Cheap with no frills, these so-called “low cost” airlines are usually adequate as long as you don’t need anything else from them, but are to be approached with caution, and typically, low expectations. I don’t like flying with Ryanair et al, but I continue to do so simply because they are cheaper, and still get you from A to B (even if B is slightly further away from where you actually need to get to).
Having said that, both the booking part & flight itself are littered with pitfalls which can cost you a lot of money if you’re not careful, and could even end up costing more than other airlines in the long-run. So after another recent trip experiencing all the delights of cheap air travel, these are my top tips for flying with such airlines, mixed in with a general rant. I use Ryanair as the example of the worst of the worst, partly because I fly with them most often, and partly because they really are the worst of the worst! (Although a recent experience with WizzAir also proved that Ryanair aren’t the only guilty party in the airline world!)
Tip 1: Check in online. As early as you can. And print your boarding pass. Twice. And give a copy to everyone else travelling with you, just in case.
This may seem excessive, however, I have been stung with this once before and I do not intend to repeat my mistake. This was a few years ago, and having no printer at home meant I needed to check in online at work, and print off my boarding pass there. However, I kept forgetting to take my passport with me (to fill in the passenger information in order to check in.) In the end, on the day of my flight I resolved to check in online at work on route to the airport. But I hadn’t realised because it was less than 4 hours before departure, and that online check in had closed. Balls.
So off I went to the airport to ask the nice check-in lady very nicely if I could check in at the airport. Of course, she said. Fantastic I thought, great! Until she continued: “all you need to do is go over to that desk there and pay £60 to print off your boarding pass.”
WHAT????? 60 EFFING POUNDS????? Yes. To print off 1 piece of paper????? Yes. Lesson learnt.
Tip 2: Take some food & snacks with you to eat on the plane or at the airport, & buy a bottle of water in Duty Free or from a vending machine before you get on the plane.
You really don’t want to end up paying ridiculously inflated prices for Mr Ryanair’s delightful selection of hot food and snacks, now including “chicken” nuggets. Dear lord, I promise to behave while I’m on holiday, just please save us from Ryanair Chicken Nuggets. Airport fare isn’t much better – the quality may be slightly higher but the price you pay is way above the acceptable range. Appropriately I am sitting at the airport while I write this, and I also checked out some of the offerings here at Barcelona airport. Small pot of pasta salad for €6,50 anyone? I don’t think so.
Tip 3: Earplugs
For me, earplugs are an absolute necessity. There are useful on all trips for sleeping at night, but particularly so on a Ryanair flight to drown out the dulcet tones of the chav kids running up and down the aisles or kicking the back of your seat, and their parents as they discuss the best pub to go to as soon as they get to Benidorm or whatever godforsaken place they have decided to go. Then comes the constant sales patter of the crew as they flog you anything from smokeless cigarettes to Hello Kitty perfume, lottery tickets and car hire.
Tip 4: Do not buy any of the extra crap they are peddling, neither on the website nor on the plane
Simply trying to book the flight in the first place is never-ending gauntlet of “fantastic deals” and “Ryanair Exclusives” that you have to battle through. Clicking on yet another drop down box asking if you want priority boarding. No. Seat reservation? No. Travel insurance. No. Phone roaming. NO! Car Hire? I SAID NO! What about a Ryanair official hand baggage bag? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!
I’ve never been so close to throwing my computer out of the window as I have when booking Ryanair flights, battling all of this only to fall at the final hurdle and have the credit card rejected, thus having to repeat the whole damn process again. And your reward at the end of this harrowing experience? You get to board the flight and get sold to for the duration of that too. Can’t wait.
Tip 5: Be careful with the weight & size of your bag, and if possible take a squashy hold-all style one, instead of the wheelie hard cases
I have lost count of the number of times I’ve seen people trying desperately to shove their clearly too fat case into the tiny little case measurer (which I’m sure gets smaller all the time) and to finally be told they have to pay £50 to check their bag in.
Another trick here is to wear as many clothes as possible to board the flight – so far at least they haven’t started charging people for their weight, so here’s your chance to wear 3 pairs of trousers, 5 t-shirts, 2 coats and your sun hat, and then load up your pockets with shampoo and deodorant to make that extra bit of space in the bag.
Apparently Mr Ryanair was thinking about further reducing the dimensions of hand baggage allowed on flights, until someone pointed out that all these ‘official’ Ryanair guaranteed to fit hand baggage bags that people had bought previously would then be rendered completely useless. Maybe they could offer to chop off your arm in exchange for an extra inch of baggage size. I do worry that it will get to the stage when they will weigh us as well as our bags: “I’m sorry sir, you’re too fat to take this flight, however we can offer you discounted liposuction before you travel for the bargain price of 1000 euros”!
Tip 6: Check exactly where the airport is before you book your tickets.
Yes, Girona Barcelona might be in the same region as Barcelona, but it is not Barcelona airport; it’s an hour bus ride away from the city centre. You don’t want to end up stuck miles away from anywhere with the chav family and our Britney and Wayne for any longer than absolutely necessary, or end up paying for a very expensive taxi if you fly late at night.
Tip 7: Be prepared for the queues at the departure gate
Keep an eye on the flight departure boards, which normally say something like ‘gate information in 30 mins’ or whatever. Around 20 minutes before the deadline they give, pop to the toilet (you definitely don’t want to pee or worse on the flight with that sandpaper toilet roll), then hang around and look out for the flight crew. As soon as you spot the couple of blue & yellow uniformed hostesses, follow them immediately to the gate – although make sure there isn’t another Ryanair flight leaving at the same time. I nearly boarded a flight to Venice by accident as I plumped for the wrong stewardesses. Then queue. For the next 30 minutes usually, until they decide to shepherd you into a holding pen with more queuing before you can actually board the flight.
But all this queuing is irrelevant, if boarding involves a bus trip to the plane as they couldn’t be bothered to park any closer to the terminal. In which case there is the usual pushing and shoving of everyone trying to stay near the doors of the bus so they can bound off first and sprint up the steps to choose their seat. Until they realise that the doors also open from the other side of the bus, when it becomes a game of luck as well as guile and cunning….. I’m sure airports bring out the worst in people – just when they should be getting excited about their holiday they end up getting into a fight over the last portion of chicken nuggets that are left on the flight. Or maybe they’re on the way home and have the ultimate anti-climax of having to end their holiday on a Ryanair flight.
And breathe. Rant over. I suppose you could ask why do I continue to fly with Ryanair if I dislike them so much? Because it’s cheap, and actually surprisingly convenient for the Barcelona – Leeds Bradford route I often do. In the summer at least. In the winter the bastards stop the flight route so I have to find another way to get back. Oh well, you can’t have everything. And honestly, what do you expect for €30 flights? Good service and a pleasant flight? Get real.