Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ryan Air

by Bryan

Ryan Air is the low-cost European carrier that wanted to offer "standing room only" fares, says they will charge customers for use of the toilet during flight, suggested the co-pilot isn't really necessary and was most recently in the news for the baggage incident (and retaliation) with the group of Belgian college students. Granted, a lot of Ryan Air's bad reputation is self-inflicted but on our recent round trip from Valencia, Spain to Venice, Italy we found the airline to be efficient, fun in a quirky way and well beyond our expectations. Our expectations were admittedly very low.

When we told people we were flying Ryan Air to go to Venice we got a lot of rolled-eyes in return. Which is the other part of Ryan Air's bad reputation, that lies with consumers expectations. I think they somehow forget they chose to be on a low-cost, no frills airline. I will admit that 30 euro ($42) for 1 checked bag is expensive, but only when compared to the 12 euro cost of the ticket itself. There are administration fees, online check-in and booking fees, but they are not much, all disclosed before you book and nothing is hidden. In total our two round trip tickets were less than 165 euro ($230) and considerably less than the same flight on other carriers. For about 50% more to fly a different airline we could have flown into the closer Venice airport saving us about 30 minutes and 8 euro total for the bus into town, oh and got a free in flight soda. The point is to remember why you chose to fly Ryan Air in the first place.

The in flight sales pitches are frequent, although harmless and kind of funny. The Flight Attendants parade the isles selling watches, perfume, smoke-less cigarettes (which are allowed on flights in Europe), lottery tickets (the Ryan Air Sweepstakes) as well as food and beverages. I didn't see anyone buy anything except drinks. This may sound annoying, but not at all different (just more frequent) than the "duty free" shopping time on our much more expensive trans-Atlantic flights with major carriers. With earbuds pumping my favorite tunes into my head, this was nothing more than Flight Attendants walking the aisles. It does however, seem to explain the cabin baggage limitations... they need more room in the plane for all the stuff they are trying to sell.

Ryan and most other low-cost European carriers also save money (and you money) by not having gate service. When it's time board or disembark everyone uses the airplane's steps and walks across the tarmac to/from the terminal. Everyone is allowed one carry on bag and it must fit into that little metal sizing cage that you always see by the gate, but always ignore. They are serious and look at every bag. If it doesn't fit, pay to check it or it doesn't fly... no exceptions. Everyone got a cheap flight, there are no classes, no preferential treatment, no one gets away with anything and there are no exceptions. Firm but fair and egalitarian.

One round trip in no way qualifies us as Ryan Air "frequent fliers", but our 737-800 flight was comfortable, cheap and on-time. In fact, our return was 15 minutes early. I'm sure, just like every other airline, there are occasional hiccups. Just remember going in that you get what you pay for and I don't mean this in a negative way. You didn't get a free Coke. You didn't get two ounces of peanuts. You didn't get half of an overhead bin for all of your crap. You paid for a safe, comfortable and hopefully on-time flight from point A to point B... and if that is what you received, what is the problem? Try to remember the ad slogan for Delta Airlines in the 80's, "we get you there". Ok, bad example.

Lastly, here are tips for flying Ryan Air, or any other low cost European carrier:
  • Pay the extra few euro for priority boarding. For this Ryan Air flight it was 8 euro round trip and we were well ahead of the masses.
  • Arrive early, to save costs there are only a couple agents and lines can be long.
  • Get to the gate early. Remember the days of lining up early at the gate for Southwest flights and be happy you are "experienced" in this ritual.
  • Pack light, seriously. If you don't need it in the plane, put it in your checked bag. If you didn't pay to check a bag, don't bring it at all.
  • Headphones and enjoyable audio is a must.
  • If after you do your research and find that Ryan or whatever low cost / no frills airline you chose is the best, do not forget why! Booking the ticket usually happens weeks, if not months before the actual flight. Remember you chose this option and you need to set your expectations accordingly.
  • Forget that motivational saying about focusing on the journey, not the destination. If you care about the couple hour journey so much, pay more for it. In this case, it is all about the destination and getting there to enjoy it.

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