When I first flew to the UK in 2019, I resolved that at some point I’d fly all of Europe’s low-cost airlines, write about them, and rank them accordingly. Well, COVID-19 hit in 2020, and I racked up points for premium travel; instead of doing weekender backpacking trips around Europe like most normal university students, I spent my time doing weekend trips to Vancouver, travelling by train around the UK, as well as making the most of every opportunity to fly home to Hong Kong. So I’d never actually flown a European low cost airline (not counting British Airways) until this week.
I finally had a chance over half term to join some friends in Mallorca, which was a fun time. I only had a couple of days free, so won’t be talking about my trip much on this blog much. However, I did want to share my experience from a fresh pair of eyes, given that many of us may have flown easyJet hundreds of times (and perhaps some of us none at all!).
I think as a main takeaway, if you’re looking out from your easyJet window at a British Airways or Lufthansa plane, know that you’re not missing out on much – the experience is largely similar, especially if you’re trying to fly on the cheap. Obviously it’s a game changer if you hold status with any of these airlines, though as a Priority Pass holder without airline status, I actually preferred flying easyJet over British Airways, who also operates the route between London and Palma de Mallorca.
easyJet A319 at Palma de Mallorca Airport
I could write a full review of my easyJet experience, though I don’t think I can add much value there, especially before having flown Ryanair, Wizzair, and the other big low-cost carriers. So I thought I’d just share my observations – if you’ve flown easyJet hundreds of times (and for some reason care about what I think – feel free to close this window if you don’t), do welcome me into the family, as I doubt this will be the last time I fly them.
1. Speedy Boarding is a game-changer
easyJet sells three packages on all of their flights – a Standard package (where you can only bring one bag), a Standard Plus package (where you get Speedy Boarding, an Up Front seat in one of the first few rows, and can bring a large carry-on), and an Essentials package, where you can check in a bag, but have no Speedy Boarding. You can purchase Speedy Boarding separately for about £20-40 per flight depending on its length and demand. I went for a Standard Plus package for my roundtrip ticket, mainly thinking that I’d be able to get good cabin photos on one of my flights, though generally found that I enjoyed the perks much more than I thought I would.
Why? Well, I could bring as big a bag onboard as I wanted (theoretically there’s a size limit, though easyJet is a lot less strict than other low-cost airlines such as Ryanair are). I was also given free seat selection with my Standard Plus bundle, and had lots of overhead bin space. I don’t currently hold status with an airline high enough that allows me to pre-board in economy, so easyJet’s Speedy Boarding gives me a taste of that – first dibs at the overhead bins, no need to clamber over anyone to get to my window seat, and the entire boarding process just allows a lot more breathing space, due to much shorter queues.
easyJet A320 interior
Bear in mind that on the highest-demand flights Speedy Boarding can be a lot more expensive, so don’t expect it to “only” cost £20-40 more per flight.
2. Their slimline seats give you a LOT more legroom
easyJet isn’t known for their copious amounts of legroom, though they did introduce slimline seats in 2016. Nobody marvels at the thought of slimline seats, though I didn’t feel more cramped than I otherwise would in Lufthansa or British Airways business class (shorthaul, as much as I’d like to make fun of their longhaul business class in this way). easyJet also exclusively operates the Airbus A320 family (A319, A320, A321), which have a much wider fuselage than the 737s that Ryanair, Norwegian, etc. use.
easyJet A320 legroom
I flew an easyJet A319 back, which featured the airline’s older non-slimline seats (I’m guessing many of the A319s have the older non-slimline seats, though I don’t think there’s a way you can know for sure). While these seats were slightly better padded, I did feel like they were significantly tighter. I was seated in an aisle seat and had a little bit more space (the two friends I travelled with were coincidentally assigned seats next to each other with an empty aisle seat, so I moved there), though I definitely would’ve felt the squeeze if being sat in a window for an extended period of time.
easyJet A319 older seats
3. They have a more extensive menu than some premium cabins
easyJet comes with a buy-on-board menu, though so do most full-service airlines in Europe in economy. Knowing I’d want to give some of the food items a shot, I decided to pre-purchase a £10 voucher, which was £8 when purchased online. They were running some additional discounts at the end of the day (which they announced over the PA once with a more aggressive push than I was expecting), so were happy to give me my penne arrabiata meal with a Birra Moretti (supposedly £11.50) for no extra cost, bringing it to a total of £8.
easyJet’s extensive menu
Hot buy-on-board food is a taller order than most airlines do. Now, expect Tesco ready-meal type dining – this isn’t freshly made pasta, and probably not even the level you’d expect at a canteen. However, I wouldn’t say I’d be super disappointed to receive this as an economy class meal on a full-service, intra-Asian airline (which would probably charge more than £8 extra for a flight of this length), bar the fact that it had no protein of any sort.
My penne arrabiatta meal on easyJet
I mean, I wouldn’t eat unless I was very hungry – this isn’t good food. But unless you’re into packaged snacks or overpriced charcuterie, I actually think these options are better value, and prefer them to what’s offered on most intra-European full service carriers.
