Seven days without laughter makes one weak.

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Why Discount Airlines Are Dangerous

January 25th, 2014 ~ Est. reading time: 3 mins, 7 secs

Beware of cheap airlines. You could be at risk.

Beware of cheap airlines. You could be at risk.

Inconvenience and discomfort are hardly hazards. But our return flight home on Singapore Airlines discount subsidiary, Scoot Airlines, highlighted the risks that go with barebones flying.

For every person who has taken a cheap flight there will be various tales, from irritation and alarm through to realistic appreciation. That’s hardly surprising. If you fly on the cheap something has got to give and it’s comfort.

The mantra of discount airlines has consistently been, “Well we are only providing what people want. If travellers want more comforts then they should pay extra for them”.

That seems reasonable enough. Because Tasmania is an island, we rely on either planes or the ship to go to and fro. And, given it only takes an hour or two of flying time to mainland Australia, sitting in a cheap seat is no big deal.

But for the first time, Ruth and I were persuaded by a friend to pick a discounted “Biz seat” on a longer haul flight with Scoot. In case you haven’t heard of them, I expect they are much the same as the other suspects like Ryanair, Easyjet, Spirit, and a host of other mobs offering barebones travel at a discount.

They offer what I call “pack rack travel” (i.e. it’s like sitting on a pack rack on top of a car and grimly hanging on). Yes, you’ll get there. But it really isn’t the same thing as a regular flight. On longer trips this becomes a more serious issue than people think and I have have just found out why.

Although they keep restating that your flight safety is their number one concern, that’s not strictly true.

On our trip from Bangkok to Sydney via Singapore we found out that the difference between a “biz” ticket and regular seats is merely more legroom.

As good as that is for comfort and to reduce the risk of blood clots in your legs, there is another factor that is crucial but consistently ignored by discount airlines.

Being pressurised inside, aeroplanes take air from outside and maintain a mountain high air pressure equivalent (of something like 6000ft/1800m) that is jet stream dry.

With air humidity as low as 3-15% during flights, this arid environment is like nothing else on Earth and it is vital to stay hydrated. To put this into perspective, average humidity levels of the Sahara Desert are 25%.

Side effects of such extremely dry air include:

  1. Dry eye
  2. Dry mouth and nasal passages
  3. Fatigue
  4. Elevated stress levels, and
  5. Increased risk of disease.

Low cabin humidity is also believed to be a major factor in jetlag. So sitting in a plane is nothing like sitting in a bus.  Indeed, re-circulated cabin air, crowded conditions, and compromised immune defences increases transmission of colds, flu, and even TB.

For this reason, hydration is paramount. Yet what do airlines like Scoot do? They consider the provision of water as a premium service. During our 8 hours on the plane from Singapore, we were offered a cup of water at commencement and then the equivalent of 2 cups of juice 5 hours later. Trying to get more water meant hunting down a flight attendant (they tended to hide behind the curtain up front) and buying a one and a half cup bottle for 5 Singapore Dollars. Water is simply not provided and they forbid passengers from bringing water on-board.

Given the added complication of blood thickening, there is also a significantly increased risk of blood clots (think Deep Vein Thrombosis). That’s why providing plenty of water to passengers is not a luxury comfort but a key health and safety matter.

Besides all of these risks, I can personally add one more. Having caught a virus in Thailand, which left me sick for the duration of the trip, the extreme lack of hydration on the flight home amplified my illness, requiring an ambulance and an overnight in hospital.

Bottom line? If budget airlines know that adequately providing water on flights is not a luxury but a basic act of health and safety, passengers wouldn’t have their safety compromised. Given that these facts are well established, I regard this as a disturbing abuse of power and a rather cynical exercise.

I’ve learned the hard way. But I urge you to avoid the risk and only travel on flights where water is freely supplied. This is vital on long haul flights and no apparent discount is ever worth jeopardising your health.

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