With no-frills airlines wooing an increasing number of business travellers, Director paid close attention on a low-cost easyJet flight from Gatwick to Lyon. Here’s what we experienced…
For many business travellers the words “we’ve booked you on a budget flight” can induce paroxysms of panic. Will my laptop get crushed in the stampede for exit row seats? Can I work without stag parties hollering in my ear? Will I have to endure a three-hour coach ride upon arrival in order to make my city centre meeting?
But no-frills airlines offer many advantages for the business traveller. They’re inexpensive. Their early-morning/evening-heavy schedules can be a blessing for those visiting European cities on day trips, while the networks are more extensive than many national carriers (easyJet flies to 139 airports across Europe and beyond). And they boast strong punctuality records, too.
In 2012, easyJet tore up the rulebook for budget airlines by introducing mandatory seat allocations. Last year, the airline launched an “inclusive fare” for corporate bookers, which includes bag and seat allocations and isn’t directly available on its website. Meanwhile, fast-track security for flexi-fare passengers operates at selected airports.
Today the carrier estimates that 17 per cent of its passengers travel on business. Still, many executive travellers remain sceptical. Can they live without the complimentary drinks, leather-bound reclining seats and cabin décor that doesn’t scorch retinas? During a trip to Lyon, we found out…
EasyJet is keen to attract business travellers, so it has introduced things that are required as standard on other carriers, such as being able to reserve your seat or jump the queue, plus an increasing awareness of punctuality. I recently signed up for the easyJet Plus scheme which, for £149 a year, allows me to select my seat, and get Speedy Boarding. It also means I can bypass long queues at bag drop, which is what I did upon turning up at Gatwick – much to the chagrin of my non-member colleague. As our flight was at 8.20am, we were there two hours before. The last thing you want at that early time is to be kettled into a zigzag line with hundreds of other fellow travellers.
Given my baggage allowance, I checked in my colleague’s bag as well, with no issues at the desk. However, when he came to check in (in the regular queue), staff noticed that somebody else had checked in his bag. He ended up paying £30. That was disappointing and the kind of tactic that has previously given low-cost airlines a bad name. Had easyJet been clearer about the luggage rules, check-in would have been exemplary.
Check-in at Lyon was equally sleek, even if it seemed more like a regional bus station than an airport. However, it was noticeable that many tourist travellers were flouting the ‘one bag of free hold luggage’ rule by boarding wearing their ski helmets (which they wouldn’t have been able to cram into their carry-on luggage). 7/10
Being in custody of an easyJet Plus card meant I could have sprinted to the front of the boarding queue. But I didn’t, largely because there was no scramble or stampede to get onto the plane – just a polite, relaxed queue. Staff at the Gatwick gate were friendly, managing the line in a professional manner.
There was one minor bugbear with boarding. At Gatwick, it’s a bit of a march to reach the easyJet terminal from security. Time-sensitive business travellers will have to factor in plenty of time for the seemingly endless walk down those long corridors.
It would have been useful to know while browsing duty free or having breakfast that it was a 10-minute-plus trek to reach the gate. 7/10
I’m 6ft 4in and I didn’t have any problems with the seat during the flight. Having said that, I wouldn’t want to cross the Atlantic in it. But for a short hop to Lyon, it was absolutely fine. And easyJet also appears to have toned down its bright-orange cabin livery in recent years. The décor seemed more muted, a welcome sign for the business customers they’d like to attract. I also flicked through the airline’s in-flight magazine, Traveller, a quality publication that had some useful information on Lyon such as restaurant tips. There was definitely enough space to work with a laptop, too. 7/10
Before we took off, the British pilot gave us a welcome in French and, though he momentarily spoke Français-à-la-Del-Boy, his communication was excellent. The friendly cabin crew members also occasionally spoke in French, which the Gallic travellers clearly appreciated.
Around 70 per cent of passengers were composed of skiers/snowboarders. Despite this, there was still plenty of overhead space. And for such a holiday-centric flight, the number of demob-happy (read: noisy) ski enthusiasts was mercifully few.
I didn’t eat breakfast on board, but I did sample easyJet’s Starbucks Ready Brew coffee (there are two types: rich Italian Roast and Colombian) and ‘gourmet’ hot chocolate. These (along with the trendy fruit smoothies available) are a vast improvement on the tepid drinks served on many other flights.
Cabin crew were slick and professional, and even though their scrambles down the aisle hawking sandwiches and perfume occasionally disturbed my power-napping, I arrived in Lyon feeling refreshed. This hasn’t always happened on previous early-morning short-haul flights – even sitting in business class. 8/10
The flight arrived in Lyon on time and there was no stampede to disembark. The whole procedure was smooth – down the steps, onto the bus and shuttled straight across the runway to the arrivals lounge. Luggage turned up pretty quickly, too. The immigration check was also swift, meaning I could make my transfer and (more importantly) reach my meeting on time. 8/10
It makes sense for easyJet to attract business travellers, and executives can expect a reliable, comfortable and inexpensive service. Yes, it’s still a no-frills carrier but it has tightened up the edges. 37/50
For fares and more information, visit easyjet.com
Words: Christian May