, pretending to be our pal.

Now, with the benefit of time, it’s become clear they hate us.

Economy seats that are cramped and suffocating for anybody over 5ft 2in have become the norm.

And those of us who fly in the cheap seats have become used to discomfort being part and parcel of getting on a plane.

Qantas hopes to create a world first with its new London to Sydney flight: Photo by Mark Baker/AP/Shutterstock.

So I’m sceptical about these 20-hour flights, to say the least.

Qantas say that they will carry fewer passengers on the route and their seats will be ‘’roomier’’ than usual.

Roomier than what though?

The seating equivalent of a Kinder Egg?

Will the snacks be enough to sell it?

There will be four travel classes on offer.

The promo material has focused mainly on the top two tiers. And they look lovely.

But I’ll measure the genius of this proposal by the area that the souls destined for the lower classes are confined to.

To combat the mind-bending effects of travelling through multiple time-zones, the Airbus jets will have designated ‘’well-being zones’’ where passengers can stretch and help themselves to snacks.

I’ve been trying to imagine what snacks could tempt me on to a 20-hour flight.

Crisps and biscuits just wouldn’t cut it.

I’d want a full charcuterie board, cheese wheels as big as my head and fancy coffee in a sexy wee cup.

But who will defeat the tyranny of the reclining seat

Obviously from an engineering standpoint, this flight is a marvel.

These planes will be able to go 10,000 miles without refuelling.

It’s a similar distance to that which frazzled mums will travel with a buggy when their teething baby won’t stop crying.

In 1947, the Sydney to London route took 58 hours and seven stops to complete.

It’s a PR dream for an airline to be the first to go the furthest.

But you can’t judge a man by his shoe size and you can’t judge progress in aviation by this kind of record-setting stamina.

A different class of fine dining: The snack on Kirsty’s last flight.

I want something a bit less showy from my aviation pioneers.

Give me a chief executive whose sole mission in life is to provide comfortable budget travel for families who want to go to Malaga for an all-inclusive break.

Give me an airline that is willing to install a sound-proof naughty box roomy enough for any stag party that exhibits rambunctious and anti-social behaviour.

Show me a plane that has solved the injustice of the seat recline.

Where the person in front of you lies back for more room, and you either have to suffer the loss of those precious three inches of space or be equally selfish and steal the space of the person behind; thus setting off a domino effect of inconsiderate behaviour.

Better budget airlines? Now that’s progress

Of course, your flight experience is always going to be more pleasant if you can afford the utopia that lies behind the wee grey curtain.

First class passengers enjoy seats wide enough for your average bum and more leg room than you know what to do with.

But, newsflash: we’re all skint!

There’s a cost of living crisis currently rampaging through our bank accounts.

And if we’re not careful, flying is going to become a luxury that only rich people and masochists enjoy.

On a recent trip to France I was pathetically thrilled to be handed half a cheese sandwich and a paper cup of warm white wine on the flight I’d paid hundreds of pounds to be on.

Our expectations for ordinary plane travel are too low and airlines have exploited that for too long.

We should judge progress not by what happens at the top, but how much leg room is offered to those of us at the bottom.


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