Most everyone who has traveled within Europe has had the option to fly with Ryanair, an Ireland-based budget airline. Ryanair flights are cheap, and I mean, very cheap. I once flew round-trip from Frankfurt-Hahn to Pisa for €35, which is about 47 U.S. dollars. Compare that fare with the prices of major airlines and it’s easy to see why so many people continue to fly Ryanair despite its annoyances, which are abundant.
You see, there is a catch. The old saying “You get what you pay for” comes to mind when I think about Ryanair. You will get where you’re supposed to go. (Well, close to it, in some cases, but more on that later.) But that’s all you’ll get.
Ryanair can be so frustrating that songs have been written about the incensing experience that it can be. I always play this one for friends who have never traveled with Ryanair before, not to scare them, but just so they know what to expect. I’ve met people who have heard such horror stories about it that they simply choose to forego the entire Ryanair experience, which is a shame, because even though you have to jump through the hoops, it gives you an affordable way to travel through Europe. These are some of the things I’ve learned on my 18 Ryanair journeys:
1. Know where you’re going. Ryanair flies into many, many places. BUT – it often gets you only close to the major city into which you intend to fly. I remember sitting on a flight next to a girl in her late teens who thought she was flying into Frankfurt proper. She was surprised and upset to learn that she was flying into Hahn, and would have to arrange for a bus transfer to Frankfurt upon arrival.
If the airport name has a hyphen, then it probably means you’re going to an outlying airport. For example, if you choose to fly via Ryanair to Venice-Treviso, you’re not really flying into the major airport, Venice Marco Polo Airport. You’ll be flying into Treviso, which is a greater distance from Venice. That means you need to plan in advance how you’re going to get from Treviso to Venice.
This is usually not a problem as long as you know in advance. And companies are happy to capitalize on this opportunity to take you where they know you need to be. There are low-cost shuttle companies that coordinate with Ryanair flight arrivals and they’ll pick you up at the airport and take you into the major city. The one we’ve used several times is Terravision, which is very cheap. I’ve paid between €7 and €10 round-trip each time (London is slightly higher), which doesn’t exactly break the bank. Prices are even less if you purchase your shuttle ticket online. However, some places, such as Frankfurt-Hahn, do not offer budget shuttles and it can cost €40 or more to get where you need to go. So, know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.
2. Know the rules. When you’re booking with Ryanair, you’ll notice a lot of fine print. One more time, in case you didn’t get it the first time: When you’re booking with Ryanair, you’ll notice a lot of fine print. Read it, understand it, and commit it to memory, and assume that nothing is free. When it says that you must arrive with a printed boarding pass in-hand, they mean it. They will print one for you at the check-in counter, but for this convenience they’ll charge you €70.
Same goes for baggage fees. You get ONE free piece of carry-on luggage, which can be no more than 10 kilos (22 pounds). It must also fit in the little metal size-wise thing. If it’s overweight or doesn’t fit, they might let you check it, and they might not. If they do let you check it, you’ll pay €60 to do so. Note that ONE free piece of carry-on luggage also means that your purse must fit inside this one bag. If you choose to check a bag, make that decision while you’re booking and it’ll save you quite a bit. For example, one checked bag up to 15 kilos only costs €15 each way when booked online at the time of your reservation, compared with €60 each way when you choose to check it at the airport.
If you have an infant-in-arms, you’ll pay €30 per one-way trip to carry your baby on your lap. The infant is not entitled to any baggage, either, although you can take one stroller or baby sling free of charge. Honestly, unless I had a child that was old enough for his or her own seat, I’d probably not use Ryanair because from observation it looks miserable. I’ve never traveled with children on Ryanair, so I’m certainly not an expert here.
3. Follow the rules. Assuming you’re following my advice, you should know the rules before you get to the airport. The key, though, is following said rules. Don’t show up to the airport without having already checked in for your flight and printed your boarding passes. (You can print your return boarding pass along with your departure boarding pass.) I’ve seen many, many tears at Ryanair check-in counters because people were either not aware of the rules or because they didn’t follow them. While the Ryanair airport staff may be incredibly nice people on a personal level, when they put on their uniform it can seem like they have no soul. Maybe there is a secret Ryanair staff torture chamber somewhere in the airport and upper management punishes them if they don’t follow the rules. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, don’t expect them to bend for you. You are nobody, and your tears mean nothing. But follow the rules and you’ll be okay.
Some Ryanair staff are more strict than others, which means that in some places you might be able to get away with things that you can’t get away with elsewhere. Just because one friendly check-in attendant looked the other way when your bag was half a kilo over the limit doesn’t meant that the next one will. Rules are rules, and they are entirely within their right to enforce all of them. For a complete list of Ryanair rules, please check its website.
