A trip to France and back with the UK's 'best' airline and the 'worst'
The UK’s ‘worst’ airline vs the ‘best’: MailOnline flies with much-maligned Wizz Air to France and returns with top-ranked Jet2… to find out if both deserve their reputations
- Ted Thornhill flew with Wizz Air from Gatwick Airport to Lyon
- Then he boarded a Jet2 aircraft from Lyon to Manchester the following day
- Read on for an aviation mystery-shopper adventure…
- READ MORE: BA captain ranks the most dangerous types of weather for flying
Wizz Air has a fairly dire reputation.
According to Which?, as we’ve reported, it’s the airline that’s worst for summer holiday delays, and the consumer group named it the worst short-haul airline operating in the UK in 2023. Even worse than Ryanair. And last year, we revealed how the airline left a couple stranded in Portugal after cancelling a flight at the last minute and was unable to help with rebooking an alternative flight or finding hotel accommodation.
Jet2.com, in stark contrast, is almost universally loved. It topped the 2023 Which? ranking for short-haul airlines and last year was recognised as the best airline for customer satisfaction according to the UK Customer Satisfaction Index.
I’ve written some of these reports, but with the latest Which? ranking decided it was time to step away from the keyboard and find out what it was like on board flights operated by these two airlines.
So, I put the carriers head to head, flying with Wizz Air from London Gatwick to Lyon, then boarding a Jet2.com aircraft from Lyon to Manchester the following day. Read on for an aviation mystery-shopper adventure that features some of the hardest seats in the airline industry, noodle soup at 38,000ft and legroom revelations. Both airlines are given marks out of 10 across a range of categories…
MailOnline Travel’s Ted Thornhill pits the UK’s ‘best’ airline – Jet2.com – head to head against the ‘worst’, Wizz Air. He flies out to Lyon with Wizz Air and flies back from there to Manchester with Jet2.com
I won’t lie, I wasn’t looking forward to my flight with Wizz Air. I’d read the horror stories – and written a few myself, as mentioned – and it was with a feeling of slight dread that I opened up the Wizz Air website to book my flight to Lyon.
But I was pleasantly surprised by the site’s slickness.
Though as I type that, I’m not quite sure what I was expecting – a skull and crossbones to materialise in front of me?
The design is bright, the pages easy to navigate and handily throughout the process, a sidebar listing your purchases – checked-in baggage and so on – appears from page to page to keep matters clear.
The prices were attractive, too.
I could pay £79.39 for ‘All In & Full Flex’, which included a 32kg checked-in bag, free premium or normal seat selection, free carry-on and trolley bag on board, online flight change without fees and a refund to one’s ‘Wizz account’ made possible.
Ted reveals that he’s pleasantly surprised by the slickness of Wizz Air’s website. Above are the price options for his flight to Lyon during the booking process. He opts for the £51.79 fare
Ted writes: ‘Handily throughout the [booking] process, a sidebar listing your purchases – checked-in baggage and so on – appears from page to page to keep matters clear’
At the opposite end of the price scale was a £12.99 ‘Travel Light’ fare, which included one free carry-on bag. And nothing else.
I opted for the in-between fare – a £51.79 ‘Pick and Save’ bundle that gave me a 20kg checked-in bag option, free seat selection, a free carry-on and trolley bag, and priority boarding.
There’s no arguing – those are resolutely bargain fares. These days, £12.99 is roughly the cost of a pint.
The downside to the booking process, which took 20 minutes, was being badgered about purchasing extras such as airport parking and travel insurance – but in this regard, Wizz Air is no different from any other major booking site.
I selected seat 2A, and awaited take-off day.
Ted’s Lyon-bound Wizz Air A321neo at Gatwick Airport
My flight was due to depart from Gatwick Airport South terminal at 4.50pm.
When I arrived – in good time – every single plane on the departure board seemed to be departing on time.
Gate information, apparently, was coming at 5.15pm. Clearly, we weren’t taking off at 4.50pm then. To its credit, Wizz Air sent me an apologetic email informing me of the delay and a new departure time of 5.50pm.
