Our review flying with UAE low-cost carrier flydubai
Since living in the world of premier airlines in the UAE, it’s not often we fly with budget airlines these days. However, the rising cost of the UAE’s market leaders Emirates and Etihad, added to the diplomatic cutting off of nearest competitor Qatar Airways, has lead many families based in the UAE to seek out low-cost carrier alternatives.
There aren’t nearly the same number of choices in airlines that you would find in Europe and Asia, but they DO exist! It perhaps means a little compromising on your creature comforts and airport location, but is it worth it?
Looking for an alternative to the usual touristy destinations this Eid al-Fitr holiday, we decided on visiting Beirut, Lebanon with flydubai. Given our last flight was me and Mr Globetrotter, kid-free, First Class on Etihad, how would this family flying experience compare??
This post is part of our Flying with Kids series – pop over to read more family-friendly airline reviews
Flydubai – who exactly are they?
For those unfamiliar with the flydubai brand, they launched in 2008 as a no-thrills alternative to Emirates, owned by the Government of Dubai. (Emirates, on the other hand, is owned by Investment Corporation of Dubai – the Government’s sovereign wealth fund. They operate independently but since 2017 they do have a strategic partnership for codesharing and scheduling).
Flydubai’s routes are predominantly to other cities in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Russia and eastern Africa. This makes them an ideal choice for UAE based explorers who want to try a new destination or those who want to see more than just Dubai during a Middle East stop.
They predominantly fly out of Dubai International (DXB) Terminal 2 with some flights from Al Maktoum International (DWC).
Flying from Al Maktoum International (DWC)
DWC (previously known as Dubai World Central and renamed Al Maktoum Airport) was opened in 2013 to commercial passengers. Its predominant role at present is as Dubai’s main cargo airport, however, it is intended to expand to become the world’s largest passenger airport with the capacity to handle 160 million passengers a year. They are a long way off this with the airport more resembling a giant glass and tin shed at present.
Sitting in far outer Dubai, it is south-west of areas such as the Palm Jumeirah by 40 minutes and Downtown Dubai 45 minutes away. From Abu Dhabi airport expect a 55-minute journey away via the E311. You pass through the relatively unattractive and truck-riddled industrial zones of Dubai and at present the connection to DXB where most commercial airlines land, a good 40km taxi ride away. There are future plans for the Dubai Metro to reach DWC and a high-speed express rail system to connect it to DXB.
Watch this space but they all look and feel a long time away at the time of writing. You are headed to a budget airport.
Parking at Al Maktoum Airport Dubai
Currently (as at June 2018), parking at DWC is free. There are plentiful covered car parks immediately adjacent to the passenger terminal with no toll booths or gates installed, so there is no time limit on how many days you park your car there.
A trap for newbies like us, if you park in departures, it’s a long hike back at the end of your trip to this car park. It was not clear how to park in arrivals, but if you can find this entrance, it would definitely be the preferred parking spot to ease your journey home.
Inside, the airport is large, cavernous and basically empty. Flight check-in is 60 minutes before your flight, but given limited check-in counters are open, I would still suggest with kids to allow your normal 2 hours for international departures to shorten queuing time.
Retail outlets after passport control are limited but as expected for a small capacity airport – a pharmacy, duty-free, gifts, McDonald’s, Costa Coffee. For loyalty and airline cardholders, there’s a Marhaba Lounge but very simple, small and dark – don’t bother.
I must say one thing that stood out, we actually had a friendly, chatty passport officer. The Emirati’s aren’t well known for imparting a smile at the passport counter but this was the most lovely and pleasant experience for us – thank you to the young gent on duty for making our day!
There are no air bridges out of the airport, you will need to take a transit bus out to the tarmac so allow yourself plenty of time at the boarding gate. In the summer this was a bit of a hot and painful process, definitely one of the moments of regret for flying budget!
NB from mid-2019 it is expected that the passenger capacity at DWC will significantly increase with the closure of DXB south runway for 45 days. How they will manage this I don’t know, but I’ve seen stranger miracles happen in Dubai when needed!
Our flydubai economy experience – DWC to BEY
Ticket booking is straightforward and we were pleased with our 30kg allowance each included in our special offer price (non-refundable ticket) which we thought was very generous for a low-cost airline.
We booked through the site itself and immediately signed up for the loyalty program Open Rewards which instantly gets you a 5% discount (bare this in mind when booking through the airline themselves, rather than a 3rd party comparison site like Momomdo or Skyscanner). Through the booking process, you will be asked if you want to add hot meals, entertainment or request an extra legroom seat (sadly never an option with kids in your group).
Why not compare flydubai’s website vs Skyscanner here:
Business on flydubai
Note flydubai do offer Business Class seat options on most routes. With these seats you get;
- A larger, predesignated seat
- Higher tier points and OPEN Rewards points
- Entertainment system included
- Meals, drinks and alcohol included
- Dedicated check-in line and security fast track (though the later not really not needed at DWC)
- Lounge access
These obviously come with a much higher price tag, or can also be redeemed with reward points. I’d only consider it if I was frequently travelling one of their medium haul routes sans-kids.
