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Losing My Ryanair Virginity

Ryanair, Easy Jet, German Wings and other discount airlines have changed how Europeans travel, but until last week, I’d yet to fly on a budget European airline and had no idea what to expect. After booking a ticket from Bari, Italy, to Kos in Greece several weeks ago on Ryanair, my expectations were very modest based upon a very annoying booking process and a series of warning emails I received about baggage and boarding procedures.

But my interactions with live Ryanair staff were pleasant and the flight itself was smooth sailing. Here are some observations and tips for flying on Ryanair.

Don’t use Google Chrome. After clicking through what seemed like a thousand pages offering me everything from rental cars to luggage, I clicked “purchase” but then my browser just spun fruitlessly for hours without confirming my purchase. It was unclear to me if the purchase went through, so I had to call Ryanair, which, like everything else associate with this airline, isn’t free. I was told that their site doesn’t support Google Chrome and that I should try again with Internet Explorer. I did so and the purchase went through without a hitch.

Be careful how you click. Ryanair’s booking process is a mess. You need to click or unclick a lot of different options. Do you want priority boarding? Would you like to buy some new suitcases? Do you want to get a text message with flight details? How about some travel insurance or a rental car? It goes on and on and on.

Better travel light. You’ll pay dearly for your checked baggage, and you need to estimate how much your bags will weigh. For my flight, bags up to 15 kg (33 pounds) cost €20 each, and bags up to 20 kg (44 pounds) cost €30. If your bags go over the limit you paid for, you pay €20 for each kilo over your allowance.

Think you’ll just bring a ton of stuff with you on board? Think again – you can only bring one item of cabin baggage per passenger weighing up to 10kg (22 pounds) with maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm. If your carry-on is too heavy, they can refuse to allow you to bring it, or they can charge you a €50 surcharge to check it. And they don’t allow you to pool baggage weight, even if you are traveling with small children who don’t have baggage.

They kill you on the exchange rate. You have to keep clicking to figure out how much you’ll actually pay. This is how our tickets broke down for a family of four:

162.96 EUR Total Fare
8.00 EUR Passenger Fee: EU 261 Levy
1.00 EUR Passenger Fee: ETS
24.00 EUR Passenger Fee: Web Check in
60.00 EUR Passenger Fee: Checked Bag(s)
24.00 EUR Passenger Fee: Administration Fee
279.96 EUR Total Paid

The worst part is the awful exchange rate they give you. At the time I booked, the Euro was about 32 percent higher than the dollar but they gave us a ridiculous 42 percent exchange rate, bringing our €279 ticket up to $397. If we’d gotten the legit exchange rate, it would have been about $368.

No assigned seats. You’re required to print your boarding pass in advance, and can check in up to 15 days prior to your flight. I wasn’t willing to pay for a reserved seat, but our flight was only about half full, so I had no issues with the open seating policy. We boarded and the flight attendants told us we could sit anywhere beyond row 8, as the front of the plane was reserved for those who paid for priority boarding. Since we were traveling with small children, we got priority boarding, which was a nice touch.

You need some smokes? How about lottery tickets or phone cards? The first thing you might notice about Ryanair planes is that there’s no pouch on the seatback. People tend to stuff garbage in them and by eliminating these pouches it helps them turn the flights around quicker. Ryanair boasts the best on-time performance of any European carrier and they need to be efficient in order for their low cost business model to work.

Shortly after our flight took off, on time, the stewardesses started trolling the aisle with things for sale. I expected food and drinks, but the first items they trotted out were packs of cigarettes, lottery tickets and phone cards. What next, I thought, condoms? Or perhaps some Viagra? I thought about getting a chicken tikka plate for €5 but thought better of it. Soon enough, the young ladies were back again, this time with a selection of perfume and cologne. I didn’t need them but considered buying a bottle for a strongly scented gentleman behind me in the boarding line.

Verdict. I’ll fly Ryanair again without hesitation. Once you know the drill and learn how to navigate the booking process, it’s fine. Even with the dodgy exchange rate, the price we got was still better than the competition, and for me, that’s pretty much the bottom line.

[Photo by Alberto P Veiga on Flickr]