The gate announcement at 5.15pm was to be the only punctual part of the journey.
Boarding itself was fairly uneventful, save for some raised voices directed at one of the gate agents from a man and woman with a bag that was deemed too big to count as a free carry-on item.
The gate agents apologised over the PA system for the delay and we finally started boarding at 6.10pm.
Ted’s Wizz Air seat – 2A. The seats ‘look quite racy’, says Ted, adding: ‘Though I’m not sure that’s a box an airline seat needs to tick’
Wizz Air we go: Ted awaits take-off
As I stepped on to the aircraft, a state-of-the-art Airbus A321neo, I was greeted fairly warmly by two smartly dressed stewards in Wizz Air’s dapper uniform – catwalk-ready black suits and blue shirts with pink piping, to match the paintwork on the fuselage.
The Recaro cabin seats carry the same hues – bold blue with that hot-pink piping again.
They look quite racy. Though I’m not sure that’s a box an airline seat needs to tick.
I settled in and took stock.
The seat was quite hard against my back – the hardest I’ve ever experienced on a plane – with minimal padding for the head and no foldable wings to rest it against when asleep. And the armrests were thin and uncomfortable.
The roominess factor, however, was just fine for me. I’m 5ft 10in and had ample legroom and the seat width was sufficient, too. No complaints there.
The Wizz Air legroom, says 5ft 10in Ted, was ‘ample’ and the seat width ‘sufficient’
Any features? None whatsoever, unless you count a small tray table and a seat pocket as features.
There was no recline, no charging sockets and Wi-Fi is not available on Wizz Air flights, though you can access basic messaging functions online using the Wizz Air app.
The captain apologised for the delay – apparently caused by a ‘random safety check’ in Cyprus delaying the inbound flight – and we finally pushed back from the gate at 6.40pm, nearly two hours late.
Still, on the plus side, I had a whole row of seats to myself, and I’d discovered the onboard food and drink menu in the airline’s magazine (which was a bit tatty with a ripped back page).
The cabin crew uniforms are ‘catwalk-ready black suits and blue shirts with pink piping’
There was a range of alcoholic drinks to choose from. The list included whisky and coke, vodka and orange, gin and tonic, and bloody mary, all priced at 9.50 euros (£8.30) and classed as ‘cocktails’, which descriptively seems a bit of a stretch.
Or I could have an unnamed red or white wine, or an unnamed beer. Buy two beers (11 euros/£9.65) and the peanuts are free. Buy two wines (12 euros/£12.50) and get ‘one bag of corn snack for free’.
I was after something a bit more substantial than ‘corn snack’, so I perused the page ‘for passionate sandwich lovers’, which listed a salami, turkey ham and grilled vegetable croissant sandwich (six euros/£5.26); a cheese baguette (five euros/£4.38) and a salami and cheese sandwich (5.5 euros/£4.82).
Ted’s noodle soup ‘was something of a revelation, tasty and mildly filling’
Wizz Air serves a range of soups – with alcohol deals never far away
The Wizz Air ‘cocktail’ selection includes vodka and orange, and gin and tonic
When the trolley arrived, I opted for the cheese baguette, but was told they’d sold out, so instead went for the steward’s recommendation – noodle soup (four euros/£3.51).
And I boosted my onboard dinner with a pack of mini cheddars (3.50 euros/£3.07) and a can of White’s lemonade (3.50 euros).
The noodle soup – ‘veggie miso Japanese style’ – was something of a revelation, tasty and mildly filling. And served with eco-friendly wooden cutlery. Hat tip to Wizz Air.
The steward who served me thoughtfully checked back to ask how the noodles were and apologised again for the lack of cheese baguette stock.
CONCLUSION AND SCORES
While ‘roomy enough’, Ted says that his seat was quite hard and surmises that it wouldn’t be comfortable on a long flight
I was pleasantly surprised by my Wizz Air flight. I was expecting a horror show, but actually enjoyed the trip once it got underway. Wizz Air comes in for much criticism for its customer service when things go wrong, which is something I wasn’t able to put to the test here.
