Ryanair - For my airline friends

Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
Trip End Oct 17, 2008

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Flag of Portugal  , Northern Portugal,
Saturday, September 20, 2008

This one is for all of my airline friends...The rest of you guys can read on at your own risk of boredom.  I am going to make my way around Europe mostly via Ryanair the rest of my trip.  Last month they were having a sale where a one way was just 1 Euro ($1.44) including all taxes.  Yes, you read that right.  €1.  For the monetarily challenged "€" is the symbol for Euro.

I sat in front of my computer for about two hours trying to work out flight combinations where I could use these sale fares so Porto, Madrid, Bergamo, and Skavsta were all cities I never thought to visit until now.  I just let the cheap fares pick when and where I went.  Krakow and Lübeck were already in my plans and as luck would have it, the €1 fares were available for those, too.

Of course they charge €5 to book online with a credit card so the cost was actually bumped up to €6 ($8.44) one way for each of my flights on Ryanair.  Even with the ripoff fee to book a ticket it still barely taps the bank account.  I just don´t understand the logic though in punishing people for booking online when that is exactly where Ryanair wants us to do it.

So what does €6 Euro one way get you anyway?  An experience that God help us is confined only to Europe on Ryanair.  It was also a noteworthy day for me since Ryanair provided my first late flight so far this entire adventure (though only 20 minutes).  It was bound to happen sooner or later and what better an airline to be late than this one.  Not even Southwest comes remotely close to the Ryanair experience.

First off Ryanair uses airports that can be over 100km from the city flown to.  My ticket said Paris but that is a crock of you know what since I actually left from Beauvais.  All I know is that it was on the way to Belgium and besides a $190 taxi ride the only way there is the Beauvais Airport Bus which isn't too bad at €11 one way.  There is one big catch though...Only one bus runs per flight and it leaves promptly three hours prior to that specific flight

This bus that costs more than the flight itself holds 60 people while a Ryanair 737 holds 189 people.  Do the math.  If you are not one of the first 60 people on that bus, you are totally out of luck and out a trip unless you cough up some taxi money fast.  Hopefully there is room on another flight's bus that may be leaving around the same time but those buses are most likely full, too.  I lucked out by getting there early at 6am and hopping on the bus for the Barcelona flight (into Girona an hour away of course) that was leaving right as I walked up to the bus depot.

After a long ride out into the French countryside squished into my seat by a rather big guy, I finally arrived in this part of France that is supposedly still Paris by Ryanair standards.  The check in counter for a specific flight opens two hours prior to departure, and only Ryanair knows which check in counter will serve a specific flight until that flight opens up.  It's a well guarded secret from the masses which creates a mad dash to that counter once the check in starts and the line gets long fast in a very cramped terminal. 

Ryanair will not allow non European Union citizens to check in online so that is an extra €5 fee to visit the check in counter.  I argued the case with the agent that Ryanair discriminates against US citizens by not letting us check in online when I was willing and wanted to.  Though she was not amused at all with my reasoning, the agent waived the fee for me so I will of course try it each time I fly with Ryanair the next two weeks.  Score one for America.

For this grand €6 adventure Ryanair will allow just one bag weighing only 10kg (about 22 lbs) into the cabin.  And that means one bag only.  Anything else like purses and backpacks have to be put inside that one bag.  Now here is where everyone gets ripped off for not being careful...Of course Ryanair is glad to check in a bag but for a $10 a bag fee and then $12 a kilo for each one over 20. 

This is where it gets sad because I saw people who had packed their vacation finest for a fun holiday having to jettison stuff.  The check in area is a sea of open suitcases as people try to put on excess clothing and actually throw away stuff to try to get the weight in line to carry the bag on board so they aren't hit really bad with fees.  One girl was even putting on three shirts and two jackets to beat the fees.  Now where is the logic in this, Ryanair?  That weight is going on board the plane regardless whether it's on her person or in a carryon bag.  And didn't I just read last week that you are being sued because your scales are bad and ripping off people?

Are you worn out already from just getting to Beauvais and checking in?  That was the easy part!  Next step is the clusterf**k they call security.  There is one portal where a huge mass of people squeezes through with no order whatsoever.  I squeezed into the shoving mass of people and tried to inch up to the person checking IDs.  It was like that experience at the Delhi ATM revisited once again minus the odors and heat. 

