European low cost airline easyJet is one of the cheapest ways to get around Europe, especially for traveling distances that may take too long by rail. But is easyJet really easy? Or do the airline’s cheap fares just cause more logistical frustrations in the end?
Our family of four tested out the airline in our recent European travels and were pretty pleasantly surprised by what it had to offer. Of course, we did our research in advance so we improved our chances of avoiding potential snags. Here are all the essentials that other travelers considering easyJet should keep in mind – particularly traveling families from the USA and Canada who may not have encountered the airline until they travel on a European vacation.
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easyJet is currently the second largest discount airline flying in Europe, behind only ultra low cost carrier RyanAir. Founded in 1995, the airline is based in the United Kingdom with its largest hub at London’s Gatwick Airport. Its founders initially modeled easyJet after Southwest Airlines, looking to offer discounted point-to-point service. Of course, the airline has evolved quite a bit in the last several decades.
easyJet only flies to destinations in Europe and North Africa, with a couple of additional destinations on the Mediterranean coast of the Middle East. Its depth of service in those regions is impressive, operating 927 routes in 34 countries and 153 airports in 2022. The airline offers a fair amount of service out of secondary airports in some major cities (like Paris Orly or London Luton). But it also serves the largest international airports of Europe as well, from Berlin Brandenburg (BER) to Paris’s Charles de Gaulle (CDG).
easyJet’s fleet has only Airbus aircraft at the current time – all A319s, A320s, and A321s.
Our Experience Flying easyJet
We flew easyJet for the first time this summer during our family’s two week summer 2022 European vacation. Our family of course flies Southwest a lot and also occasionally flies ultra low cost carriers in the United States (see my review of flying Frontier Airlines). So we know the drill and the potential pitfalls of discount airlines. Even still, I researched the heck out of easyJet before I considered making the booking, taking special care to read all the fine print on the airline’s website at every step in the booking process.
We booked a flight from Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) to Edinburgh, Scotland (EDI) about 2 months prior to our travel dates in August 2022. The only other airline flying this route non-stop is AirFrance. easyJet offered superior flight times for our travel plans in addition to being substantially cheaper.
We purchased a discounted standard fare, but chose the “Essentials” add on. This addition included a checked bag up to 23 kg (50 pounds) per person as well as a seat assignment. The seat assignment portion of this bundle amounted to an extra €10.99 per ticket and the checked bag was an extra €45.99 per ticket, but the price varies from flight to flight. The extras totaled €228 for our family of four over the cheapest seat offered on the flight. The entire booking cost €816 ($861 USD at the exchange rate of the time).
I checked in for our flight and printed boarding passes before we left the United States, as easyJet allows guests to check in up to 30 days in advance (more on that below). As our flight day approached, I received several emails from easyJet with details about our flight, including recommendations about when to arrive at CDG to check bags and how to prepare for airport security. At the time, a number of European airports were experiencing peak demand and garnering a lot of headlines for major meltdowns, so I was quite pleased with the level of communication from the airline.
We arrived at the airport right at 2.5 hours before our flight as easyJet’s emails suggested, which is when the bag check counters opened for our flight. We breezed through the bag check process in CDG’s Terminal 2B in minutes and then went through security quickly as well.
With all that extra time to spare, we stopped for some food and shopping before going through passport control to our final gate area. Passport control was also equally short. We enjoyed sitting in a spacious and mostly empty gate area before boarding.
The flight boarded in an orderly fashion. Seats, as you might imagine, are basic with pretty tight legroom but were more than adequate for the short haul flight we had between Paris and Edinburgh. Flight attendants were friendly. Everything and anything from drinks to snacks to cosmetics and duty-free liquor were of course offered for sale, but the sales pitch wasn’t particularly intrusive. We actually kind of enjoyed watching the spiel in action since there is no WiFi or other in-flight entertainment on board. Our flight departed and arrived on time.
All in all, it was about as uneventful and straightforward of a flight experience as I’ve had the last few years. Easy indeed.
9 Tips for Flying easyJet
Of course, not every flight is straightforward. A major contributor to our success was surely our preparation. If you are thinking of flying easyJet, I highly recommend that you prepare as well to maximize your chances of a similarly successful travel day. Here are all the essential tips we picked up in researching, preparing, and flying on easyJet.
1. Buy the right fare type
easyJet offers just two fare types, Standard and FLEXI, but the reality is that the offerings are a little more complex than just that. It’s vital to know what you are buying and bundling (and what you are not) so you purchase the amenities you need while not overpaying.
