Flyin’ with Ryan: What to Expect and How to Survive

DSCN3843I have seen the future of air travel. And it’s covered in Telecom ads.

If you haven’t been broke and in Europe in recent years, you may not be familiar with Ryanair. Among the no-frills airlines specializing in short distances and absurdly low prices, Ryanair is the most vile, audacious and offensive. And usually the cheapest.

The idea of an under-$50 flight gets most Americans all hot and bothered. It’s just another way those Europeans have it better than us—universal health care, social welfare systems that work, less violent crime, tougher environmental laws. And cheap flights. I’m talking 5 Euros cheap. I’m not sure why Europe gets to add this to their ever-expanding repertoire of ass-kicking, but my guess would be that the airlines have to compete with competent, efficient train service. Take Amtrak, or God forbid, Greyhound across the country? Down to LA? I think I’ll pay the $125.

When I was figuring out the general itinerary for my last trip, I checked out flight costs for my longest distances on FlyCheapo. I came across Ryanair, and thought there was something wrong. A one-hour flight from Marrakesh to Seville for 5 Euros? Porto to Madrid also for 5? Are you kidding me?

Well, yes and no. The thing with Ryanair is that there’s catches. Enough to warrant a mitt—or the ability to read fine print, follow rules to a tee, and tune out advertising assaults. And you’ll need a pinch of luck. I took 2 flights with Ryanair; here’s some survival tips on what to expect from Europe’s most infamous airline:

The first trick to surviving a Ryanair flight is to read every rule and instruction, and treat it like the gospel. It is. Any attempts to bend the rules promptly results in a hailstorm of fees. Size and weight requirements for both checked and carry-on luggage, for instance, aren’t approximations. Carry-on baggage over 10kg? That’ll be 20 Euros. Forget to print your boarding pass at home? That’ll be 40 Euros. Traveling with an infant, surf board or guitar? Another 20-40 Euros. You’ve gotta pay to check a bag, but if it exceeds 15 kg, there’s an additional per kilo charge. If you’re a non-EU citizen, you have to have your passport checked by immigration control; forget that, and, yes, it’s another 20 Euros.

In preparation for your Ryanair flight, don’t even think about fudging on the details. Check-in closes exactly 40 minutes before the flight departs; arrive even 3 minutes late and you’re SOL. Have your printed boarding pass in hand, and get your passport checked.

Get to the gate early. Don’t sit in the hard plastic chairs—stand as close to the gate as possible. Ryanair doesn’t assign seating, which at first seems counterintuitive—it takes longer for people to board when they’re elbowing and jostling and trying to find their own seats. But, as always, there’s a catch: you can pay 4 Euros for priority boarding. Most of the folks doing this are traveling with small children, or those infants they paid an extra 20 Euros to hold on their laps.

As boarding time approaches, expect to see a steely-faced attendant walking up and down the line of anxious passengers, examining each carry-on item. It must be under 10 kg, and it must be only one bag. That means purses, laptops, water bottles, plastic bags carrying your wilted sandwich from earlier that day—it all counts. This is where they really rake in the extra fees. I only saw one man successfully evade the attendant, putting a jacket on over his fanny pack and untucking his shirt so you couldn’t see the waist strap. Smooth.

When it comes time to board, don’t expect anything fancy like gates or protected corridors. You’ll be scurrying across the tarmac and scampering up stairs (front or back, they open both up for maximized efficiency). Hustle on to the plane while perky young attendants bark at you like PE teachers: keep moving! find a seat! don’t block the isle! move quickly! go!

You’ll discover a couple of unusual things about your Ryanair aircraft. One, there are no tray tables. That safety card with a creepy characters acting out worst-case scenarios will not be a folded card in a pocket, but pasted onto the seat back in front of you. The overhead bins will be covered in Telecom ads, like a bus or metro car.

Once you’ve buckled your seatbelt, you’ve successfully completed the first stage in surviving a Ryanair flight: you’ve negotiated the rules and fees. Now it’s time to sit back and… be marketed at.

It’s ingenious, really, and I’m not sure why other airlines haven’t thought of it yet. Maybe they have, and Ryanair’s just the only one ballsy enough to go through with it. They’ve got a captive audience on an airplane, and Ryanair makes use of this ideal situation. In a 55 minute flight, I counted 4 opportunities to buy things. Jonesing for a cigarette? Buy our Smokeless Cigarettes for only 6 Euros. Make use of Ryanair’s exclusive inflight mobile phone service, and text and chat your heart away for only 2 Euros a minute. Buy Nescafe coffee for only 3 Euros. Get your gambling fix by buying a scratch card for only 3 Euros—and don’t feel guilty because some undisclosed amount of the proceeds goes to charity (here the flight attendant actually walked the aisle saying, “Win 10,000 Euros, save the children”). And let’s not forget duty-free shopping.