4. easyJet is VERY orange
I quite like how the orange livens up easyJet’s cabin (in a way, it reminds me of Singapore Airlines’ premium economy – actually, nevermind), though the orange does permeate even the bellows of the airplane’s bathrooms – golly.
easyJet’s A320 bathroom
5. The Gatwick experience is decidedly not very low-cost
Now, the only thing I’ll say that’s positive about Gatwick as a full-service airport is that it isn’t Heathrow. However, compared to other airlines such as Stansted, Luton, and other airports dominated by low-cost airlines, Gatwick is perfectly fine to fly out of. I’ve flown out of Gatwick with Turkish Airlines before (and into Gatwick with Emirates), and there honestly isn’t any difference flying into/out of Gatwick with easyJet and with a full-service airline. Upon arrival, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that the Gatwick arrivals queue took less than a minute to clear – compare that to Heathrow at a similar time, where clearing immigration at Terminal 3 took me 150 (!) minutes.
Check-in was done online – I had a scare with this (my phone broke in Mallorca, so one of my friends had to scan my boarding pass during my return trip), though the check-in process was convenient, and you could even check in 30 (!) days prior to departure. Check-in queues at Gatwick weren’t long at all (this was a Sunday night at 8 PM during the week of midterms, so presumably it would get busier at times) – they were ever so slightly busier in Palma de Mallorca, though still not a very long wait. If you check-in online, you shouldn’t have to queue for check-in at all, unless you’re checking in a bag.
Instead of some reports I’ve heard of masses being herded up and ramps in a free-for-all fashion on other airlines, we boarded from a jetbridge at Gatwick. Gate 104 required going up past Gatwick’s airport bridge, though much like boarding any other flight at Gatwick, we were invited into a holding area after our boarding passes were checked, and Speedy Boarding passengers were invited to board first.
Getting a real jetbridge at Gatwick Airport
Even though they basically piled the entire plane up into two buses once we got to Palma de Mallorca (and we had a similar experience with departures), this didn’t feel very different from a bus gate experience with a full-service airline, and I didn’t feel like the process of boarding was stressful at any point. At no point did I feel like my carry-ons were scrutinised, or that the boarding process was unclear, or that people were rushing to get some leftover carry-on space.
We did have to wait at the jetbridge for ~10 minutes as the plane was turned around (due to a late arrival), but being near the front of the queue (and after seeing me take a picture of the plane door), the ground staff even advised me to poke my phone camera out of the open jetbridge side door to grab a photo of the plane.
easyJet A320 at Gatwick Airport
6. They’re sometimes actually worth the money over a free (?) business class ticket
I’ve been working with AAdvantage business class award redemptions a fair bit lately (I hold a few miles with them from speculatively buying during promotions, since I know I’d quite frequently have to travel between Europe and Asia), and one of the features is that you can tag a shorthaul segment within regions in for free. Living in the UK, if I found a business class award ticket from Paris to Doha to Hong Kong (in theory), I could tag a London to Paris segment in British Airways Club Europe if there was an award seat, and wouldn’t have to pay any extra miles.
However, I feel like it’s actually worth it to book a separate easyJet flight instead, especially if prices are on the lower end (this also applies to any other low-cost airline). Why? Because when flying a business class itinerary that originates in the UK, you’ve got to pay the UK Air Passenger Duty tax, which could add up to £300+. It’d be much easier to pick up a Standard Plus or even Essentials bundle one-way with easyJet, which wouldn’t cost upwards of £100 (and I’d get to avoid Heathrow, too).
Obviously you’re getting an easyJet flight in lieu of a British Airways Club Europe flight, though as discussed through the five observations above, that’s not really a huge loss, given easyJet’s perfectly fine onboard experience.
Honorable Mention: easyJet’s lounge (?)
Oh, easyJet has a lounge. No easyJet ticket naturally comes with lounge access – they certainly don’t have a Club Easy cabin – though you can purchase access as an add-on with certain fares. I didn’t do so, though The Gateway also belongs to Priority Pass, so I was able to check it out on behalf of my American Express Gold Card (where I get four free Priority Pass passes a year, and pay a £24 increment for every subsequent visit).
I visited purely for memes – there’s no reason not to go to the superior No1 lounge next door instead (linked review is of the South Terminal’s equivalent). I also won’t be writing a full review since they were no longer serving food by the time I visited, though it was nice to start off my easyJet experience with a review of easyJet’s own lounge. It’s a comfortable space with a fair bit of sofa seating, and still had a limited alcohol selection on offer by the time I arrived.
easyJet’s “The Gateway” lounge London Gatwick
Conclusion: How was easyJet?
Obviously this is just a little snippet of my brain during my very-overdue first flight on easyJet, and I’ve already got a couple of flights booked on other low-cost airlines in the very near future. However, I was quite pleasantly surprised by how similar travel on easyJet was to other full-service airlines around Europe. My outbound flight was completely packed, and my return flight had a few empty seats, though none of them were around mine – I was travelling at a time when I didn’t have to queue loads, though had a pleasant experience whenever I did have to queue. The “Standard Plus” bundle I purchased, including Speedy Boarding, made the experience a game changer – a much less stressful boarding process, no need to pack ultra-light, and I even got to choose my seat for free.
Granted, the experience could be fairly different if you’re paying for a sky-high ticket, don’t have Speedy Boarding, are travelling during peak season, and have to pay your way out of a middle seat, where I could see the experience being significantly less pleasant. That being said, I’ve heard that easyJet’s generally the most “civilised” of the low-cost airlines within the UK, and am excited to try a few others soon.
Which low-cost airline should I try if I want to give myself a hard time?