Saturday 10 November 2012

In Defence of Ryanair

When will I ever learn? Never get involved in an argument with someone who refers to Ryanair as "Him" (and we all know who we are talking about).

I had a discussion recently about "hidden charges", printing boarding passes etc etc. So this is my response:

I suppose the most common criticism is that one selects a flight for €1 only to find that it has shot up astronomically to €25 by the time one comes to pay for it. I remember being in Girona 10 years ago and the only way one could go back to the UK was on a charter flight where a return ticket was mandatory - I remember paying something like €150 for a Monarch flight but fuel prices were much lower then. Now Ryanair flies to an amazing selection of destinations in Europe for a fraction of the cost. For people in Girona, there has been a vast reduction in flights as he (sorry, Ryanair) have moved their base to Barcelona - as opposed to Barcelona Girona as it was called. Or was it Girona Barcelona?

A surcharge on the use of a credit card was recently outlawed by the European Union and this also used to be a bone of contention with many people, but you pay in the end some way or another. Ryanair has to pay for its staff, aircraft and overheads somehow and this was a contribution to that. (I'm quoting Michael O'Leary as that was his response when asked about it). It's rather like free banking - no such thing. Or a free lunch. Whenever I got on a Ryanair plane, it felt as thought it had beeen delivered by Boeing that morning.

People get rather cross about the €60 fine for not printing out a boarding pass before arrival at the airport but this tactic has worked. Apart from "who is the next President of the USA?" this is probably one of the most well-known facts in Europe. No one dares turn up without the famous A4 sheet of paper and it saves the airline money and therefore the flights are cheaper. You have 15 days to print it and, even if you are away for more than 15 days, virtually every small town has an IT shop or internet café.

Insurance. Now here I have to agree with my friend to a certain extent. It is quite tricky to de-select insurance but, once you know how, it's easy.

Priority boarding. My friend criticised the fact that the default was "yes". But it's simply a check box which gives one the choice of either having it or not and most people know about check boxes these days. As it happens, I often choose priority boarding as I like to look out of the window. I remember an awful flight back from Teneriffe where I had an aisle seat and there was a loose panel in the floor. One of the flight attendants had heavy-soled shoes and the vibrations shuddered through to my head each time he passed.

One thing I do feel is ridiculous is the scramble to stuff barely legal-size bags into overhead lockers while the hold underneath is virtually empty when one priority is a quick turn-around. But baggage handling at the airport is charged to the airline and the passengers would have to pay. AENA, who run Girona Airport, are probably not very happy to see all those passengers toddling away from the checkout with their bags on the way to the gate. If it saves on the price of the ticket, then I suppose people are prepared to suffer the inconvenience of always being with their luggage.

I am a rebel. Unless I'm going away for just a couple of days, I take a bag for the hold and I expect to pay (indirectly) AENA for the privilege - and the receiving airport as well. Last time I looked it was €25. I have always enjoyed dumping my bag at the checkout and wandering around the departure lounge with just a light bag over my shoulder. Anyway, things like shaving foam can't be carried in hand baggage so a bag in the hold has much more relaxed regulations as what can be taken.

People talk about "hidden charges" but this is a myth. True, charges get added as one progresses through the booking process (or maybe not, depending on your choices) but they are all clearly visible. If one gets to know the process, then one can turn down all the options, stuff their bag in the overhead locker and buy a very cheap ticket.

That's the bottom line. The price of the ticket. Does my friend fly Ryanair? You bet, "it's really cheap".

I rest my case!

I wrote this post on 10th November 2012 but, in December, may I add a couple of small points?

People complain that they are treated like cattle; the lowest of the low. But I've never had that experience. The staff are pleasant and the aircraft are clean and new. 

Girona! Some people here are upset that Ryanair (he) has moved its base to Barcelona. But wouldn't you if the opportunity arose? Barcelona is bigger. We don't have some kind of inalienable right to three flights daily (or any flights) to London from Girona. We hope for those flights, for sure, but airlines have to fill planes and presumably they didn't pay, especially during the winter. 

By the way, I went to the UK recently and went by BA which was a very pleasant experience - the flights were around €120 each way (I took the option to pre-book a window seat). I was staggered by the size of Terminal 5 at Heathrow with its vast steel pillars supporting the roof. I had to book at short notice and Easyjet was much more expensive. Ryanair has very little to the south-east of the UK in the winter even from El Prat.