I am in a long-term relationship with Ryanair – my love for those airlines will be 10 years this year. Recently there have been many flight cancellations and my Facebook filled with angry critique about this company. There also came many sarcastic jokes about how Ryanair is actually more expensive than a ‘normal’ airline, because you just have to pay for anything.
I cannot really say that I am loyal to brands. I lived through this period in my teenage years in Lithuania, when I was buying one particular girls magazine – very mainstream, the most popular one in the country. One day I opened my newest issue of this magazine with usual anticipation, preparing to enjoy my evening reading it. One of the first thing I suddenly saw was an advice: “Leave those lame glittery lipsticks to the girls of Russian minority.” A bit of the context for those who do not personally know me. I am from Lithuania and my native language is Russian, so yes, I could not help but understand that it was me they were speaking about here. I felt betrayed and stabbed in my back. I closed the magazine, took all my archive to the recycling container and tried to remember from that time that you cannot ever give your heart to a brand.
Ok, and what does it have to do with Ryanair? Because even though I am not brand-loyal, this one actually is the one which in a way changed my life.
Disclaimer: This is completely unsponsored post and my personal opinion with no money exchange involved anywhere. Although I know you suspected it, and I truly wish it was actually the case.
My travel background
When I was growing up, travelling by plane was a luxury. The price gap between Lithuania and the other European countries was quite wide, so staying in the hotels was expensive too. But my mom was (and is) really a travel enthusiast, so we would normally go on bus trips around Europe.
These kind of trips became very popular in the Eastern Europe in 1990s. You would go by bus to visit several countries. The bus would drive at night, and reach some visitable city in the morning, so you would spend the day sightseeing. And then spend the night on the bus again. For the whole week-long trip there would only be a couple of nights in the hotel, the rest you would spend driving.
We travelled this way to Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Austria, France, Slovakia and other countries. I think Paris was the furthest point for me, although my friends went as far as Portugal (just check the map – it is a loooong bus drive away from Lithuania). We also had a couple of plane trips later, but those were luxury, to be saved up for and savoured.
And then tadam! Ryanair appeared. It did not appear in Lithuania, of course, and there were other airlines, who started to bring the plane prices down, but it still was a big bang. For me, this happened.
Low-cost flights for high-cost love
I moved abroad to Copenhagen to study and met a Hungarian man I really fell in love with. For a while we both lived in Copenhagen and it was beautiful. And then the reality stroke and he went back to Budapest to finish his studies. I was heart-broken for a week (and it is a long time, if you are really full-time heart-broken) and then someone told me: “Why don’t you just go to visit him in Budapest for a weekend?”
This was a revelation. Now you know my background, so you understand that in my head there was no concept of going spontaneously by plane for a very short time on a student budget. I checked the prices and yes, it was totally within my budget, even if booking just a couple of weeks in advance. So I went there. Fast-forward 10 years and many low-cost flights later: we are married and have a red haired son. Having in mind that none of us is red haired, I suspect it was some hidden Irish influence from all those Ryanair flights we took. And I blame the success of this relationship on that first flight – it was very timely and very needed.
But coming back to our love story. For a while we were stuck in different countries around Europe. The combinations could be the following: Lithuania (me) – Hungary (him), UK (him) – France (me), Hungary (me) – Luxembourg (him) and some others. And we managed to find amazing solutions, like flying Vilnius to Budapest though Dublin (once again, just check the kind of de-tour it is on the map) for 20 euro.
And that is why it is not surprising that we even got engaged in the airport at night, while waiting for a (very cheap) very early morning Ryanair flight from John Lennon airport. We celebrated it with eating our home-made sandwiches, of course. Which brings me to the next topic.
The mystery of hungry people on Ryanair flights
If you gave me a penny for each time I hear people complain about the fact Ryanair does not feed you during the flight, I could easily buy all the sandwiches and scratchcards they have onboard. Somehow the concept of having to pay 5 euro for your sandwich infuriates some passangers to the point that they forget the school maths. I regularly hear people saying: “If you count all the things extra you have to pay on Ryanair, it’s cheaper to fly Lufthansa.”
I cannot claim that I am all the European airlines expert, but I have been flying with many of them, so I speak from experience. Specifically Lufthansa, as it was the preferred airline of my employer and I did most of my work trips with them. On a flight of less than 2 hours (which many of the flights within Europe are) they give you a little packet of peanuts as a meal. True, those peanuts are free, but the price difference between similar routes within Europe of Lufthansa and Ryanair is well over 100 euro, which makes those peanuts mega-expensive.
If the height makes you that hungry, at least fly with Turkish Airlines – they have decent food.
Paying extra for everything – even the toilet?
This is my favourite anecdote about Ryanair. Some 8 years ago a rumour spread that Ryanair will start charging for the toilet visit while on the plane. At that time I was working in a company doing media overview. That means that my job was to scan through very many Swedish online newspaper articles based on the keywords, to determine, whether they are relevant to some particular client company. You would have the big main ones, but also tiny regional ones from far far North of Sweden, mainly reporting on moose or reindeer being hit by a sledge or vice-versa.
