This is a legitimate, important and increasingly frequent question. However, it is often dismissed superficially by those who do not want to pose a complex problem or risk discovering that its great savings have an unpleasant background. Are low-cost companies as safe as regular airlines? Am I clever and all the others are foolish, or how do you spend your money hanging up? The answer is delicate and articulate but we will try to make it comprehensive in a few simple points.
First point: the differences between low cost and airlines
First important point: Low-Cost companies use all possible methods to keep the price low. This includes not only aspects of the service (seats, luggage, meals onboard, etc.), unfortunately, fewer accidents, but also:
- Multi-purpose employees (flight attendants perform more functions, e.g. they clean the aircraft and operate at the boarding gate);
- Training of staff, often at their own expense;
- Use of the most intensive fleet (for example, on average one and a half times the flag carriers);
- Short stops at airports (usually around 25 minutes between two flights);
- Use of on-board personnel to carry out pre-flight checks instead of the use of specialised personnel.
It is sadly known that this practice has had disastrous consequences such as the massive “flight” of Ryanair pilots (700 in 2018), which forced the Irish company to cancel 34 routes completely and to cancel 4,000 flights. Among the main causes of the transfers, besides the low salary, there would also be that of impossible shifts. A complicated affair that hides doubts about the real strategy of Europe’s most famous low-cost airline.
Less known is the equally scandalous complaint of the German pilots’ union Cockpit, after the emergency landings in Valencia of three Ryanair flights because they ran out of fuel because of the strong pressure exerted by the company on the pilots to limit the reserves.
Second point: real and “false” accidents in the history of low cost
The second factor to consider is that in the field of safety, the age of vehicles in aeronautics is generally put in second place to maintenance and checks. Better a less young but well-maintained aircraft than vice versa. Imagine an old tram driven by an experienced tramman who always does the same route and a nice new bus all coloured with Wi-Fi Free, driven by a drunk on a slippery road in the high mountains: which would you get on?
In 2011, a shocking article travelled around the world: a Ryan flight from London to Riga returned after being patched up with duct tape! To everyone’s eyes, it seemed like a scandal, proof of the poor maintenance carried out by low-cost companies. But it wasn’t! It was a special aluminium tape, called “High-Speed tape”, also used by the United States Air Force. The operation was judged correct by the Irish Civil Aviation Authority, IAA. And it could not be otherwise, the major aviation organizations worldwide, authorize the use of such adhesive tapes to patch up temporary damage.
Another fundamental difficulty to be understood is that the history of accidents has a relative importance in the level of safety. The cause should be investigated. If this was attributable to a lack of pilot training, maintenance, etc., it would hurt the company, but if it was due to external factors (attacks, collisions, etc.) it would not. Imagine that they take away some points from your license because someone has run over your car while it was regularly parked. Again Ryan, always just as a mere example: in 2016 flight GR4662 (Valencia – Milan) made an emergency landing in Genoa causing two injuries. Whose fault is it? The CODACONS has opened an investigation.
Is flying LOW COST safe? Conclusion: Better low cost or airlines?
Paradoxical or not, so many things happen, and sometimes the enquiries to clarify them last years. The parameters are many and it is not easy to compare them.
He recently tried AirlineRatings.com, an authoritative Australian civil aviation site. It has simply given a score of up to 7 stars according to official parameters: 2 stars if you have the safety certification (not mandatory) IOSA; a star if you are NOT on the blacklist of the European Union; a star if there have been no fatal accidents (not attributable to external causes) in the last 10 years; a star if the country of the company is NOT on the Blacklist of the FAA (United States Aviation Authority); from one to two stars depending on how many safety criteria of the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Authority) are met.
I save you the effort of research, the Ryanair, for example, lacks two stars because of the absence of IOSA certification, not mandatory, which have instead most of the flag carriers of Anglo-Saxon and European countries.
In conclusion: are low-cost ships safe? Yes, because the plane is still the safest way to travel and the laws impose a minimum standard when they are applied. But it seems from what emerged that there is a widespread opinion that the cruel reality is that these companies are NOT, in general, equally or more secure than the standard companies. It’s a bit like a car, if you take a cheap one it will have all the mandatory equipment, but if you go on the top models, you’ll have more guarantees, more airbags and safety systems, not only the walnut briar and the gavial leather knob.
Don’t worry, flying low cost is still a choice (maybe going a little deeper depending on each specific company), but it must be done consciously. And if you want to save money (low cost or not) also try the tricks listed in the article