After a spate of bankruptcies two years ago, it looked as though the travel industry had finally weathered the economic turbulence and made a safe landing. But today's news that Holidays 4 UK had gone bust, stranding 12,000 holiday makers in Turkey, shows that they're not out of the woods just yet. Industry experts have blamed the company's failure on unsustainable pricing, as travel companies slash prices to entice recession-hit tourists back into the extra-legroom seating.
Many of them must be viewing brands like EasyJet and RyanAir with envious eyes, as the two companies have managed to build successful business models by cutting the cost of air travel. Of course, as most of us have realised from painful first-hand experience, traveling with a budget airline is something of a false economy. Once all the additional charges have been added on, it'd be cheaper to go halfsies with Kanye West and just charter a Gulfstream. Probably less irritating too.
Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary has proved especially cunning when it comes to itemising the in-flight experience and billing separately for every component. First it was charging people to check in their luggage, then he announced that passengers would be expected to pay to use the toilets on-board. I'm not sure what the alternative would be if you found yourself short of change - but now I understand why the low-cost airlines insist on wipe-clean upholstery.
In pursuit of the ultimate 'no-frills' travel offer, it can't be too long before O'Leary looks at his fleet and decides that the wing flaps look a little frilly
Last year, he took things even further when he took people's description of his airline as 'cattle class' literally. "Let's rip out the seats and have standing room only!" he announced, leaving nervous passengers to contemplate the hideous reality of being stuck in an airborne version of the tube, pressed into the armpit of someone flying home from a stag weekend in Riga. Putting the comfort factor aside for a moment, there are also serious safety concerns about a standing-only flight - it's tough enough staying upright on bendy-bus, never mind a 737 that's touching down. I guess in O'Leary's world, safety is an optional extra. Why else would he have also proposed doing away with the co-pilots in order to cut costs even further?
If you've ever watched one of the Airport movies, you'll know that pilots have the second most dangerous job in the world, after Naomi Campbell's PA. When they're not having heart attacks or getting food poisoning mid-flight, they're being hit in the face with a microlite. Thankfully, whenever the pilot gets dispatched, there's a plucky stewardess on-hand, willing to take the controls and bring the plane down safely, with nuns, invalids and aging movie stars safely intact.
But this is real life, not the movies. With no George Kennedy or Charlton Heston in the control tower, the stewardesses will need to swot up beforehand, so they're ready in case of a crisis. Just don't be surprised if the training for an emergency landing is covered in less time than it takes to microwave an all-day breakfast panini.
The in-flight announcement may tell you that your safety and wellbeing is their top priority, but that's not strictly true. It comes a close second to squeezing you for every penny. This week it was reported that Ryanair crew were "hopelessly ill-equipped" to deal with a passenger who went into cardiac arrest on a flight to Sweden. Once the man's stepdaughter had helped him to regain consciousness, the quick-thinking staff suggested that he was probably suffering from low blood pressure and should have something to eat. They even brought him a sandwich and a drink. Problem is, they came back once his condition had stabilised, to charge him for the snack.
In pursuit of the ultimate 'no-frills' travel offer, it can't be too long before O'Leary looks at his fleet and decides that the wing flaps look a little frilly.
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