Check-in and flight on flydubai
Online check-in opens 24 hours before departure time when seats can be selected, boarding passes issued and all passport information entered.
I strongly suggest using this opportunity if travelling with your kids and as soon as possible after it opens if you want to seat your group together. You forget how time-consuming this data entry process is and it will save airport processing time too. You can join the bag drop queue instead of the check-in line which we found significantly quicker at both ends of our journey.
Many others on our flight were not so lucky with their seating. There were separated parents and children scattered all over the plane. This caused all sorts of issues for the crew trying to calmly reallocate people on board. The staff honestly must have the patience of saints.
I’d heard bad reviews of flydubai’s cabin crew but they certainly weren’t warranted on our flights at least. More than your average number of boarding issues, disgruntled seat swapping, makes me think there’s just a bit of merit in the usual budget airline free for all system where single passengers just slot in the gaps around groups. Boarding definitely took far longer than it should, on a sweltering runway with no air-conditioned boarding gates.
The staff kept their smiles throughout this circus. Throughout the flight, they made regular rounds to serve drinks and clear rubbish, as well as taking ad hoc orders after an initial trolley service.
More on our FlyDubai destination Beirut? COMING SOON!!!!
Extras on board flydubai
As with most low-cost airlines, your ticket pretty much gives you a seat and luggage space and that’s it. You can pay extra to eat, use the in-flight entertainment systems and Wi-Fi. There’s also duty-free shopping. Payment needs to be in UAE dirhams, US dollars or credit card.
Hot meals on flights over 90 minutes can be ordered in advance, otherwise, there’s a selection of sandwiches and international branded snacks. A small range of alcohol can be purchased, very reasonably priced.
On our return flight though they seemed understocked and pretty much the whole back end of the plane did not get their choice of sandwich and many snacks had run out
Legroom is OK with a 29-31 inch pitch seat. The headrest does not move so an head cushion is not a bad idea for those slightly longer flights where you need to get comfy. Armrests are liftable so if you are in a group or got a spare seat you are able to spread out.
You can forget anything like kids packs and the like, but bring your iPad and headphones for the kids if that’s what will keep them entertained. On neither of our flights did the seatback entertainment system work. There was supposed to be some free channels, music and flight path but we could not access these. I heard constant requests from other passengers asking for screens to be reset too.
There are USB charging points in the headrest though this did not appear to work on either flight (always pack a spare battery pack for these occasions!)
Need to know information for families – flydubai airline rules
- Pregnant women can fly up to 28 weeks. Single pregnancies must provide a medical letter and can fly up to 36 weeks; multiple pregnancies to 32 weeks.
- Newborns are permitted from 7 days and up to 2 years. Treated as lap infants with 150AED charge or 20% of the adult fare if codeshare.
- There are no infant bassinets.
- flydubai does NOT accept children’s seat restraint devices at all.
- Leg devices such as BedBox and Flytot are also not permitted.
- Strollers that can collapse to cabin baggage restriction size are permitted on board, provided there is space available.
- Unaccompanied minors under 12 years of age are not permitted.
Still prefer a Staycation? Check out our range of UAE based resort reviews
Frequent Flyers on FlyDubai
The FlyDubai program is called OPEN, you can register all passengers from 2 years old.
The airline does operate a business class and different classes of economy tickets earn OPEN points at different rates. We are big advocates of spending those few extra minutes to register for airline programs, even if infrequent travellers little benefits can pay off.
OPEN also allows family and friend pooling systems.
Want to know more about how we save money flying? Check out all our savings posts with the inside scoop from an industry insider
Globetrotters Recommend FlyDubai
Overall we were pleased with our flydubai experience – far better than we had feared!
If you go in expecting budget I think you will be pleasantly surprised with what you get. Al Maktoum International is a very quiet and easy airport to navigate. It’s nothing special but doesn’t need to be. Those flying out of flydubai’s DXB Terminal 2 have advised us don’t expect anything as fancy as the usual Emirates terminals at DXB.
Our return flight from Beirut was delayed an hour as apparently, we had missed our take-off slot – despite the whole plane being boarded and plane ready to push back before our departure time. I suspect this was an airport issue, not flydubai’s fault but unfortunately a familiar frustration that seems to beset budget airlines.
My husband had a connecting DXB flight that then became a very tight connection. As it was booked on a separate ticket, not codeshare this caused issues. If you know you have an onward flight from DXB I would aim to get them on a connected ticket. Business Class travellers can also get a chauffeur service between the two airports.
Our kids are old enough to sit still now and self-entertain, they even napped for a bit without any sleep aid products. For 4 hours it was perfectly manageable but I did feel for the many passengers on the flight with lap babies, it’s a little bit of a long, tight and unexciting journey.
Would we book with flydubai again?
Absolutely! There are so many intriguing and lesser known destinations on the flydubai network. We’d love to further explore these and willing to put up with the slightly longer drive to DWC or DXB rather than pay the excruciating and unforgiving Etihad prices for a great short trip away from the UAE.
Have you flown with flydubai? How was your experience? Leave us a comment to help your fellow family travellers
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