FLEXI fares are a more all inclusive option with some perks that business travelers will enjoy. They include a large carryon, a checked bag, a free Up Front Seat (with a discounted Extra Legroom option if desired), express bag drop, Fast Track Security, some flight and route changes allowed, and a few other perks in select airports and on select flights (see the full list of benefits here). For most family leisure travelers, this fare type is going to be more than is required.
The cheapest Standard fares are the other extreme. Standard fares come with absolutely nothing other than a space on the flight and the right to bring aboard a small under seat carry on bag like a purse, briefcase, or medium backpack (45 x 36 x 20cm).
Travelers can purchase additional amenities à la carte to add to a Standard fare purchase, or select from one of a few bundles the airline offers. The two most commonly offered bundles are:
- Standard Plus: includes a larger carry on bag (like a roll aboard), Speedy Boarding privilege, and an Up Front Seat
- Essentials: includes a standard seat assignment and a checked bag (23 kg/50 pounds)
Thankfully, the website booking process very clearly delineates what each of these bundles includes as well as all the à la carte purchases also available. For example, if you only want a checked bag, you can pay for three different sizes. As long as you go through the process deliberately having already thought about what you plan to take on a given trip, it’s hard to buy wrong.
This stands in stark contrast to me to several US airlines that have had very unclear basic economy fare rules in recent years that have tripped up many a traveler. While it seems like a lot of choices and a lot of clicks, I think most travelers will appreciate the transparency as I did.
2. Families should have a seating strategy
One of the major sticking points for families in air travel these days is sitting together. Again, easyJet impressed us with its transparent policy. Here’s what their website states as of September 2022:
If you haven’t yet bought seats for your family the best way to ensure everyone is seated together is to check in as early as possible. Check in opens 30 days before departure and we recommend you check in as early and possible and no later than 7 days before your flight. Whilst our seating system will always try to seat families together, seats are allocated on a first come first served basis so the earlier you check in the more likely you are to be seated together.
If you leave it to the last minute it’s possible that there may not be enough seats left for us to seat your family next to each other. We’ll still make sure each child under 12 is seated close to an adult on your booking. However we may only be able to arrange this at the airport or on board, which can cause delays for you and other passengers, and not everyone may be seated together.From easyJet’s Flying with Children and Infants
So, if you absolutely want to ensure that you sit together, you need to purchase seats at the time of booking. At just about €10 per seat on most flights, this isn’t particularly prohibitive and I’d recommend it for families with very young kids, especially when traveling last minute or during a peak holiday period.
If you’d prefer to chance it and go for the cheapest fare, it’s comforting to know that easyJet makes it a priority to seat families together anyway. Just be certain to check in right at the 30 day mark to improve your chances to getting seats together.
3. Measure personal items and carryons closely
Where so many travelers go awry with low cost airlines is with bags. easyJet has very strict size and weight limits for every kind of bag a passenger might bring on board.
Some of the luggage you may be used to bringing may not fall within the required dimensions. That’s why it’s essential to measure your bags before you book a flight on easyJet. We actually ended up purchasing backpacks to use as carryons for our entire European trip with easyJet’s dimensions in mind and really ended up loving them (see the backpacks here).
Here are the relevant bag sizes to watch out for:
- Small cabin bag (personal item): 45 x 36 x 20 cm (15 kg max)
- Larger cabin bag (carry on): 56 x 45 x 25 cm (15 kg max)
- Hold bag (checked bag): 23 kg (a smaller 15kg checked bag is offered for slightly less; passengers can purchase up to 32 kg of weight for a single bag in additional 3 kg increments; passengers traveling on the same itinerary can pool the total weight of their bags together)
I didn’t know what to expect on our travel day – would easyJet’s gate agents force every customer to place bags in the bag sizer to show size compliance? Although there were sizers at the bag check counters and at the gate, I didn’t see any passenger asked to use them. That said, it seemed like passengers all had very reasonably sized carry ons and small cabin bags. Perhaps European travelers do their research and don’t push the limits?
Whatever the reason, I was pleased to find out that there wasn’t a lot of fuss about bag sizes on our travel day. But I’m also glad we brought size-compliant bags and didn’t have to personally worry about being pulled aside. I’d recommend all easyJet travelers do the same.
4. Check in up to 30 days in advance
easyJet allows travelers to check in a full 30 days before a flight which is pretty usual in the airline world. Why might you want to check in early?
As I mentioned earlier, checking in early is essential for families not paying for seat assignments to improve their chances of sitting together. But even solo travelers or adults-only travel groups may want to check in early as well to improve their chances to getting better seats when you have not paid for a seat assignment.
