Last fall, I began to plan a spring trip to Paris for a group of six friends in celebration of my boyfriend's birthday. I set up daily flight alerts through airfare search sites like Kayak and AirFareWatchDog, and did manual searches every so often to keep tabs on pricing fluctuations. My goal was to score flights for $800 or less. Then, one day, I stumbled upon round-trip, direct flights to Paris from New York for less than $600 on Hipmunk.com, flying in May – prime time for a Paris getaway. Sounds amazing, right? Surely there must be a catch, and there was one. The flights were on a relatively obscure airline called XL Airways.
Flying on an airline I'd never heard of caused me some concern, so I researched. I read a handful of polarizing reviews; from high ("excellent, comfortable flight to Paris; would definitely recommend") to low ("the worst airline in the world"), and I couldn't find any middle ground. Ultimately, the more than $300 in savings is what swayed my friends and I to book. The next cheapest flight was more than $900 round-trip, and had one stopover each way. No, thanks.
Then we looked at baggage fees. Anyone who has flown budget U.S. airlines, like Spirit, knows that rock-bottom fares often come with hefty charges for every piece of luggage, checked or carried onboard. The good news about XL? With the airline's standard baggage allowance, your bags will fly for free.
Other parts of the XL experience aren't quite so seamless. There is no option for selecting seats before you board. XL does not offer any form of online check-in system, and you won't even find digital check-in kiosks at the airport. All three-hundred-plus travelers on your flight are required to check in at the XL Airways counter, where all bags (including carry-ons) are meticulously weighed. I recommend getting to the airport early to avoid a long, slow-moving line. Luckily, the XL staff is very friendly, and does their best to accommodate seating requests. My friends and I were able to sit together on both flights.
Okay, how about the actual flight? It wasn't bad. The seats are a bit narrow, but the leg room is on par with more well-known Transatlantic carriers. Don't expect personal entertainment systems or onboard WiFi, but you will find a series of movies suitable for all ages (Life of Pi, anyone?). The complimentary meal is... edible, which means it's very similar to the experience on other airlines. The free beverage options are limited – you'll have to shell out a few dollars or Euros for anything beyond bottled water, coffee, or tea. I enjoyed a nice Italian red wine for only six dollars – less than the airport bar!
All in all, if you don't mind arriving at the airport a bit early, can do without personalized entertainment on board, and have change to spare for soda or booze, a flight to Paris on XL Airways is worth it. You'll save hundreds of dollars, which can be used for meals and shopping in France.
XL flies to Paris and Marseille from New York's JFK airport, Las Vegas, and San Francisco year-round, and Miami seasonally. Bon voyage!