Ryanair Officially Tries to Be Nicer

airplane on runway and looking...
Shutterstock / Peshkova

In this day and age of social media, it’s getting harder and harder for airlines to get away with bad behavior. Lose someone’s luggage? You’ll hear about it within minutes of them landing. Serve a bad meal? Expect that to go viral on Instagram. If your customer service isn’t spot-on, you’ll be sure to hear about it.

But one airline has consistently refused to bow to customer requests. Ryanair is known for the kind of service that elicits complaints. In fact there are entire websites dedicated to documenting how much people are frustrated with what happens aboard Ryanair planes. But despite complaints, Ryanair has managed to find its way to the top of Europe’s airlines. Those baggage fees may seem ridiculous, but the airline is profitable for a reason.

Now with the European economy going downhill however, CEO Michael O’Leary knows that the airline can’t risk to lose passengers, and he is working on making the airline, well, nicer.The man known for proposals like onboard pay toilets (you’re only flying for two hours, you should be able to hold it) is now suggesting that his airline has to transform its brand; just offering crazy low fares isn’t enough.

On the heels of last month’s news that the airline forced a man to pay nearly $260 when he had to change his flight from Dublin to Birmingham because his entire family had died in a fire, Ryanair is now turning on the charm. According to The New York Times, that includes reducing oversized baggage and boarding card reissue fees as well as allowing a small carry-on no larger than 35 x 20 x 20 centimeters to be carried aboard flights from Dec. 1 onwards. Oh, and there will be “quiet” flights, meaning that people flying before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. will avoid the loud in-flight announcements.

It’s all in the hopes that people keep choosing Ryanair wherever they fly in Europe.
“As some of these policy changes will require website changes and handling staff retraining, we will be rolling them out over the next few months as we strive to further improve Europe’s number one customer service airline,” customer service director Caroline Green said.

Will it work? Only the travel social media sphere will be able to tell us.

Heathrow is Now the Most Family Friendly European Airport . . . After Being the Least

srv007, Flickr

Rethink your travel plans families: if you’re adventuring with children, the best airport you can travel to, from and through in Europe is London Heathrow.

That’s a big deal if you consider the fact that only last year it was ranked as the worst.

The rankings come via Skyscanner, which did a study focusing on families with children under 4 years old and looked at travel from June to September 2013.Thirty five European family travel experts and travel bloggers judged 20 different airports based upon their baby-changing facilities, security levels and food options, as well as the general check-in process. We all know how a long line can affect a tired child.

According to Skift, here are the top 10 family-friendly airports across Europe:

1. London Heathrow
2. Zurich and Vienna
3. Dusseldorf
4. Madrid-Barajas
5. Munich and Frankfurt
6. London Gatwick
7. Moscow Sheremetyevo
8. Paris Charles de Gaulle
9. Oslo
10. Copenhagen

But not everyone loves a child-friendly space. Some airlines are even offering kid-free zones on-board for those trying to avoid the younger crowd. Ultimately, it all goes to show that traveling with children is becoming more and more the norm, whether you like it or not.

Killer Hornets Are Taking Over China – and Europe Might be Next

woodleywonderworks, Flickr

Planning a trip to China soon? Watch out for killer hornets. It’s not just the country’s pollution that’s bad for you; Asian giant hornets have been making their way into Shaanxi Province recently, and at the size of your thumb, they’re not only a threat to local honeybees but humans as well. The hornets can actually be fatal, and the stats aren’t encouraging. In city of Ankang, the fatality toll is twice 2002-2005 average; this year alone, there have been 419 injuries and 28 deaths in the area.

Even those outside of China have cause for concern; the Chinese hornet, which is a smaller species of than the one in China, has already appeared in France, Spain, Portugal and Belgium.To get a visual of what an attack would be like, read this report via Quartz:

Here’s a chilling scene that Chen Changlin, an Ankang farmer, witnessed one evening a few days ago. As he harvested rice on evening, hornets swarmed a woman and child working nearby. When they reached Chen, they stung him for three minutes straight. Chen made it; the other two died. “The more you run, the more they want to chase you,” said another victim, whose kidneys were ravaged by the venom.

What does stung by one of these hornets feel like? Similar to having a “hot nail” through your leg according to entomologist. And that’s if you live to tell the story.

Hiker Finds Over $300,000 Worth Of Buried Treasure In The Alps

Mont Blanc Alps
Tom Fahy, Flickr

It sounds like something out of a movie, but a mountaineer scaling the Alps has come across a valuable stash of jewels including emeralds, sapphires, and rubies, buried in the snow — a treasure trove estimated to be worth $332,000.

The French climber stumbled across a metal box while scaling Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak, earlier this month. Upon opening it, the hiker discovered colorful gemstones, some of which were wrapped in pouches marked “Made In India.”It’s believed the jewelry ended up in the Alps following one of two Indian plane crashes in the region — one which took place in 1950 and another that occurred 16 years later. Other cargo and belongings from those plane crashes have previously been discovered in the area, but this latest discovery could be one of the most valuable stashes to be uncovered.