When the Ryanair toilet rumour came out, it reached each and every newspaper, even the most remote ones. I kid you not, for a week I went through hundreds of articles, letters from readers, editorials and comments, each of them having to describe in at least one sentence what Ryanair actually is.
After a week or so Ryanair issued a press-release, assuring the public that this was a hoax and there is no legal possibility to charge for a toilet on a plane, even if they wanted to. It was however the best (and totally free) marketing campaign they ever had – suddenly even the dwellers of the most remote corners of Europe and even outside Europe knew the name and the idea of the company. I secretly hope it was a genious promotion plan of the marketing department of Ryanair itself, to send out a rumour like that later to deny it.
And you have to pay for any bag you take with you!
Another process I liked watching was the on-board luggage restrictions. The ‘normal’ airlines before the Ryanair were rather relaxed about this, but the low-costs changed the rules of the game. Ryanair started imposing strict policy: only one bag, it has to fit into the special measuring device, if not – you have to pay extra. Over the time it seems that the criteria got more and more strict, and other low-costs followed the lead. For example, WizzAir reduced the hand luggage to a small backpack, giving you an option to pay for a larger one.
And then suddenly baaam – and Ryanair relaxes the hand luggage policy: you can have a little extra handbag and your camera, the bag is not checked that strictly whether it fits or not. As if they lead other low-costs into this race on purpose, and then abruptly removed themselves from it. Wizzair did follow the lead (again!) and relaxed the regulations back this spring.
Tips to make your trip with low-cost airline a success
Based on all the complaints about flying with the low-cost I hear, I start thinking that many people just do not know, how to use them properly. I am not even speaking about Ryanair specifically. As we now know, being brand loyal is the most stupid capitalist behaviour you can engage in. Do not do it.
I am sure this makes me sound pretentious, but I will share my golden nuggets of wisdom here, to make your travel cheap and enjoyable.
Buying the tickets:
- Be time and destination flexible – if you can. The tickets can be extremely cheap, if you are flexible. The ideal scenario for your low-cost booking is:
- I know I have some days off in April. Let me see, where I can go cheap during those days.
- I would like to visit my friends in London and I would like my trip to happen in autumn. Let me see, which dates are the cheapest.
There are generally cheap destinations: Belgium, the Nederlands, Germany and generally cheap months: February and March. There are also generally expensive destinations: Southern Europe and months: summer. But it is always worth checking a particular combination of destination and time.
2. Think of the extras. There are very few extra costs you actually need. Do you need a check in luggage? If you are travelling for a short time and do not have much stuff, the check in luggage can actually be more of an inconvenience, as you have to wait for it (sometimes long) in the airport.
Do you need to choose your seat? If you are travelling alone and have no strong preference for window or aisle, then why bother and pay extra? And even if you are travelling together, in my experience it has always assigned us seats next to each other, although we chose free random seat selection.
Priority boarding is the most curious purchase you can actually make. You pay extra for being forced to go through the gate and stand in a very cold or very hot corridor (depending on the season) stuck between other VIPs, with no place to sit and no access to toilet or water. At least in the most European airports. Buy it for the sake of experience, if you want, but not of your comfort.
Before the flight:
- Remember to check in online and print your boarding pass. That is not THAT difficult, come on! Otherwise yes, you will be charged a lot at the airport.
Make that goddamn sandwich at home or buy a snack from the shop. As long as it is not a liquid snack, you can take it with you on the flight and eat it there. For the sake of other passangers, please do not get anything too smelly or crunchy. Or take your 5 euro onboard and buy that sandwich. It is actually cheaper than regular prices of some airports.
Buy a bottle of water or fill yours from the water fountain after you have come through the security.
- If you are a fit person without children, check with the flight attendant, whether emergency exit seats are free. They have bigger leg space, and are usually let empty, if the flight is half-full. They can only be occupied by people, who in case of emergency can operate the doors, so children will not be allowed to sit there.
If you plan to sleep, remember to check some earplugs. Most low-costs will annoy you with some commercials and other announcements throughout the whole flight and Ryanair especially is a champion for the most terrible ones.
Please remember that Ryanair is just one airline out of many. When you are looking for tickets around Europe, do check some others. Here is a short list of the main ones, where you normally can find good deals:
- Norwegian – cheap and very good quality. Has trans-Atlantic flights. Mostly connects Norway to other countries though.
- WizzAir – Check the loyalty card. It is valid for a year, so if you plan to fly with them at least twice, it will pay off.
- EasyJet – Good option for the UK, though slightly overpriced compared to others.
- AirBaltic – Expensive and bad. High chance to miss a connection in Riga. I warned you!
- WOW Air – Icelandic airlines with really wow prices to Iceland. I am still only planning to try this one out.