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