So long, €10 flights: Is this the end of an era for budget travel?

As Ryanair’s group CEO heralds the end of cheap flights, have we left the golden age of travel? Not quite, says Laura Hampson ‒ we’re just entering a newer, more considered era

Thursday 11 August 2022 16:41 BST
Is the sun setting on £8.50 Stockholm flights?
Is the sun setting on £8.50 Stockholm flights? (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Over the weekend I was growing increasingly frustrated. I wanted to book a city break to anywhere but London for later this year, but one glance at Skyscanner and I knew that any international (and even domestic) flight was beyond my budget. My first-world problem was compounded by the fact that I’d told myself during the UK’s various lockdowns that, once restrictions ease, I would start seeing more of Europe. Because, as a Kiwi expat, that’s what I’d moved over to London for, right?

But what was once a £50 return trip to a European capital was now a £200 return flight to Prague, or a £150 return flight to Split ‒ carry-on luggage not included. It should come as no surprise to me, then, that Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has today said that the era of the airline’s famous €10 (£8.50) flights is over, for a while at least.

O’Leary said that the budget airline’s average fare would be rising from €40 (£34) to €50 (£42) over the next five years. “There’s no doubt that at the lower end of the marketplace, our really cheap promotional fares ‒ the one euro fares, the €0.99 (£0.84) fares, even the €9.99 (£8.45) fares ‒ I think you will not see those fares for the next number of years,” he told the BBC on Thursday. He cited rising fuel costs as the reason for the price hike.

I moved to London in 2016. It was the first city I had visited overseas as a teenager, and I had been enamoured with it ever since. London wasn’t just the best place to develop my career as a journalist ‒ it gave me access to cities and destinations that I’d always wanted to visit but had been too far away (anywhere in Europe is at least 24 hours flying time from New Zealand).

Like any Kiwi or Australian expat who descends on London in their twenties, I began to fill my weekends up with city breaks. A weekend in Stockholm here, a few days in Dublin there, a jaunt to Mallorca, or a last-minute trip to visit a friend in Paris after a break-up. So many memories and experiences, all accessed by flights costing less than £50 return. I would leap on airline fare sales and see which destination I could squeeze into each bit of annual leave I’d accumulated. The world ‒ the chunk of it wedged between the UK and Turkey, at least ‒ was my oyster.

Fast forward six years and the pandemic, plus the UK’s current cost of living crisis, seem to have altered the way we travel for good. Lack of staff is causing a summer of cancellation chaos, fuel prices are driving up air fares, and we’re seeing security queues like never before. And that’s before any delays to your journey. For the first time, we’re considering whether going on holiday is worth the stress (and cost) it takes you to get there.

While this new approach to travel is frustrating, it could actually be a good thing

While this new approach to travel is frustrating, it could actually be a good thing. The pre-Covid travel era felt blissful and carefree, but we are in the middle of a climate crisis and the aviation sector produces around 2.1 per cent of all human-induced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Scarier, even, is that the UK is experiencing one of its hottest summers on record – temperatures reached 40.2C in England during July’s heatwave. If the last few years have ended bargain flights on tap and ushered in a new, more considered way of travelling, that could be a blessing in disguise.

While I will never be able to give up flying all together (it took my grandparents six weeks to get to New Zealand on a boat from Liverpool in the Sixties, and I don’t plan on following suit), weekend breaks in this new era look more like a trip to Paris on the Eurostar, or an overnight coach to Edinburgh. The cost of living and the chaos of flying has forced me to think long and hard about which cities I truly want to go to next, and how I’m going to get there – instead of just booking a cheap break anywhere, anytime.

The era of the €10 flight – if indeed it is over – will always be one I (and my bank account) look back on fondly. It was magic while it lasted. But if it means a more mindful age of travel, I think it’s a price worth paying.

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