Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ryan Air - Bargain Basement Air Travel

My last flight experience on Ryan Air’s intra-European flight from Budapest, Hungary to Farranfore, Ireland was like experiencing Paloma’s running of the bulls. Pre-warned, I printed my boarding pass ahead of time to avoid the 30 euro service charge at check-in, carried exact change for a full price, 3 oz soft drink which I knew would be offered in flight, and arrived early with the requisite amount of luggage, an 11 x 14 laptop sleeve containing extra underwear, a blouse, lipstick and a hairbrush (no purse or carry-on), all of which had passed through three different lines to be screened by Ryan Air’s eagle-eyed employees.

Smugly, I sat down for the 90 minutes until boarding, disregarding the gathering queue before me. Surely, I thought, I’d planned for everything. I felt sorry for the couple who were charged 300 euro to transport their overweight suitcase and equally sorry for the people who threw away their brand new purchases from the duty free shop as well as clothing from their backpacks to squeeze them into the tiny frame required for carry-ons. Still, I rationalized, the cost of the flight was an incredible 45 euro, a deal despite the stringent conditions.

Then it happened: the flight number was called, the doors opened. Where was the jetway, I wondered, with its gentle downward slope guiding us to the plane? Was someone speaking over the PA system? What was she saying? Suddenly, age, sex and handicap were disregarded. With children and luggage clutched tightly to their chests, the line surged forward, pushing through the doors, eyes glued to their destination, the plane, a silent monster waiting on the rain-slick runway. As if responding to a silent signal, momentum increased. Men, women and children, their eyes wild and desperate, threw manners and inhibition to the wind, and ran, urging, shouting, pulling at loved ones who’d dropped to the ground, dragging them forward, their goal the forty-something steps leading up into the cabin and seats hopefully within shouting distance of each other.

Carried into the cabin by the sheer will and force of my fellow passengers, I found my way to my seat number. It was filled. Bewildered, I checked my boarding pass. The seat number was there, distinctly printed on my ticket. “Was there a mistake?” I asked. “Not at all,” I was told by the woman settling her child beside her. “Seat numbers are irrelevant on Ryan Air.” Climbing into one of the last empty seats between two very large men, I closed my eyes comforting myself with the thought that three hours isn’t so very long after all.  

Airborne at last, I looked for the release to lean back in meager comfort. No such luck. Seats on Ryan Air do not lean back, allowing for 8 more rows of passengers on each flight. An hour later, two members of the flight crew, complete with cart, began their journey down the aisle. I brightened. Sustenance was on its way, but the system was an odd one. Apparently nothing was actually inside the cart. The attendant would ask each passenger for his order, scribble it on a pad and walk back to the front of the plane, bringing said order with her. Then the other attendant would take the money, exact change required. Over an hour passed before the last row was serviced, the aisle blocked by the cart and passengers prevented from using restrooms the entire time.
At last the interminable 3 hours, was over. It could have been worse, I suppose. I’d heard rumors that Ryan Air will soon require passengers to stow their own checked luggage and charge for use of the bathrooms. I’m imagining huge numbers of people attempting to settle their own cases into the enormous stomach of the cargo hold. What about pets? What about security? Will exact change be required for the bathrooms as well? What about coin jams?

I suppose there is a place for bargain basement air travel, but I, for one, won’t be repeating the experience.

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