All this means that the attendants are basically talking at you the entire flight. Part of the reason is that announcements and sales pitches need to be made in multiple languages, but still. I recommend headphones. A smiley “no thank you” is as effective as a mean scowl, so pick whichever one fits your mood. No charge.

Now, when you’re descending into your destination, you may think the battle’s almost over, but here’s where the luck comes into play. I was fortunate on my 2 flights, because I landed in the airports and cities I thought I’d be landing in. Not so for all Ryanair passengers. I’ve heard horror stories about people landing on some lonesome runway 20 kms from the city they’d booked for. Notice that on your Ryanair itinerary, specific airport names aren’t given, just the names of cities. This allows them to land in the regional area of whatever destination, but not necessarily the main (and more expensive) airport. So, if you’re among the unfortunate, how do you get to where you thought you were going? Ryanair is nice enough to arrange for a bus. Which you can ride for 20 Euros.

Seeing as though I landed where I was supposed to, only had one flight time changed and neurotically followed every rule, my Ryanair travel experience wasn’t so bad. I actually don’t mind being inundated with ads and paying checked bag fees if it means I’m flying for a total of 25 Euros. And judging from the number of filled seats, I’m guessing I’m not alone.

Ryanair certainly hasn’t won any friends with its wily antics (this guy is pissed), and there’s an art to surviving their flights. But until they start charging to use the bathroom (they lost on that one), I’ll still grab a cheap flight with them whenever I’m in Europe. And my guess is that US-based airlines will begin moving more in this direction—hey, they’re already charging for checked bags. Only their flights ain’t no 5 Euros. (Oh, Europe, there you go again…)

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15 Responses to “Flyin’ with Ryan: What to Expect and How to Survive”


  1. 1 Alexi October 26, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    This reminds me just a bit of visiting Disneyland: the annoyed hordes of people, the exorbitant prices, the fact that so many of the rides drop you off in the gift shop…

    Relentless marketing and obnoxious business practices are all over the world, it seems. Only with RyanAir, you get to actually go somewhere cool.

  2. 2 Agnes October 28, 2009 at 5:45 am

    BTW, the social “security system that works” is not free, far from. I pay about 30% of what I earn for compulsory medical insurance and social security. What is left over is taxed at 50%. Are you ready to pay?

    Ryan Air is an Irish company, run the way most North American companies are.
    If you want a personal limo service, get one and pay for it. When you take “the bus”, respect the rules. If you cannot them, stay home.
    Ryan Air flights are hardly ever longer than 1 hour and if you get hungry/thirsty, you can buy a sandwich/variety of drinks. Try doing that on a Salt Lake City – JFK (normal price) flight where they serve you half a glass of something (still water or coke is the basic choice) and a couple of crackers or M&M for free but you cannot get more (except alcoholic beverages), even for pay.

    I am proud to be a European!

    • 3 laurenquinn October 28, 2009 at 8:12 am

      Hmmm…

      I think I may be alone on this, but, yes, I’m ready to pay. I’d gladly pay a heftier portion of my meager income in taxes if it meant I could, say, actually live off disability insurance in the event I got sick, or go to a university for under $2500 a semester, or not have to live in cities overrun with homelessness. I realize Europeans pay handsomely for these securities and luxuries, that they aren’t by any means free–I hope I didn’t insinuate that.

      Nor did I intend to insinuate that I expect personal limo service from budget airlines. I meant more than anything to poke fun at Ryanair. I think they’ve come up with some good ways to save money–both on their end, and ours. It’s a different kind of air travel experience, but one I think the rest of the industry is leaning towards. (BTW, snacks and small meals are available for purchase on most US-based airline flights these days, while the days of free peanuts are long gone.) Personally, I don’t need a lot of frills, or soda, or peanuts. Thus I ended the post by saying I’d fly with them anytime.

      I’m glad you’re proud to be a European. I’d be too. Sorry if I ruffled your feathers by teasing a no-frills airline–it wasn’t personal.

  3. 4 pam October 28, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Oh Agnes– I’m glad you’re proud to be European too, but why so angry and self righteous? Have a couple of your deservedly famous glasses of wine and enjoy.

  4. 5 pam October 28, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Hi Agnes-
    It’s me again. I’ve been thinking about your comment Are you angry because you think the author was trying to insinuate that American airlines are better than Ryan Air? I don’t think that’s the intent. Hell, our pilots are capable of overshooting an airport by 150 miles and losing contact with air control– nothing to brag about here.