Once I got past the security after 30 minutes of pushing and shoving, I found 3 Ryanair doorways, A, B, and C to choose from for my flight.   There is no indication whatsoever which door a flight will leave from until its boarding time, and since on board it's open seating, obviously I wanted to be first in line.  These flights are full so190 people will line up at a doorway thinking that they have guessed the right one for the flight.  Most times they were wrong and that mass of people would push and shove over to the correct area.  Many times two groups of 190 shoving people each would cross paths as they switched gates.  The other groups of 190 people would get sucked up into the chaos as well.

The waiting area has maybe 60 seats and no room to maneuver through these crowds.  I guessed correctly for my flight to Porto and was number 6 in line but was absolutely shoved up against the counter from the other 183 impatient people behind me just as eager to get on board.  We stood packed in line for about 45 minutes waiting for the plane to arrive, deplane and then board us up.  There was never any announcement that we would be late.

Eventually I made the short walk out to the plane and boarded through the rear door since that is a rare treat.  Bright yellow headrests and bulkheads along with cramped seating greeted me once inside.  Every single overhead bin had an advertisement on it so it had the look and feel of a NYC subway car.  The seating had absolutely no legroom since Ryanair is cramming 189 seats in a plane that Delta puts 146 seats into. I just chose an aisle so at least I could get up if I had to.

Once I wedged myself into my cramped vinyl (pretty sure it was) seat, I noticed there was no way to recline it so I could get a little more breathing room.  It was just as well because if the person in front of me could have reclined, he would have been right there in my lap.  There are no seatback pockets and obviously with that comes the challenge of where to stick the magazines, barf bags and safety cards.  They must have geniuses at Ryanair because leave it up to them to have the safety card mounted on the seat in front of you in the form of a giant sticker.  The "award winning" inflight magazine is on request only (I didn't bother) and is collected at the end of the flight.  As for a barf bag, I guess people are just out of luck.

Instead of boarding music Ryanair plays a nonstop commercial for its various products and offerings such as 2 for 1 liquor enroute and travel insurance.  On certain sectors the flight attendants will even sell you a bus ticket to make the 90 minute journey into town.  We hadn't even rolled out of the gate and I was tired of being bombarded with alternating 30 second clips of strange music followed by these nonstop ads. 

About 20 minutes into the flight there was an inflight service but yes, you guessed it, it will costs Euros.  I passed since it was only a two hour flight and I was determined to keep my €6 ticket right at €6.  About an hour into the flight another announcement was made with a lot of fanfare, and this time it was for a Ryanair Lotto ticket.  Yep, scratch off that ticket in flight and someone lucky may go home a winner.  Perhaps they can use the winnings to buy a seat home on Air France.  The only winner on my flight seemed to be Ryanair laughing all the way to the bank at €10 a pop for these scratchoffs.

Right before landing in Porto the flight attendants were picking up trash for the third time and I heard all kinds of commotion and heated talk a few rows behind me.  I turned around and saw two coffee cups and a sandwich container on the floor and an angry woman with her hands folded across her chest.  It did not look good at all.

I had no idea what was going on but the English speaking flight attendant was asking around if someone spoke French.  People who did speak French started shouting at this woman, and her husband was making wild gestures with his hands.  I think to a French person it may have the been our equivalent of a middle finger salute to everyone around him.

I asked the flight attendant what happened and she said the woman had thrown the coffee cups and trash at her and in doing so gave her uniform a good dousing of coffee and tuna.  The flight attendant wanted the woman to pick the cups up off the floor and show some respect (rightfully so) and the other passengers agreed when they began yelling at her.  The standoff and yelling lasted about 5 minutes and involved all four flight attendants and 5 rows of passengers by the time it was over.  Ryanair has brought travel to the masses but maybe the masses shouldn't bother flying.

We finally made it to Porto's really nice new airport complete with jetways.  Naturally Ryanair parks away from the main terminal with its jetways so a brisk walk under hot humid skies brought us all to the building eventually, all the while passing Lufthansa, TAP and others and wondering what a flight on them would be like.  To be honest, the walk was a nice way to stretch out my legs after having my knees touching the hard plastic in front of me.  But hey, for $8 I am not going to complain.  I got EXACTLY what I paid for and went into it expecting nothing.  The flight crews were amazingly nice though and you can't put a pricetag on that.

Yes, this is the Ryanair travel experience that only €1 plus a €5 ripoff booking fee buys.  Priceless.
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