What It's Like Flying with Ryanair
Recently I took a trip over to Prague with 11 friends for a stag-do. If you haven't been there then I recommend you pop over. I found it to be a lovely city with great beer and excellent food at a reasonable price.
When the trip was first being planned, the best man did some checking and was quoted prices of £150 for the return flight. Most balked at that price and one of the group, a bargain-hunting expert, volunteered to do some further research for us.
Eventually he managed to find return flights from East Midlands to Prague for just £30 per person. The flights were with Ryanair.
I'd never flown Ryanair before so I started doing some research to find out what it was like. I had been told that the tickets were cheap because I couldn't take any hold luggage, just some cabin luggage (which is typically called 'hand luggage').
Searching various websites and forums there were a lot of grumbles about Ryanair's various charges.
People were complaining about a rumour they heard that Ryanair were going to charge £1 to go to the toilet onboard their planes.
Others were bemoaning the fact that you have to pay a variety of different fees depending on which method you use to pay (hint: try and use a Visa Electron card as it currently costs nothing extra).
The message was loud and clear - Ryanair is a low-cost airline with low-cost fares. If you want any extras whatsoever then you have to pay for it and some people simply don't like having to pay any extra, however low the starting price.
So we had our flights booked for departure at 7am on a Saturday morning. We stopped in a Holiday Inn near to the airport and then got to East Midlands nice and early.
Because it's Ryanair and because it's deliberately cheap, you don't check in at the airport. In fact you have to check-in online the night before, and you print off your own boarding passes.
So we walked into the airport, right past all the check-in desks and straight into Airport Security. We were one of the first flights so we were quickly through there - although some people lost their toiletries (they forgot about the new hand luggage rules - no liquids of more than 100ml).
And that was it! We then just had to wait until the gate opened.
After the staff checked our passports and boarding passes we were guided out and walked across the concourse and onto the plane.
Considering it was a low-budget airline I thought we'd be travelling on a small, relatively old plane but it was a nice surprise to find what looked like a reasonably young plane being boarded. I've since discovered that Ryanair have one of the youngest, if not the youngest, fleets in Europe.
Inside the planes it's bright - yellows everywhere contrasting against the dark blue seats.
The overhead baggage 'bins' are yellow with advertising posters on them. On the backs of the seats are the emergency instructions and there are no pockets for documents or magazines.
The captain got us in the air after the usual safety instructions and then, as we all settled back, the staff began to offer us drinks and snacks from the menu. It was quite interesting to hear that you could pay in either euros or pounds sterling and the price was the same whichever you chose. For example, a can of beer is 4.50 whichever currency you pay in, making it slightly cheaper at the moment to pay in euros.
Our flight was half empty and it was the first time I'd ever flown in a plane where there were available seats. In fact, 6 of my friends moved to each have a whole row of 3 seats to themselves - a makeshift bed.
The staff continued to pitch various items including hot food which you had to order in advance, persumably so they could cook it (read: warm it up from frozen). They also offered hot and cold drinks and, more curiously, packets of 'e-cigarettes'. For 6 euros or 6 pounds you could buy 10 of these e-smokes and stave off the cravings for nicotine.
As far as I could tell nobody actually bought any but then again, does anybody really need to 'e-smoke' on a flight lasting less than 2 hours?
Indeed, one small thing I did notice was that East Midlands airport does actually make the effort to cater for smokers' needs.
Close to the Ryanair gates where we boarded our plane there was a door leading out to an outdoor smoking area. As far as I can remember, Manchester Airport does not allow anyone to smoke anywhere and I thought that was the case in all UK airports now. In fact, it seems to be difficult to smoke elsewhere too.
When we once had to transfer at Schipol in Amsterdam on route to the US, my girlfriend was forced to stand in a small plastic 'box' in a casino to have a cigarette. The max occupancy of this goldfish bowl was just 4. Still, for a smoker waiting 5 hours for a transfer, there was no alternative.
We landed after an uneventful flight in Prague and disembarked onto a bus which was taking us to the gate. A quick check of our passports by the Czech authorities and we were outside the airport without having to suffer the ordeal of the luggage carousels. That was a great plus.
So, I admit that I may have got lucky but I had a great set of flights with Ryanair and I wouldn't hesitate to fly with them again.
For a short trip you can probably manage with a smallish bag and Ryanair allow you up to 10kg of hand luggage measuring up to a max of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm which I found to be plenty.
All I would say is that on the way back the pilot was a little wobbly on landing, and he also seemed to be forced to use the brakes to bring us to a stop.
Oh, and that fanfare they play when the plane lands on time is a bit OTT. I imagined that the reason the plane had such a bumpy landing and had to slam the brakes on is because the pilot was too busy trying to get the fanfare to play... or maybe not.
Ryanair flights can be booked online at: http://www.ryanair.com/
For hand luggage I was very pleased with the small suitcase I bought from Tripp.co.uk:
[Link removed - this particular item is no longer available]
Update 8th February 2011: Returning from a holiday in Gran Canaria recently, the Ryanair staff made sure to inspect every single bit of carry-on luggage for size. A friend's bag was deemed too large and he was charged £35 on the spot.
Tripp's "Essentials Cabin Suitcase" was pretty much perfect for the size measuring stand so I'm happy to recommend it.
Just go to Tripp.co.uk and search for "essential". You're looking for the suitcase that has the following dimensions:
Height: 55cm, Width: 36cm, Depth: 19cm