There’s no priority in low cost airlines

There’s no priority in low cost airlines

What is the point of priority boarding on a low cost airline, asks Terence Pillay. 

Headache in the airplane, man passenger afraid and feeling bad during flight, fear
iStock: Anyaburkut

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A client booked me on a low-cost airline this past week, which is all very well, I didn’t mind that. But I did mind the incident that ensued.  I have a little OCD so I get there early and stand in the queue at the front, at the time we were meant to be there, waiting to board. So there I was, standing reading my book and minding my own business when an employee of the airline brings out a big fat sign that says priority boarding on it and plants it in front of me. It was not there before I got there. 

Suddenly a whole barrage of people arrive and all start queuing behind me and then the employee of the airline comes out and starts to separate the queue like we were cattle of different grades. And so I enquired what was happening and was told that the many, many people now ahead of me in the queue (and who were not there before) had something called “priority boarding”

I then ask what “priority boarding” was and was told that when people book this particular cheap airline for an extra fee they can get something called priority boarding – the question still not answered. I looked around and there must have been about seventy or eighty people all of whom had the priority booking stamp and some of whom didn’t even know what that was. 

I later did some research and found that when you book online on this particular airline (and I can’t name them simply because I didn’t give them a right to reply) a whole lot of boxes are automaticity checked and it is up to you to uncheck them if you don’t want to pay for additional services. Priority boarding is one of them and many people are oblivious to the fact that these items are checked and book and pay for their ticket. 

So I asked the airline representative, who I now began to suspect might have been one of the Gestapo who got a job at this airline, about the fifteen or so people (myself included) who did not have the priority boarding stamp, about what would happen if every single person on the flight had chosen priority boarding. 

“Well, it would be a first come first served basis,” she said with exasperation at being asked to explain the stupidity of what was going on.

“Isn’t that what we naturally do – all the time?” I asked, at which she just clicked her heels and sped off. For me this concept of priority boarding is meaningless. First of all, the idea would be that you get priority, which means what? You don’t get to stand in a queue as long as other people? Or that you will get on to the plane before everybody else? To what end? So that you can sit next to smelly Suzy longer than you have to? That you have to get up twice, because you’re on the aisle, and there are two people in the seats on the centre and the window and of course you were a priority and were sent in first! What’s the point?

Besides, the plane hasn’t taken off and won’t until all the passengers have boarded so again, what’s the point? Does it mean that you can get on early so that you can take up three-quarters of the overhead luggage space with your guitar and hockey sticks and all the other crap that you cart with you that should be in the hold? And then when I get there with my laptop bag, I can’t even fit it into the hole because some idiot has selfishly taken up more than their allotted space. Is that why they’re paying the forty-five rands, or whatever it is, for priority boarding?

But back to my lady with no answers. I asked her if every person had booked priority boarding and the airline couldn’t provide the service, were they not then taking money for a service they’re unable to meet and in which case constitutes theft? Again, she just huffed and couldn’t walk away from me fast enough.

I can understand if it’s business class. You paid the earth for your business class ticket for a fifty-five-minute flight and you should be allowed to board first. Or mothers with babies, the disabled and old people should all be allowed priority boarding – they need it. But this is a super budget, low-cost airline – there’s no class distinction!

Also, there’s no priority exiting – only priority boarding. This means you can get on to the plane first but you will have to wait with everyone else to get off it. If you’re travelling for business and need to get to a meeting, and have the misfortune to get seated at the back of the plane, you will have to wait the very long time it takes to get off - so what’s the point?

This priority boarding fiasco really irritates me. It’s nonsensical and is nothing more than a marketing gimmick to make people feel a little special. At the end of the day, when you have a hundred and fifty people on a budget or, low-cost flight, there’s no differentiator – we’re all the same. So the only way you can say to someone “you’re special” is by making them stand on the left while everyone else stands on the right. They get to walk past that little sign with their nose just a little higher in the air as they say, “I’m a priority!” It’s like the low-cost airline version of business class – except it’s not. It only exists in the figment of someone’s imagination. 

You can email Terence Pillay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and tweet him your thoughts. 

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