Monthly Archives: December 2013

In defence of low cost carriers

I’m the troll who bates those on facebook who claim they’ll never fly Jetstar again. They will. Because it’s cheap. And I’m the one who, even after a reasonably mediocre experience on Spirit Airlines from Los Angeles to Bogota through Fort Lauderdale, still feels obliged to offer a defence of the low cost carrier model.

Spirit Airlines actually describes itself as ultra-low cost. That means they:

  • Charge for checked baggage and for carry on baggage.
  • Have the smallest seat pitch in the global industry (and then sell upgrades to ‘the big seat up front’ once people get on board and realise the leg room they’re lacking, which is an excellent business idea).
  • Put advertising on their overhead lockers.
  • Have seats which are ‘pre-reclined’ i.e. seats that don’t recline.

And yet, I was pleased to fly them because, for $350NZD all up per person they were about half the price of any other carrier for a flight about the distance of Auckland to Bali. They got us from A to B and we didn’t complain because we knew what we were paying for.

We heard plenty of others complaining though. Those behind us claimed about seat pitch and paid for an upgrade to a larger seat once they got on board. We had to queue at their service desk in Fort Lauderdale too, and there we heard a lot of complaints. Mostly, people had missed the cut off for their flights, had to pay more, and didn’t want to. Or their bags were too big, so they had to pay more, and didn’t want to. One guy seemed to have a legitimate ‘he said, she said’ complaint. But for most, caveat emptor – know what you’re buying, be pleased with the price you paid for it, and don’t complain. Loco carriers are able to charge the fares they are because of they way they run their systems, their charges for bags, and everything else.

Also *snaps* to Spirit who compassionately didn’t charge the mother and daughter in front of us who only spoke Spanish, were confused by the boarding announcements, and missed their flight.

LAXing

It’s a classic #firstworldproblem: your airport stopover en route to an exotic location is too long to just hang in the airport, and to short to support any meaningful encounter with your city of transit. Nonetheless, we managed our eight hours in Los Angeles with aplomb.

Our visit was based around two outlets at the top of their game.

First, we went to In-n-Out Burger, a joint which is famous across California because it does burgers well. And because of it’s ‘secret’ off menu ordering. See for example “animal fries” which come with melted cheese and grilled onions.

For me the main attraction was actually the view. This particular stop is well acknowledged in airline geek circles as having a fantastic view of short finals to LAX’s northern runways. The same enthusiasts also tell you which long term parking venue to pretend to go to so you can get free transport from the terminals. There was a setting sun and jet after jet to watch appearing from behind a billboard and then thundering over the runway threshold. Sadly the traffic at LAX is too homogenous for a challenging game of “jet or prop” for Fiona.

The food was pretty good too, and the spicy peppers very spicy. I wasn’t able to describe the taste of root beer effectively, and so Fiona tried it. She has now joined me in longstanding opposition. She describes it as fizzy cough mixture.

Second, we went to Trader Joe’s. Think Moore Wilson’s but cheaper (even than, say, a New Zealand Countdown), and more selective because they rely on a lot of their own home brands, and quality rather than diversity. There’s Marlborough Sav for less than you would pay at home, cherry tomatoes cheap enough to question why you’d ever buy the bigger versions, and a sophisticated application of the American view that ‘cookie’ is a legitimate flavour for most things. It reminded us again how easy it might be to live, or at least grocery shop, in the States.

Now we’re back and checking in at LAX. We’re armed with Trader Joe’s berries and biscuits and waiting to do battle with Spirit Airlines, America’s so called ‘ultra-low-cost’ carrier. Will advise of success at a later stage.

Departure

Departure form

This form asks important question but, for a trip like ours, they are all hard to answer. Fiona tells me it is important to answer anyway, because the form is an important source of data for policymakers. So this is best estimate. But actually, I don’t know how long we will be away for, only know that Colombia is where we will spend the most time of the places we have planned for to date, and, while we will be beginning on holiday, we may also end up working.

Fiona also says my indication of profession as ‘Consultant’ is too vague to be useful for statistical purposes. So be it. I could now also say profession non-applicable.