Like most travellers I was horrified this week by the occupation of Stansted Airport runway by a bunch of mindless protestors and the disruption this caused to flight schedules. I have no sympathy at all with these people and think that the authorities should have shot a couple of them on the spot just to make others think twice in the future.
I do however have a lot of sympathy with passengers whose itineraries were disrupted by this action but what I found most bizarre was that many of them did the popular thing and started to blame it all on Ryanair. I understand what they were saying; just delay every flight instead of canceling until everything catches up and everyone might be late but at least they all get where they are going. Eventually! I am not an expert in scheduling flights or in running an airline but it must be obvious to anyone that it just cannot be that simple. We enjoy cheap flights because Ryanair run a tight ship and their aircraft make multiple trips a day. Just think how difficult it would be to rearrange flight times, air traffic control slots, pilot’s flying hours and crew resourcing. Whilst some of the popular criticism of Ryanair is justified this was so unfair.
Despite the fact that over forty million people fly with Ryanair every year, in a survey in October 2006 it was voted the world's most disliked airline, and in November 2006 it was revealed as the subject of more complaints than any other airline in the EU. The BBC has reported that 56% of respondents said Ryanair caused "the biggest headaches" for air travelers and in 2003 60% of all complaints to Ireland's Commission for Aviation Regulation were about Ryanair. This is so unfair! If people want a flight for 1p what realistically do they expect. I read somewhere that the airline works on a profit margin of £5 per passenger so of course there has to be some additional charges for passengers.
One of the biggest complaints is about hidden extras and let’s be fair outrageous sharp practices in an endeavour to massage the cost of a service would be castigated in any other service industry (rather like a restaurant adding washing up, cleaning the floor and the cost of electricity to a meal bill) and Ryanair must have an office full of staff dreaming up the next scam but they are not alone because all low cost airlines do exactly the same thing. Outwitting the scammers is all part of the fun of booking a Ryanair flight and here are my top ten tips:
1 Find the cheapest flight in the first place. The best way to do this is to set an evening aside to search the web site for the very best deals. This takes some time because Ryanair don’t make this easy; there is no site facility for prompting the cheapest flights so you just have to keep speculating with dates and destinations until you find something interesting. And unless you really do want somewhere specific then be prepared to go anywhere because this is where some of the real bargains are. In 2006 I went to Pula in Croatia for £15 return and then to Friedrichshafen in Germany for £13, both times including all the taxes and fees. I had never heard of these places before I flew but they were both excellent places to visit. Later this week I am going to Santander in Spain for £10 and in February next year I have achieved my cheapest ever deal for £8.02 return to Baden-Baden in Germany (and that includes £8.00 credit card booking fee!)
2 Don’t take hold luggage. This saves £24 on a return flight and with 10 kilograms allowed free as cabin baggage this is a much more sensible option. Let’s face it most of us take far too much luggage with us when we go away for a couple of days anyway, I know I have taken clothes with me that I have never worn and I have been working hard to make sure that I now only take what I know I will need rather than a bag full of contingency items.
3 Don’t check in for the flight at the check in desk. This saves £6 on a return flight but can only be achieved if you take my advice and restrict yourself to hand luggage, but assuming that you have this one is a complete no-brainer because what sane person would pay £6 to spend an hour in a queue when they could be in the bar instead?
4 Don’t buy a Priority Boarding Pass. This is a complete con and saves another £6 on the return flight. Think about it sensibly for a moment, there is a seat for everyone on board anyway, have you ever seen anyone standing on an airline flight? No of course not. All of the seats are exactly the same and an average flight is about 2 hours. How can it possibly matter where you sit?
5 Don’t buy travel insurance from Ryanair. I am not suggesting that you don’t buy travel insurance at all just shop around a bit because there are much better deals available elsewhere.
6 There is no number 6 anymore. This used to be about paying by debit rather than credit card because it was cheaper but now they are exactly the same. I don’t like this £4 per flight charge because unlike all of the others there is no way of avoiding it so there is no fun in playing the game any more on payment options.
7 Don’t exceed your baggage allowance. If you really must book in hold luggage you need to be really careful about this because going overweight is a real dumb thing to do and the penalty is an extortionate £12 per kilo and they are really, really strict on this because it is a fantastically good earner. If when your bags are weighed and the allowance is exceeded my advice is to take some clothes out of the bag and wear them instead. This might be a bit uncomfortable for a few minutes and make you look fat but it’s worth remembering that you don’t pay excess baggage charges for being obese!
8 Don’t buy food and drink on board. Have a good breakfast at home before you set off and have a drink in the duty free bar before flying. I agree that this one might be a bit more difficult but bear in mind that Ryanair now charges £2.15 for a cup of tea! That’s a ¼ of a litre of lukewarm water and a cheap tea bag. You can probably get about 200 tea bags for £2.15 at a Supermarket, more if you go to Aldi!
9 Don’t queue up too early and rush to go through the departure gate. This one doesn’t save you any money but it can really piss people off because this is about getting the first seat on the plane, even those you have rashly purchased priority boarding con cards. While everyone pushes and shoves about in the queue it is much less stressful to hang about at the back and go through the gate last, now, admittedly this only really works when there is a bus transfer to the plane, but get on the bus last and stand by the door and then purposefully get off first when the doors are opened and without looking left or right at the moaning minnies on either side be one of the first on board the aircraft. This really gets people complaining I can tell you especially when they have been standing on that bus for 5 or 10 minutes or so.
Once on board try and get a seat in the first available row because this does have a bit more legroom. If the plane isn’t full it is normal practice to stop passengers sitting in the first few rows to balance up the weight in the plane but still take the first available row because once the aircraft is airborne it is possible to move into these bigger leg room seats for the duration of the flight. This is guaranteed to get people really worked up!
Always sit down in an aisle seat, spread yourself out and don’t make eye contact with other passengers looking for a seat because this deters them from climbing over you to get to the window seat. If the plane isn’t full there is a good chance that you will have an empty seat next to you and a lot more personal space. This one works especially well when there are two of you because it makes it doubly difficult for people to push past.
Whatever you do, do not sit next to children. I realise that you cannot prevent them sitting close by if they get on after you but by looking as child unfriendly as possible this can deter parents from sitting next to you with their loved ones. The problem is that there is nothing for them to do you see so they quickly become bored and a pain in the ass to fellow travellers. If you fly with a full price airline kids get fun packs and crayons and when they get fed up with that there are cartoons on the in flight TV to amuse them but with Ryanair all there is to read is the emergency evacuation procedure stuck on the back of the seat in front and that doesn’t keep a child amused for very long.
10 Keep an eye out for lost loose change. Because the seats are so cramped a lot of people spill coins from their trouser pockets when they buy food and drink and they are quite unaware of it. When you leave the plane look carefully on the floor and at the backs of the seats and you will be surprised just how often you find money. I once paid £20 for a return flight to Riga and I found £2, that’s a 10% discount on the fare.
I guarantee that these few simple tips will make flying with Ryanair a lot more rewarding and might help reduce the unjustified number of complaints that are made. I hope so.