What it’s really like to travel on Ryanair

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I’d heard the stories about budget airlines in Europe: how sometimes it costs less to fly than take the train, how you could pay fares so low you were basically only paying for the cost of fuel. My inner cheapskate was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to take advantage of the low fares and begin jetting all over Europe.

And then I discovered why the fares were so low.

Bjorn and I recently traveled to England from Berlin on Ryanair to visit his parents and celebrate his dad’s birthday. My in-laws wisely reminded us to check the luggage requirements before we left. Feelings of unease began to creep up as I read through them. For starters, they charge you to check-in bags. OK, fair enough. But you pay from $33 (25 euros) – $134 (100 euros) to check in one, 33 lb. bag during  high season.

But I quelled the jitters as we were just going for a long weekend and using carry-on luggage. Then  I saw the requirements for the carry-on luggage:

– Strictly one item of cabin baggage per passenger. That means only one piece of luggage can be in your hands.  Handbags/briefcases/ laptops/shop purchases/cameras etc had to carried within the carry-on. They thoughtfully and generously added that infants were not seen as cabin baggage. (Although maybe they meant that babies couldn’t have cabin baggage. Or maybe they meant babies could have MORE than one item of cabin baggage. You never know, babies do seem to travel with a lot of accessories. Boy,  that’s some imprecise  wording. But I digress.)
-The cabin baggage can weigh at most 22 lbs (10 kg).
-The dimensions of the bag can not exceed 55 cm x 40 cm x 20 cm (21.7 in. x 15.7 in. x 7.9 in.). As our Internet connection was down, I racked my mind trying to remember how many centimeters are in an inch and  tried to do the conversions in my head, but I only ended up developing a throbbing pain behind my right ear. I gave up and packed all my stuff into a large, squishy, reusable shopping bag, reasoning that if it proved to be too big, I could (hopefully) crumple it down to a more appropriate size.

As we approached our gate at the airport, we were greeted by the sight of a line that looked like it spanned the length of a football field. Oh, I thought, they must be in line to board the plane already.

But no. It was just the line to get into gate area’s waiting lounge. When we finally made it in, my eyes couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing at first. Why were there so many people in here? Surely they couldn’t all fit into one plane. And why were most of them standing? I estimated there was seating for less than half of the passengers of that flight. People were standing, sitting on the floor, wedged tightly into corners. It didn’t resemble an airport lounge so much as a crammed cattle pen.

Bjorn and I squeezed ourselves into a space between 3 banks of seats. They announced our plane was here. I expected everyone to get into orderly lines and file onto the plane according to their boarding groups. Silly me.  Everyone sprang up out of their seats (if they had one) and flung themselves out the doors, of course. It was pandemonium, contained (barely) by the walls of the room and the narrowness of the exit.

Fortunately, Bjorn and I happened to be seated near the exit and managed to get two seats next to each other on the plane. And that’s about the only thing we got on that flight.

Ryanair gives out nothing for free to its passengers, not even the paper for your boarding pass (you must print it out yourself). No snacks, no coffee/tea/soda, not even water.

Now I’ve flown budget airlines before, notably Southwest Airlines in the United States (although it probably isn’t fair to put Ryanair and Southwest in the same class. Southwest is indubitably better than even the larger commercial airlines like United, Delta or American Airlines.) On Southwest flights, funny/cheerful flight attendants hand out free snacks (peanuts or pretzels, but sometimes both!) and drinks. Pro tip: If asking for water, you can ask for an entire can. It’s better than scrabbling after a flimsy cup that always seems determined to fly out of my hands. Plus, you don’t have to leave your seat tray down so you can have a place to put said cup. You can just stuff the can into the seat pocket in front of you.

Ryanair doesn’t even give you a seat pocket. No, seriously. The first thing I noticed was the smooth, plastic back of the chair in front of me. No barf bags, no magazines that are little more than pages for ads, no place to surreptitiously stuff your trash. They don’t even have buttons to recline the chair (although I must say I was grateful for that feature.)

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Their tagline is the “Low Fares Airline” not  “You’ll love the way we fly.” They don’t claim to be “doing what they do best” or that theirs is “the way to fly.”

