"I can't think of anything worse," sniffed a travel writer colleague, "than travelling to Europe by a budget airline. It would be hell in the skies."
His words were ringing in my ears when low-cost carrier Scoot Airlines called to invite me to test the "Scoot Route" — from Australia to Greece, via Singapore.
I've flown Scoot several times, and for a no-frills, reliable service for the eight-hour jaunt to Singapore, I had no complaints. But all the way to Europe? I decided to put it to the test.
If you love a bargain fare, then you've got to understand what comes with it — and that's a seat with minimal baggage. You pay for everything else.
Want to eat? You pay for it. Extra baggage will cost too. That blanket and pillow will also require a credit card. Want movies? It's BYO screen and if you don't have your own library of binge-watching material, then expect to pay for the streaming menu.
With Scoot fares from Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and the Gold Coast to Athens starting from $799 return, this is the option for those who want to spend more on the destination than the journey.
From Athens you can take another low-cost carrier like EasyJet, Aegean or Ryanair into London for around $100, making it possible to get to the UK for under $1000 — and that's a game-changer.
Scoot want you to do everything online, from booking to preselecting meals, choosing baggage allowance and seats. Once at the airport, you print your own boarding pass and baggage tags, and then do a bag drop-off.
With the generous 10kg of carry-on baggage, or 15kg in Business, it was revealing that some other passengers told how often they fly with Scoot and only with cabin baggage. Checked baggage can be bought in packages, starting from 20kg.
Scoot planes are new, and so they're still fresh and clean. The plane is divided into Business (more like Premium), then Economy is in various zones — Scoot-in-Silence, Scoot Stretch and Standard.
The Business seats are leather, while all Economy are in a blue-and-white theme. If you want a flight without a crying baby, Scoot-in-Silence is where to head.
I've landed a Business seat, which is wide, comfy and has a decent recline, and when I spend a few hours back in Economy, it's pretty good too — I have had far less comfortable seats on some full-service carriers.
Business pitch is 96cm, and width is 56cm. Economy width is 45cm and pitch is 79cm, or 86cm if you take a stretch seat.
The crew are friendly and perfunctory, and while they have a welcoming style, it's without constant attention. They also make clear that if you want anything additional, you need to have your credit card ready.
A conversation heard often throughout the flights is along the lines of, "Of course, but that will be $12."
To Singapore, there's one meal included; to Athens, there are two. It's a low-cost carrier, so don't expect a celebrity chef gourmet experience, but the menu runs from wraps to hot dishes, like the signature chicken and rice served with fresh salad. It's markedly better than a full-service airline I took a few months back that slapped down a tiny salad box and a muffin during a 10-hour flight and called that a meal. Scoot's offering is far heartier.
There are no screens on any of the seats, so it's a case of bring your own. Try as hard as I did, I could not get the Scoot TV to work on my computer, so I watched some movies and TV shows on my phone.
What was easier was binge-watching a few TV series I already had downloaded on my computer. I paid almost $20 for the in-flight Wi-Fi, but it didn't work far more than it did.
You've got to hand this to Scoot — on the Sydney to Singapore flight, the door slammed shut at 1.30pm, and we were at the gate in Singapore at 7.05pm — to-the-minute on schedule. It's the same on the next leg to Athens.
To Singapore, what's most noticeable is the minimum of fuss — the crew is helpful, but they leave you be.
The absence of screens also produces another noticeable effect — cabin seems far quieter, with most passengers either sleeping and reading and a few watching their own screens. The quiet might have something to do with the absence of flickering screens keeping everyone awake.
Whatever, it's noticeable throughout the flight. I binge on a few TV series on my phone, downloaded movies on my computer and read for the rest of it. The eight hours into Singapore pass easily.
The Singapore to Athens leg, however, takes more commitment, as the flight leaves Singapore at 3am, which means wandering through Changi airport in the very early hours. Once on board, most passengers go straight to sleep. I'm in Business again, and have the whole left side of the cabin to myself.
Pulling a hoodie over my head and with a neck pillow in place, I doze off for five hours.
Again, this flight is so quiet and when I take a seat back in Economy for a few hours, to compare what it's like to upfront, it's still a comfy ride. With several empty seats, many people have spread out and are sleeping. I find an empty row, enjoy the first meal of a wrap, and then lie back and settle in with my book.
What finally stirs the cabin hours later is when the pilot announces we're about to fly above the Great Pyramids of Giza. Out of the window, the Pyramids and the Sphinx can be clearly seen against the sandy tones of Egypt. It's a great way to start the day.
On the second flight, I watch three TV shows and four movies, again on my phone and the existing downloads on my computer. Along with the long sleep in the comfy chair, and a second hot meal, the just over 12-hour trip pass easily.
And so, half a world away from where we started, and with daylight streaming in through the windows and the Mediterranean Sea beneath, the pilot announces we've started the descent into Athens. As the plane finally pulls into the terminal, I check again and Scoot is true to form — right on schedule at 9.20am.
As for the prediction it would be, "hell in the skies", this experience was not even close. In fact, it was pretty good. The long trip from Australia to Europe is rarely easy, but this 'Scoot Route' trip was far better than anticipated — and Scoot was markedly better than some of the full-service airlines I've flown with.
True, I was in Business, but even when in Economy on the return journey, it was an easy ride. And the quietness on every leg was conspicuous, as were cabins that were never overcrowded.
Scoot also offers the chance to upgrade into Business on-board — from about $160. It's even cheaper to move into Stretch, as several people did. You can also take up the MaxYourSpace deal to purchase empty seats for a bargain price, so you can lie down all the way.
Just remember this rule on Scoot — you get what you pay for. They will get you there and back for a good price, but if you want any of the regular luxuries, you pay. With a little planning — like downloading your own movies, packing a giant bottle of water and storing a blanket — it's easy. And with an upgrade, you could be flying to Europe up the front for about the same price as flying Economy on some other carriers.
And that's a deal worth considering.
- The writer travelled as a guest of Scoot.