The onboard experience is pared back, but if you’re paying peanuts for a short flight, it’s worth asking – does that really matter?
PROS: Slick website booking process; friendly cabin crew; good food and drink selection; roomy-enough seat; bargain prices; cabin was clean; very modern aircraft.
CONS: The seat was hard and lacked any supportive contours – it wouldn’t be comfortable for a long flight; the tray table is small; there are no sockets to charge devices, there’s no Wi-Fi; flight delayed (though that was out of the airline’s control).
Scores out of 10: Booking process – 7. Cabin appearance/cleanliness – 7. Seat comfort – 5. Seat spaciousness – 6. Food and drink – 7. Cabin crew appearance/friendliness – 7. Features/extras – 3. Price – 8. Punctuality – 4.
Overall: 6.5 out of 10, which includes half a point added for the bargain price.
Jet2.com is known for its sunny disposition, which even extends to the booking process, which took 15 minutes.
The airline’s website is cheerful in tone and helpful from start to finish – clearly laid out, easy to navigate and transparent.
There’s lots of the carrier’s trademark red splashed liberally around and colour photographs – of food options for instance – help with the decision-making process and add to the feeling of bonhomie.
Jet2.com’s website is ‘cheerful in tone and helpful from start to finish’. During the booking process Ted is prompted to pre-order food, with the site flagging that there will be limited availability onboard
The ticket-buying journey is peppered with offers for extras – travel insurance and ‘exclusive offers’ – but while irksome to me, didn’t feel overly pushy.
I paid a base price of 59.81 euros (£52.41), added 22kg of checked luggage for 49.03 euros (£42.96), paid 14.84 euros (£13) to choose my seat (5F) and, because Jet2.com helpfully flagged that food availability would be limited on the plane, I pre-ordered a cheese ploughman’s for 5.81 euros (£5.09) and paid 6.45 euros (£5.65) for guaranteed cabin luggage (an annoying but necessary extra).
The grand total was 135.94 euros (£119.10), which I considered a bargain.
Ted’s Jet2.com ride back to Manchester pictured at the gate at Lyon-Saint Exupery Airport
My flight to Manchester was due to take off from Lyon-Saint Exupery Airport’s swish Terminal 1 at 10.35am.
The gate was announced at 9.30am, with messages arriving by text and email from Jet2.com warning of possible disruption due to industrial strike action by French air traffic control. ‘Our teams are working hard to make sure any impact is kept to a minimum,’ Jet2.com said.
In the end, all was well.
The boarding process began at 10am and was smoothly done, with the middle to back rows of the full flight sensibly called first.
Hue goes there: Ted’s red seat on the Jet2.com flight to Manchester – 5F
Ted is all smiles as his Jet2.com flight prepares to depart
As I stepped on board the Boeing 737 I was cheerily greeted by cabin crew so smartly dressed and groomed they looked like they’d stepped straight out of a fashion catalogue – white shirts all round, the men in dark blue suits and the women in dark blue skirts.
In addition, the men wear ties and the women neckerchief scarves in that trademark red, both freckled with little planes.
That vibrant red hue isn’t confined to the sartorial department, but liberally applied throughout the cabin – it’s on the walls front and back, piped along the overhead bins and half the seats are red, with the others voguishly grey.
This is an energetic cabin environment that screams ‘let the good times roll’.
But do they? Generally, yes.
And that is in large part thanks to very generous legroom – the sort of legroom I’d be happy with in premium economy on a world-class long-haul carrier.
The seat is not the most comfortable in the aviation industry – but just fine for short-haul adventures. While the little cup holder that folds down from the seatback is a very nifty idea.
I appreciated, too, the way the perky crew and the announcements helped to keep the vibe buoyant.
The pilot sincerely hoped that everyone had had a great holiday with Jet2.com, apologised for a slight delay and revealed which side of the plane might see which sights on the way back. For instance, the left side, he said, would see Paris, the right side, clouds permitting, Canterbury Cathedral.