The mountaineer handed the loot over to French authorities who are working to track down the owners of the lost treasure. However, a local police officer told the AFP that under French law, the valuables could be handed over to the hiker if the owners or heirs of the jewelry are not found.

Get A Free Ride With Your New Car: European Delivery Programs

Vintage Volvo ad - European Delivery programsLike many longtime New Yorkers, I don’t own a car and know little about the finer points of purchasing or owning a vehicle. A recent Volvo ad caught my eye in an airline in-flight magazine: If you purchase your car and pick it up in Sweden, they’ll pick up the tab on your trip. A new car and free travel? This was something I could get behind! Doing some research, I discovered quite a few of the top European car makers offer an overseas delivery program.

While you’ll have to plan in advance (generally 3-4 months) to get your car and your trip, you’ll save on the vehicle cost, plus get to pick it up hot off the presses and drive it around European roads. Once you have it shipped to the U.S., you will wait another 8-10 weeks or so to be reunited stateside. Some programs include free airfare and hotel nights, most include factory tours, European road insurance and import/export fees.

Here’s a look at the most popular programs, including travel costs and savings.Audi (Germany)
Travel perks: European Delivery customers get 5-15 percent off airfares on Lufthansa, chauffeured pick up from the Munich airport and a free night at a 4- or 5-star hotel near the factory. On the day you get your keys, you’ll visit the Audi museum and factory, with free meals and snacks all day. You then have two weeks to tool around Europe, with free drop off (by advance arrangement) at any one of 16 locations in Germany and western Europe.
Extra options: Serious Audi fans might consider an additional driving or race “experience” in summer or early fall (many of the winter events require special experience like driving in Scandinavia), where you can learn to drive like a pro, take on a racing circuit, or tour Europe in a luxury vehicle. It’ll cost extra, of course, from a few hundred euro per person. Note that all vehicles ready between November 1-April 15 must have winter tires installed at the factory, but that may be included in the cost of the car.
Car pricing: Audis are priced from $33,800, before the discount up to 5 percent off MSRP, except for the highest end models such as the R8 Spyder.

BMW (Germany)
Travel perks: You can get to Bavaria with 5-15 percent off airfares on Lufthansa. At the BMW Welt facility, you’ll get free museum and factory tours, and refreshments at the cafe. They’ll cover European road insurance for up to 14 days, then you can drop off your vehicle at one of 12 locations free, except Italy which has a supplement of up to 850 euro (must be those Italian drivers!).
Extra options: In addition to airfare, you’ll pay to get to the factory from Munich airport, as well as any hotels on your trip. As befitting a luxury automobile, BMW offers a range of luxury add-on trips designed to make the most of driving the Autobahn in the ultimate driving machine. (The “optional” note indicates they aren’t included free in the deal, but they are specially designed for BMW customers.) Winter deliveries will also require seasonal tires in Germany; it is possible to rent the winter tires if you don’t have them factory-installed.
U.S. pick up: Another option entirely is the Performance Center Delivery Program in Spartanburg, South Carolina. If you travel down south for your car, BMW will pay for your hotel and meals, plus a tour of its U.S. factory and museum, and best of all, professional driving instruction. You won’t get the savings you’d get on a European delivery, but the travel costs are much lower.
Car pricing: From $29,065 with savings, up to 7 percent on MSRP. See all models here.

Mercedes-Benz (Germany)
Travel perks: While airfare discounts aren’t included, you’ll get Mercedes’ travel assistance for booking your trip, airport transfers and one night hotel accommodations. When you pick up your car, you’ll have a tour of the factory and museums, meals at the delivery center, 15 days road insurance and a tank of gas to get you on your way.
Extra options: You can add a self-guided tour of the Black Forest or Alps at additional cost. Drop offs in Italy, England or Spain are additional (Germany, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands are covered at no cost), and you’ll have to arrange for winter tires as with the other programs.
Car pricing: Vehicles from $35,800, with a 7 percent discount on MSRP.

Volvo (Sweden)
Travel perks: The best “deal” of the European Delivery programs, Volvo will include two round-trip plane tickets from the U.S. to Scandinavia (we’d assume Stockholm, but it’s 4-5 hours from the Volvo factory), one night in a hotel in Gothenburg, as well as the usual factory tour and road insurance.
Extra options: You will have to pay if you drop off or pick up anywhere other than the factory location, several hundred dollars or more, but it makes sense given the location of Volvo in Sweden as opposed to more central Germany. You may also see some seasonal charges: $150 per passenger supplement for summer flights, and the rental costs of snow tires between December and April. Volvo offers a variety of trips for more Scandinavian travel if you’d like to extend your trip.
Car pricing: Eligible Volvo models are from $31,420 after savings up to 7 percent on MSRP. See available models.

Bottom line: If you’re buying a new luxury vehicle, you likely aren’t a budget traveler. The savings even with free airfare, road insurance and a night at a nice hotel won’t likely offset what you’ll spend on the rest of your trip, let alone a car. However, if you are in the market for a slick new ride, driving it home on the Autobahn after seeing how it’s made is likely to be an unforgettable trip.