    Rather, I think the author’s intent is to comment humorously on the tendency of international capitalism to exploit the public in increasingly blatent ways. We’re all in this together, Agnes. Power to the working class!

  5. 6 Agnes October 28, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    You seem to think I am angry, but I am not.
    I do get upset, though, when I see advertisement on TV for medical tourism to Europe, for instance.
    You are ready to pay, fine. Means you can afford it too!
    All depends on what you call “live” off an insurance. More and more people, even those who work, can only “survive”.
    As for homelesness, you evidently have not been in Europe for while: not only major cities but also smaller ones have plenty of them.
    If you wanted to make fun of Ryan Air, you should not have forgotten to mention their plans to have passengers pay to go to the loo (toilet, restroom, ladies/gents, comfort room, according to where you are from) during the flight. Is the rest humour? To me, it is just reality, the type that you live with and adjust to.
    What does the working class have to do with it? I am afraid I do not get it.

    One more thing: I could not buy a sandwich on the plane (even though the airline had a “menu” with price list) from SLC to JFK end 2007. Had left Vancouver BC around 5.00 am when nothing was open at the airport, had only 15 minutes to catch the connection flight in SLC and between West coast and East coast, it seemed a loooooooooooong time for my empty stomach.

  6. 8 mickey October 28, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Agnes – The question of quality of life in Europe vs US is very interesting – and I feel much can be learned from examining it. I’m curious about the high medical/social security/taxes you pay. The way you described it you are left with only 35% of what you make. For this to be true in the US you would have to be very wealthy, and getting very poor tax advice. How does one live on 35% unless it is 35% of a very large sum?

    • 9 Gabriel October 29, 2009 at 3:04 am

      Hi,a small input about taxes in Europe, every country as different rules.

      for exemple in Portugal :

      if your income is under 4.639€ you pay 10,5 %

      from 4.639€ until 7.017€ =13,00

      from 7.017€ until 17.401€ =23,50%

      from 17.401€ until 40.020€ =34,00%

      from 58.000€ until 62.546€ =40,00%

      above 62.546€ =42,00%

      we pay 11 % to the social wellfare ( health and pensions)

      we pay 20 % over everything we buy ( for the european union) with some sme exceptions ( food 12 % for exemple)

      Rendimento colectável Taxa aplicada
      Continente Açores Madeira
      Até 4.639€ 10,50% 8,40% 8,50%
      Entre 4.639€ e 7.017€ 13,00% 10,40% 11,00%
      Entre 7.017€ e 17.401€ 23,50% 18,80% 22,00%
      Entre 17.401€ e 40.020€ 34,00% 27,20% 32,50%
      Entre 40.020€ e 58.000€ 36,50% 29,20% 36,00%
      Entre 58.000€ e 62.546€ 40,00% 32,00% 39,00%
      Acima de 62.546€ 42,00% 33,60% 41,00%

  7. 10 Agnes October 29, 2009 at 6:12 am

    Different rules, indeed: in Belgium, I earn 35,000 EUR gross/year and that leaves me 15,000 net/year (after tax and basic social security) – rents are around 600 EUR/month for 60/70 sq meters (outside Brussels).

  8. 11 Marcus Strapp November 3, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Ryanair, you’ve gotta luv ’em with their budget promotions.

    The Wee Fee: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/travel/ryanair-boss-michael-oleary-im-serious-about-toilet-fees-14213555.html

    Then the Fat Tax; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/5199997/Ryanair-considers-fat-tax-for-obese-air-passengers.html

    And now they are going to start taxing stupid tourists!!!!!

    http://www.inthenews.co.uk/news/buisness/ryanair-stop-stupid-tourist-taxes–$1338123.htm

    Well good on them I say, nothing more embarrassing than stupid tourists 😉

    What did I miss something????

  9. 12 Angela November 17, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    Lauren, did you forget about the trumpet at the end of the flights??

    I used to take Ryanair at the very beginning, years ago, when it was cheap, already strict with their rules but their were acceptable rules, now they charge for everything and at the end of the deal it’s not that cheap anymore.

    I haven’t used Ryanair for more than two years, after a couple of unpleasant situations and flying in Europe with all other cheap companies. We have plenty, and at least once you buy the ticket you know that that’s all and you don’t fear other surprises!

  10. 14 Oreck Steam Mop December 22, 2012 at 8:03 am

    Greetings! Very useful advice in this particular post!
    It’s the little changes that produce the largest changes. Thanks for sharing!


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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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