Ted is extremely impressed with the Jet2.com legroom situation
The stunning view from the plane towards the Alps after taking off from Lyon
My cheese ploughman’s sandwich arrived midway through proceedings, and very satisfying it was, too (though it doesn’t look quite like the version on the menu, as photos here show). I also bought a Starbucks coffee from the trolley.
The in-flight menu is a bit more comprehensive and enticing than Wizz Air’s.
Choices include a chicken tikka meal (£7.50); penne arrabbiata (£6.50); pizza twists (pepperoni and margherita, £5.50), and a chicken and bacon roll (£4.50).
The airline also offers ‘inflight picnic snack boxes’, including a ‘classic’ with pretzels, crackers, chocolate flapjack and Italian cheese (£4.20); ‘Spanish’ tapas with Spanish jamon, crackers, cheese and green olives (£4.90); and a kids’ version with mini cheddars, Dairy Milk bar, Jammie Dodgers, raisins and a pack of colouring pencils (£4.20).
The Jet2.com seats have a nifty cup holder – but sadly no seat pockets
Ted’s pre-ordered cheese ploughman’s, which cost £5.09. Does it match the menu photo? Take a look at the next picture…
The Jet2.com in-flight menu is a bit more comprehensive and enticing than Wizz Air’s, says Ted. The menu version of his cheese ploughman’s is a bit more appetising, though
The drinks list, meanwhile, comprises the likes of regional ales from around the UK (£5 a can), spirits, Champagne (£35), and you can pay £6.40 for little 187ml bottles of ‘fine wine’.
I didn’t try the wines but, as with Wizz Air’s ‘cocktails’, this is a description that feels a tad optimistic.
There are a few other similarities with Wizz Air – a complete lack of features and extras. Though for the cheap-as-chips price, this may be an irrelevance for many.
Jet2.com supports regional breweries, with beers from around the UK available
Jet2.com offers various snack boxes, including one for kids that comes with colouring pencils
There are no charging points, Wi-Fi isn’t available, there are no freebie snacks or bottles of water and bizarrely no seatback pockets – the inflight magazine sits in a metal holder and is held in place by a plastic arm. I had a book to read for the flight, but that had to sit on my lap while I was drinking and eating, which prompted some brow-furrowing.
The flight had taken off from Lyon 20 minutes late, but arrived in Manchester on time, with a perky announcement letting passengers know they could collect £60 discount coupons from the flight crew for the next holiday as they disembarked.
I didn’t take one – and now I’m regretting it. I’d be more than happy to travel with Jet2.com again and I can see why the carrier is so well-liked by holidaymakers.
CONCLUSION AND SCORES
Ted says that he can see why Jet2.com is so well-liked by holidaymakers
The Jet2.com experience was perky and positive from beginning to end, but not without niggles.
PROS: Simple and transparent booking process; smartly dressed, friendly crew; good in-flight food and drink offering; outstanding legroom; bargain prices.
CONS: In-flight extras non-existent; no seatback pocket; seat could be more comfortable.
Scores out of 10: Booking process – 8. Cabin appearance/cleanliness – 8. Seat comfort – 6. Seat spaciousness – 9. Food and drink – 8. Cabin crew appearance/friendliness – 8. Features/extras – 3. Price – 8. Punctuality – 8.
Overall: 8 out of 10, which includes half a point added for the bargain price.
Jet2.com beats Wizz Air, but not by as much as might be expected, given the reputation of both airlines. Would I fly Wizz Air again? Yes, I would. Can Wizz Air turn its reputation around? Absolutely, if it can address the issues surrounding its customer service. It has a good, modern fleet; offers amazing prices, and a perfectly acceptable in-flight experience for the money. Jet2.com, meanwhile, has to be applauded for being a positive experience from the moment you click on its website to disembarkation.
Neither Wizz Air nor Jet2.com knew MailOnline Travel was flying with them. The tickets were paid in full by MailOnline. Lyon was chosen simply for convenience.
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