Why else should you consider checking in long before your travel day? In my family’s case, we checked in before we left the USA for a flight that was 10 days later because it enabled us to print our boarding passes at home. While we could have used the app or gotten a printout for free at the airport, I like having the certainly of paper, especially when traveling internationally where I might not be able to count on data service or WiFi.
Finally, you may want to check in early for other reasons. This summer during the height of the travel crunch, for example, easyJet allowed passengers who had checked in to drop their bags the night before a flight to avoid long morning bag check lines. easyJet also requires travelers to check in no later than 2 hours before a flight, so checking in early avoids the risk of you might miss this window on day of travel.
5. Arrive early, but not too early for bag check
Some European airports have really been disastrous logistical messes the last few years, with long bag check and security lines. Travelers are increasingly feeling the need to arrive earlier and earlier for their flights so as not to miss them.
We really appreciated how easyJet manages this issue, along with the airline’s clear communication about travel day timing. On its website, easyJet publishes what time its bag check counters open before a given flight and sends email reminders to passengers with this information several times before a travel day. For most flights and airports, bag check open 2 hours before departure but for a few larger airports, they open 2.5-3 hours in advance.
Even if you are at the airport, you can’t queue and check your bags before that time, so there’s no need to arrive earlier. And because travelers on later flights can’t get in line to check their bags yet, the lines aren’t clogged with passengers from multiple flights at a given time. It turned out to be remarkably efficient and reliable for us at CDG.
The bottom line is that you can actually trust the recommended EasyJet bag check time guidelines which is a rarity in air travel these days.
6. To save the most money with easyJet, book well in advance
As with a lot of low cost carriers, there are some screaming deals to be had flying easyJet. But if you want to find these low prices, you need to be prepared to book well in advance (as well as to fly at off-peak times).
We monitored the flights we ultimately booked for a few months as we firmed up our overall travel schedule, and I saw the prices go up quite a bit from 4 or 5 months in advance to about 2 months before when we booked. A lot of that is likely due to the fact that we were flying during peak summer travel season in Europe, but it’s an important lesson. If you can book early, it will likely save you some real money.
How far in advance can you book? easyJet releases its schedules about 7-9 months in advance, similar to how Southwest does things.
7. But… be prepared for flight time changes and cancellations
While booking early with easyJet is the best way to snag a deal, it does come with some risk. Like all airlines these days, easyJet has been making a lot of schedule changes and has had labor and airport-related troubles this year. So the flight you book may not be a flight easyJet ultimately flies many months down the road.
I’ve heard several stories from travelers this summer who have lost a whole day of their vacation due to to major easyJet schedule changes and route discontinuations. The silver lining is that air travel consumer protections in Europe are more robust than they are in the United States. So easyJet is usually obligated to offer a refund, a voucher, or an alternate flight. In some cases when flight cancellations are last minute, compensation may be due. So if your flight is cancelled, do your research to know what you are entitled to.
8. BYO everything
Passengers planning to fly easyJet should know that it truly operates as a low cost carrier. So that means the airline will charge you for anything and everything – even water. If you want to eat or drink or just to be entertained, you are on your own.
For that reason I highly recommend that travelers – particularly travelers with kids – bring plenty of food for an easyJet flight. Additionally, bring an empty water bottle to the airport and fill it up before boarding (because Europe has liquid restrictions at airport security checkpoints too). Download shows and games to your personal devices and smartphones before leaving for the airport and pack headphones!
9. Frequent flyers should consider easyJet Plus
While a lot of travelers may only have occasion to fly easyJet infrequently like our family, if you are planning a lot of travel aboard easyJet, it makes sense to consider easyJet Plus.
easyJet Plus is essentially elite status that you can pre-pay for. Pay a fee of £215, an it unlocks a number of extras for no additional fee – a seat assignment, a checked bag, a larger cabin bag, Fast Track security, Speedy boarding, etc. A spouse can also join for £185 additional, and kid ages 2+ are £135 each.
If you plan an extended trip around Europe and plan to fly easyJet multiple times in a limited time window, this membership could well pay for itself in saved bag and seat fees as well as in reduced stress on travel days. Of course, do the math carefully because travelers only taking a couple of flights probably should purchase needed amenities à la carte.
Overall, for the prepared and fastidious traveler, easyJet is a really great option for travel around Europe. The airline of course has some of the usual caveats that come with flying any low cost carriers, but we found it to be a more user-friendly option than the cheapest airlines in the United States (like Spirit). We’d gladly fly it again on future Europe trips.