From start to finish the flying experience is something to be endured rather than enjoyed this summer. Prices are high, delays frequent and queues inevitable. Even the act of booking a flight is arduous, with airlines upselling at every turn and a distinct lack of clarity on what’s included in the headline fare.
A decade ago, Telegraph Travel compared the biggest short-haul airlines operating from Britain, to see which makes finding a flight the most time consuming. At the time, Ryanair was bottom of the pile, forcing customers to make 20 clicks of a mouse to reach the payment screen, due to its numerous opt-out ‘offers’ and add-ons (there was even a “play to win your trip for free” game that required dodging). So we decided to repeat the test to see whether, unlike other elements of flying, things have improved.
In part they have. While Ryanair still demands 12 clicks, it has streamlined its website somewhat, with many of its add-ons (car hire, fast-track boarding, crisps) confined to fewer pages and switched to an opt-in format, rather than an opt-out. Still, the rise of charging for cabin baggage has led to fare structures which are often unclear and could easily confuse passengers. Moreover, the 10 airlines we rated vary wildly in how user-friendly their websites are, with British Airways offering a relatively serene experience and Jet2 more of a hellscape.
For each carrier we picked a popular route and then timed how long it took to find and reserve a return flight for a weekend break in August, including the number of clicks required to secure your flight. Not included in the click count are essential steps, such as drop-downs for entering passenger details and clicks needed to find the best fare. Prices are for one adult, travelling with one item of checked luggage and paying using a credit card.
Ryanair (London to Barcelona)
Flight cost: £305.19
How many clicks? 12. Compared with a decade ago, when it took 20 clicks to secure a Ryanair flight, the process has been simplified, but the no-frills airline doesn’t miss the chance to flog everything from airport parking spaces to Pringles. There’s a particularly hard sell on cabin bags, with warnings of €69.99 fines if the tiny size is breached – which seems rather mean when you’ve forked out for checked luggage.
Time taken: 8 minutes. I was slowed down by the airline’s attempt to pass off Girona as Barcelona, but once that banana skin was dodged it was a fairly quick process. You are required to create a Ryanair account, which adds another layer of admin, and it takes some time to work out the cabin bag conundrum.
British Airways (London-Amsterdam)
Flight cost: £264.22
How many clicks? 5. The flag carrier may not have covered itself in glory of late, but when it comes to booking a flight it has upped its game in the last few years. The process requires no account creation or opt-outs and the website is aesthetically pleasing (no pop-ups). There’s just a discreet nudge to add a charity donation before payment, which passengers may be more inclined to do having not been upsold at every opportunity.
Time taken: 4 minutes. In theory, the act of booking a short-haul flight with British Airways is quick and easy. What a shame that it is literally impossible to do so from Heathrow for now.
Flight cost: £250.62
How many clicks? 12. Booking a flight with EasyJet feels like an interview. It wants a lot of information, from age (are you over 18?) to reason for travel. It also requires an opt-out on marketing and ‘partner’ emails and makes you confirm you have already purchased travel insurance (while trying to flog you its cover). The only bright spot is the user-friendly price calendar which makes it easy to find the lowest fares.
Time taken 8 minutes, with a resulting sense of weariness.
Aer Lingus (London-Dublin)
Flight cost? £226.35
How many clicks? 7. Booking flights with Aer Lingus is a relatively pleasant experience, with a useful drop-down list which allows filtering by departure time or price and no silliness when it comes to cabin bags (everyone is allowed 10kg). They lose points, however, for a dated “tick this box if you do not want to receive marketing emails”. Even Ryanair has largely done away with this trickery.
Total time taken: 6 minutes, but it would have been quicker had it not wanted my telephone number to be a landline and divided between two boxes. It also offered to send a receipt by text message – for the bargain price of £2.
Flight cost: £305.75
How many clicks? 8. Relaunched Flybe has returned with a fairly user-friendly website. There are warnings about cabin bag allowance (no more than 7kg) but not a heavy sell, unlike others.
Time taken 10 minutes. The longest on our list, but only because it oddly required passport details to be entered upon purchase – cue a desperate search around the house.
Flight cost: £344
How many clicks? 6. While it takes only a few literal clicks to reach the payment page, the Jet2 website experience is grim. From the garish red design to the cynical attempts to ‘guarantee’ usually-free cabin bags for £4, it leaves a bad taste. And that’s before it tries to flog you an anaemic-looking piri-piri chicken in-flight meal for £10.50.
Time taken 7 minutes. Admittedly, I spent some time scrolling through all the meal options – maybe the gluten-free roast chicken dinner en route to Faro would be a welcome addition?
Wizz Air (London-Budapest)
Flight cost: £409
How many clicks? 7. Technically an OK experience, as much of the attempted selling is kept to one page, however Wizz can’t resist tricks like making users click ‘no insurance’ and ‘No, I don’t want to save money’ when rejecting membership of a ‘travel club’, which feels dated to say the least.
Time taken: 8 minutes. The required sign-up slows down the process somewhat, as does the disillusionment at paying £400 for flights to Budapest.
Flight cost: £362.95
How many clicks? 6. The budget Spanish airline provides a pleasant booking experience, with points awarded for the obvious price markings on seat selection and well sign-posted chance to flag if you have any special requirements. The usual suspects (car hire, insurance, lounge access) are all kept to one easily skipped page. However, the attempt to flog luggage insurance “in case of delay” just before payment did not inspire confidence.
Time taken 5 minutes. There was a slight delay in considering how much clothing I could wear to the airport to avoid checking a bag that felt destined to be lost.
Flight cost: £290.10
How many clicks? 7. A confusing website, largely due to its fare categories (low fare, low fare plus and flex), with the cheapest option strangely unavailable for many flights – a move even the usual no-frills suspects don’t tend to pull. Like Aer Lingus they also kindly offer to send a purchase receipt via text for £2.
Time taken: 8 minutes – most of which was spent working out why I had to book the unnecessary ‘flex’ fare.
Tui (London - Majorca)
Flight cost £367
How many clicks? 10. Tui loses points for its erasure of solo travellers – its default selection of two passengers must be manually changed.
Its click count dramatically increases close to the finish line, when passengers are asked to tick individual boxes if they do not want to hear from Tui via email, text, phone or post. You almost expect to see ‘carrier pigeon’ on the list.
Time taken: 6 minutes, though it could have been faster without the momentary temptation to enter the prize-draw and those tick boxes.