To be fair, both of our flights were on time, we got to all our destinations safely and at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.

So Ryanair, despite your shortcomings, I may be seeing you again. After all, I love to fly and it shows.

-Photos by Bjorn Karlman



15 thoughts on “What it’s really like to travel on Ryanair”

  1. Wow, and I thought Airtran was bad. It looks like airports at Christmas time. Glad you got to fly for cheap though. I’m impressed with how affordable your year abroad has been so far.
    Jennifer recently posted…Blue BlazerMy Profile

    1. It was quite the experience. Bjorn and I sat on the floor against a wall next to a bank of chairs, with our knees to our chins — and still other people and their baggage were within centimeters of us.

      Ya, it surprises me, too, how much cheaper it is to live outside the U.S.! (Well, in some places, of course. :D)

  2. Craziness! Glad you got to fly for cheap though. And here I thought Southwest was bad for not assigning seats. Lol!

    1. I think I hold Southwest in such high esteem because I usually didn’t travel on them with carry-on luggage and my flights were normally under 2 hours so I didn’t mind sitting in middle seats. Because of those factors, I could board the plane dead last and still find a seat in the front row, usually. :D Plus, I do love their generosity with snacks and drinks. And good customer service. Really, I don’t work for them. :)

  3. Have you read the book Shantaram? In the book, ot describes Indians (from India) scrambling to find seats in a train – the author, a Westerner, was shocked at the ” lack of manners”, but then he reasoned that if Europeans were placed in a similar situation, they’d probably behave even worse. I guess he was right! Haha… (I really recommend the book, by the way!)

    1. It’s so funny you mention that book because someone just loaned it to us to read! I did come to that part of the book already and I was impressed at the guide’s ingenuity at saving seats on the train by stretching out along the bench and literally holding on for dear life. :D And I have no doubt that the most “civilized” among us would quickly turn barbaric when certain creature comforts are taken away. I, myself, can be quite aggressive around buffet tables. :D

  4. Where’s the bit about the fanfare on landing? – “Yippee! Contrary to expectations, we’re still alive!”

  5. Not only in Europe but looks like budget air is in all over the world – especially in Asia where I was recently. And the elegance of air travel has become as mundane and common as bus travel. The budget airlines do get us to the necessary destination (most of the time) but they’ve definitely taken out the coolness factor out of flying.

    Looks like being physically fit also helps when trying to wrestle/run to your seat!
    Vishnu recently posted…10 Ways to Live a More Authentic Life (a Positive Provocations guest post)My Profile

  6. Hi Jammie,
    We had several good laughs when you so accurately and with great humour described what it is like to travel by Ryan Air. We recognised every bit of it having used that air line several times between England and Sweden. I would like to add the inconvenient departure times, either too early in the morning or too late arrivals at night at airports rather difficult to get to by public transport.
    The ameliorating factors are the low price and that they are good at keeping the time table. As you say at the end of your blog, you might fly with them again.

  7. Having lived in Bangkok and Germany, (the latter for 10 yrs.) I find the food articles lacking in facts. For instance you cannot replicate “Currywurst” with american hot-dogs. Germany has a special wurst that is used for currywurst and it is nothing like an American hot-dog. Sausages from around the world are pretty unique to each country, and you can interchange them but you cannot call your recipes by the original names. In fact the food articles leave a lot to be desired, maybe you should leave that writing to a professional.

    1. Hi Valerie,
      I read the article again and I see how it could come across as dismissive. After all, I would think it odd, too, if someone threw together pancit with spaghetti noodles (actually, if it tasted really good, I’d probably still give them a pass. :D). But I just read that “considerable variation both in the type of sausage used and the ingredients of the sauce occurs” when it comes to currywurst. Of course, that came from Wikipedia, so you can take that as you will. :) From my own experience, I was definitely served two vastly different looking and tasting sausages each time I tried currywurst. At that first restaurant, the sausage tasted and looked almost exactly like a Costco hot dog. In my opinion.

      And basically, that is what my food column comes down to: my opinion as I try foods during my travels. As such, I know I can’t please everyone. But neither do I expect to.

      Thanks for reading the columns though!

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