Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wrap up: Flight, qualitatively

A few days ago I listed the flights I had taken and their distances. But today I want to recall the nature of these experiences on budget airlines, mostly Ryanair.

Ryanair plane exterior and interior.

"We love Ryan" - My Italian friend (We hate Ryan but still use it.)
The Ryanair legend goes like this: Flights are so cheap that you can hop on a morning flight to London, have lunch with a friend, and hop back home by evening.

In reality, most one-way Ryanair tickets probably cost $50 for intracontinental flights of 45 minutes to 2 hours long. However, there are many many hidden costs of using Ryanair.
  • Ryanair uses "secondary airports". These are pretty much cargo airports before Ryan came along. They're often REALLY far from the actual city that Ryanair advertises. Why these airports? They're airport usage fees are lower than those of the well-known passenger airports. There is frequently no convenient public transportation from the city center to these airports. You have to take a bus for an hour and costs anywhere between 10 - 15 euro.
  • Ryanair flights extremely early. I bet that the 6am flight at any airport is a discount carrier. Think backwards: 6am flight 4am arrive at airport 3am bus to airport .... 2am wake up and check out of hostel. It's like not sleeping at all. Pretty much every trip I took, there were nights like this for me. Even if the airport is accessible via public transportation, you can be that they don't run at 3am. Instead of taking a city bus/metro to the airport bus stop, you have to take a taxi. Plan on another 10 euro, if you split it with your travel companion. 
  • Or they flight extremely late. When I flew Pegasus airlines from Marseilles to Istanbul, my 3-hour flight was schedule for 2am and then delayed until 3am. I arrived in Istanbul at 7am without having slept a wink and spent 1/3 of my time in Istanbul as a zombie.
MP2, you know, not Marseille Provence airport but the other one. The 2 stands for second-class discount airlines passenger.

"It's like a bus. With wings." - My Vietnamese friend (I've taken nicer buses.)
It's like a bus because you fight for the seats and you should bring your own food.

Ryanair virgins will scrutinize their boarding pass (web checked in and self-printed, of course) and realize that there is no seat number! That's right. You have to fight for your window or aisle seat. Part of the seat-seeking strategy requires calculating whether to board via the front or rear door of the plane. Yup, the plane is always on the tarmac and not connected to the airport proper with the passageway.

They do sell food on the flight by at highway robbery prices.

I have taken very nice buses with assigned seats, free coffee, and seats that recline to almost flat.

The dreaded luggage box (Pack light. And wear all your extra clothes on your body.)
Passengers are permitted ONE carry-on. Purses, cameras, duty free store purchases must all fit within one piece of luggage, which must itself fit in the Ryanair Cage.

At Beauvais airport, a young woman in front of me managed to stuff her duffel bag into the box. But while pulling it out, the handle broke off. No emotion from the Ryanair staff looking down at her kneeling on the floor trying to pull out her broken bag.

I am very proud of being able to travel for 14 days with only this backpack, in which I also put my blocky DSLR case and an empty big brown purse. As you can see, it's a school-size backpack, not a hiking pack.

Tips of getting around the luggage restrictions: Wear 5 layers of clothes. Most flights within Europe aren't more than 2 hours long so you'll only sweat for 2 hours... Also carry a coat with lots of pockets where you can put the heavy items and your snacks for the flight.

No customer service.
Some of you may know that my trip to Lisbon was unplanned. This was due to the volcano ash cloud over southern Portugal that caused Ryanair to cancel my flight. While the ash cloud was beyond Ryanair's control, the ticket rebooking fiasco could have been prevented. Ryanair's website screwed up. Instead of allowing passengers of canceled flights to rebook for free, the website charged us as if we just decided to change our tickets. This lead to a two hour wait at the Faro airport where Ryanair did not have a dedicated ticket counter. Instead all our rebooking requests were handled by a single overtaxed airport employee. Because we didn't use the internet to rebook, we were charged a 10 euro fee, even though the Ryanair website screwed up and we couldn't have rebooked online anyway...

Ryanair is almost more trouble than it's worth. 
Ryanair is planning to eventually go transatlantic. It'll be the worst 8 hour flight in the world. But it means I can go visit all my lovely Europeans friends.

1 comment:

kate said...

hahahaha!!! this entry is hilarious, and appreciated.