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I’m planning a bit of a tour of Europe later this year. Stopping off at some of the places that I’ve always wanted to visit. Paris is on the list, so is Barcelona, and there’s plenty of other places that have caught my eye.
The plan is to go there by plane, flying from one location to the next. Sounds easy, yeah? Trouble is that there are a LOT of airlines in Europe and I didn’t know which ones were great and which ones weren’t.
Before I parted with my hard-earned cash, I decided to do some checking online to find out which was the best European airline and which were the worst ones. Along the way, I’ve found out the answers to some of the most common questions that people have about European airlines. Rather than let all this juicy information sit in my desk drawer, I thought it might be useful for others, so I decided I’d get it all written up in an article. Shall we dive in and take a look?
Airline to choose: Swiss Airlines
UK Consumer watchdog, Which?, carried out a survey recently of more than 7,500 of its subscribers to see what they thought of 32 airlines. Their report shows that of the major airlines, the top performer for short-haul economy flights was Swiss Airlines. Swiss Airlines achieved an incredible score of 80% from customers for boarding, food & drink, customer service, and value for money. On TripAdvisor, Swiss Airlines scores a 4/5 from over 12,00 reviews, and the company has scooped TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice award for 2017, 2018, and 2019. An outstanding performance and I can’t wait to fly with them.
Airlines to avoid: Ryanair, Thomas Cook Airlines, Wizz Air, Vueling
What European countries require a visa?
In general terms, if you’re from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Croatia, or Japan and you are on vacation in Europe for less than 90 days, then you don’t need a travel visa. All you will require is a valid passport that is valid for over six months after the date of your return.
The maximum length for staying in Europe for non-EU passport holders is determined by the Schengen accord and is at present 90 days in any 180-day time period. I’ve listed the Schengen member countries below. The UK is not a Schengen country you can stay as a tourist for up to 6 months.
Schengen Area countries:
In addition, Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway are associated members of the Schengen Area but not members of the European Union.
You can find out more details here.
European airlines baggage allowance
Carry-on and checked luggage allowances for major airlines operating in the EU vary from one airline to another. The size and weight of the baggage allowed for transportation vary, as do the fees charged by those airlines. So it’s really important to read all the airlines’ websites carefully, as there are a number of other processes and rules in addition to the baggage and fees that the traveler may not know. For example, some allow you to combine the weight of your checked baggage for anyone traveling in your group, while others do not.
Carry-on luggage needs to fit in the size-check device that you will find at airports – you should also find measurements on the airline’s website. Make sure that you take your measurements to include the wheels and handle. Most airlines will ask you to gate-check your carry-on luggage when the aircraft’s overhead storage lockers are full.
Each airline has different rules and regulations for checking baby, mobility and sports equipment. So check the website of each airline carefully for more info on this before you travel.
Worst European airlines for lost luggage?
Hmm… tricky to track down statistics for European airlines who’ve lost or ‘mishandled’ passenger baggage. I guess it’s not something that those airlines talk about particularly! One interesting set of stats though is compiled by Luggage Hero. It’s about US airlines and shows that Delta is best (losing ‘only’ 1.55 bags per 1000 passengers from 2012-2018) and Envoy is by far the worst (losing 6.76 bags per 1000 passengers). Read the full report here.
I’ve found that European airlines are worse than US airlines for losing bags. That’s blamed on there being more airlines in the EU, flying to and from many more airports than in the US. So there’s more complexity and therefore more mistakes, leaving poor passengers in the clothes that they’re standing up in.
Like a dog with a bone, I’m going to keep gnawing away at this, and will eventually track down the stats and publish them here. If you find anything out, drop me a comment in the box below. Thanks!
Can you take knitting needles on a plane in Europe?
For a full list of items not allowed on flights in Europe, have a look here. This doesn’t specifically mention knitting needles. It does say that “objects with a sharp point or sharp edge capable of being used to cause serious injury” aren’t allowed. The examples that they give include things like axes, razor blades, and knives with a blade of more than 6cm. In practice, it’s unlikely to be an issue. Having trawled through many passenger (and knitting) forums looking for a definitive answer, it appears that people travel on flights in Europe all the time, proudly (and openly) knitting busily without any bother.
That being said, if you have any doubts about taking your family-heirloom knitting needles, then it would be worthwhile double checking with your airline.
Can you take fruit on a plane in Europe?
In general terms, if you’re looking to take fruit on a plane in Europe, then the answer is yes. You can carry a reasonable quantity (up to around 2kg) of fruit in your hand luggage, as long as it’s for personal consumption. So, if you want to take a couple of apples and a banana on a flight either from the US to Europe, or London to Rome, then that should be fine.
You would be best to keep this in your hand luggage. The rules are a little greyer on putting fruit in checked luggage. But, frankly, lost luggage happens, and lost luggage with moldy fruit inside doesn’t bear thinking about.
I found a useful leaflet online from the French Customs (known as the Douane). This gives some more info on what you can and can’t bring into France. If you have any concerns about visiting a particular country, then contact that country’s Customs for clarification.
Best and worst European airlines
Here are more details on some of the worst European airlines, based on passenger reviews:
This is one of Europe’s biggest airlines and takes passengers to over 180 destinations on its no-frills planes. However, in over 60,000 reviews on TripAdvisor, Ryanair scored a dismal 3/5. A common theme coming from reviewers is that Ryanair offers cheap prices, but with a poor service to match. Which? Reviewers gave Ryanair only 40% overall (not exactly a ‘Pass’ mark in any exam I’ve taken) and they were scored particularly badly on Boarding (1/5) and Food & Drink (1/5).
Thomas Cook Airlines
Flying to over 95 destinations in Europe and beyond, Thomas Cook Airlines (TCA) scored only 3.5/5 in 14,000 reviews on TripAdvisor. According to the Which? stats TCA has one of the shortest lengths of legroom of any of the airlines checked. ‘Seat Pitch’, which is the distance between two rows of seats, was only 28”-30” on TCA vs our favorite, Swiss Airlines, which has 29”-34”.
Wizz flies to around 100 destinations, including many European countries. On TripAdvisor it scored only 3/5 from over 13,000 reviews, and on Which? it only managed 54% overall score. A number of review mention lack of legroom and, in general, there seems to be a decline in customer experience. One positive that was noted is that Wizz flies to some of the more out-of-way airports, so maybe an option for those.
This airline scored 54% on the Which? survey, but the lowest score of these four airlines on TripAdvisor – a truly awful 2.5/5 from over 22,000 reviews. Vueling flies to around 155 destinations across Europe, Africa, and Asia. Unfortunately, a quick scan of the reviews reveals some fairly damning comments, including one frequent traveler with Vueling who talks about late planes, rude staff, and lack of legroom.
I’m really looking forward to my European trip, flying from one location to the next and checking out all the sights I’ve always wanted to see. Trouble is that there are a LOT of airlines in Europe and I don’t want to book my travel with a dodgy one.
Hopefully, this article and my research are useful for you in your own travels around Europe. Have fun!
My recommended airline is Swiss Airlines. UK Consumer watchdog, Which?, carried out a survey recently of more than 7,500 of its subscribers to see what they thought of 32 airlines. Their report shows that of the major airlines, the top performer for short-haul economy flights was Swiss Airlines. Swiss Airlines achieved an incredible score of 80% from customers for boarding, food & drink, customer service, and value for money. On TripAdvisor, Swiss Airlines scores a 4/5 from over 12,00 reviews, and the company has scooped TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice award for 2017, 2018, and 2019. An outstanding performance and I can’t wait to fly with them.
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