4. The boarding process is comical and also hellacious. While you’re booking your flight online you’ll notice several ways they will try to up-sell you. You can purchase a new set of “Ryanair Approved” luggage, travel insurance, scratch tickets, ground transportation, lodging, priority boarding and reserved seating. If you buy everything they offer you then consider yourself “had.” You really don’t need any of it. The only thing I’d consider is ground transportation, but I usually do that separately.
Some people, however, do pay for priority boarding or reserved seating. For €10 each way you can bypass the long boarding line, and pay another €10 for reserved seating. Both of these options will add €40 to the overall cost of your flight. If you’re traveling with a baby this may be a good idea, but otherwise, it’s a rip-off and here’s why: you’re all getting on the same plane, whether you board first or last. Reserved seats are also a rip-off because unless you’re a large group that insists on sitting together, you’ll be just fine. My husband and I have never had to sit apart from one another and we’ve never paid for priority boarding.
Here’s how the boarding process works for most Ryanair flights. You stand in either the “Priority” line (if you’ve paid for it) or the “Other Q.” Prior to boarding the gate agent scans your boarding pass and glances at your passport, starting with the “Priority” people. They then go through and stand in a sectioned-off area specifically for them. After the “Priority” people are finished then the gate agent starts on the “Other Q” people, and we stand in a different sectioned-off area (which may be outside, in the winter) for about 10-15 minutes. When the plane is ready they allow the “Priority” people to begin walking to the plane. Once the last “Priority” person is through the door, they allow the “Other Q” people to start boarding as well. The thing is, if you walk quickly you can bypass priority people. You can also head to the back of the plane, because they board from the back as well. So essentially, even though you’ve paid for a priority ticket, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a seat first. I’ve actually boarded before priority ticket holders on a couple of occasions.
I’ve also seen instances (twice!) where we’ve had to board a bus to take us out to the airplane. The priority people got on it first, and were pushed to the back while the rest of us got on afterward. Then we all arrived at the plane at the same time, with the priority people actually boarding last. €20 well spent? Hardly. Just show up early and get in the boarding line as early as possible and you’ll have no trouble getting seats with your travel companions.
People are kind of barbaric when boarding Ryanair flights. All sense of decorum is lost and PEOPLE WILL DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO GET ON THE PLANE BEFORE YOU. They will cut in line, unabashedly, to get in front of you. This happened to me yesterday – a group of about 8 people just walked right up the line, elbowing their way through. It made my blood boil. They’ll pretend they don’t see you as you give them dirty looks. Then, when you’re struggling to lift your bag over your head to put it in the overhead compartment, they’ll trample you if they want to get by. The only way I’ve managed to keep my cool is to become one of them. Use your elbows, be aggressive, and don’t let anyone pass you if you can avoid it.
5. Don’t expect to sleep on a Ryanair flight. Remember when I discussed the up-selling during the flight booking experience? Well, it doesn’t end there. When you’re finally in your seat and ready to close your eyes because you woke up at 3:00 a.m. to make your 6:00 a.m. flight, the flight attendants will come through the aisle announcing a great deal on drinks and snacks. You can buy a variety of hot food, snack items and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Again, nothing is free so if you want a refreshment you’ll have to buy one. Just when they’re finished with that part they’ll offer you some duty-free perfume, cosmetics, etc. After that they’ll announce the sale of Ryanair scratch tickets, which might just win you one million Euro or free Ryanair flights. Imagine the possibilities! After that they’ll try and sell you smokeless cigarettes. And if you’re lucky enough to fly in the couple of months before the new year and are feeling charitable, you can even buy a Ryanair charity calendar with sexy flight attendants in bathing suits on each page. This is just part of the Ryanair experience. When you’re dead tired and annoyed with all of the sales pitches, remember, the flight was cheap and you’ll be at your destination soon. It’ll all be worth it.
At the end of the flight, assuming it has landed on time, a trumpet will sound and an excited voice will proclaim that you have indeed landed on time, and everyone will clap. This is not meant as a joke – it really happens. I simply don’t understand the practice of applauding the airline for doing its job. I can’t help but imagine what would happen if I did that when I arrived at work on time every day.
This entire post may not portray Ryanair in the best light, however, I’m simply writing from my own personal experiences. Even though I’ve endured my fair share of frustration with the airline, I continue to use it because it has allowed me to see much more of Europe than I otherwise would have. Knowing what to expect makes it much more bearable. I can’t afford to pay major airline prices every time I want to take off for the weekend, and I’m grateful to have another option.
And finally, rumor has it that Ryanair is updating its policies to make it more flyer-friendly, according to this article: http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2013/10/25/ryanair-aims-to-be-more-family-friendly-releases-its-sexy-flight-attendant/.
If you want to share any Ryanair tips or experiences, or have questions, post them in the comment section below. I hope this information helps you make the most of one of the most affordable European transportation options.
Disclaimer: This is all based on my own personal Ryanair experiences. Please check the Ryanair website for rules and fee information, as it can change.