It’s half seven in the morning and I’m standing in the middle of a cramped shuttle bus in Berlin Schonefeld Airport, bleary eyed and almost drunk with lack of sleep. I’ve been up for 24 hours at this stage. Everyone around me is in the same boat- a groggy, weary, pallid bunch of people who had to heave themselves out of bed far too long ago. I only paid €10 for my flight from Berlin to Kerry, but what I’m saving in money I’m paying in sleep deprivation. This is the classic Ryanair journey- waking up at an ungodly hour (or not sleeping at all) to catch an early flight in a remote airport which often has more in common with a cattle shed than an international travel hub.
All I want to do is sit down and get some shut eye. However, sleeping is a tall order when you’ve had the misfortune of being allocated a middle seat and you’re squished in between two strangers. Because I was too stingy to buy a large bag, I now have to wear my two heavy coats which allowed me to survive the harsh winter in Eastern Germany, on top of about three layers of woolen jumpers which should have gone into that hypothetical suitcase. The nature of my frugality, typical of only the most parsimonious of students, now has me in a sweat. I feel like an onion with all my layers and have no choice but to peel some of them off. As the plane jets off, a small mountain of wooly jumpers and coats has accumulated on my lap.
I attempt to read but my dog tired brain won’t cooperate and all the words start swimming on the page. Eventually I do succumb to sleep, but not for long- I am suddenly jolted from my slumber when one of the cabin crew announces that they are about to start serving hot beverages, sandwiches and snacks. I wince at the sound of this announcement, and try to get back to sleep but doing so is futile when I’m wedged so tightly between two other passengers that my shoulders are perpetually hunched and when I know my sleep will most likely be interrupted by at least two other inflight announcements about a) the sale of duty free fragrances and spirits and b) inordinately priced scratch cards which I’ve never heard anyone winning anything from.
The intoxicating smell of brewed coffee wafts in my direction but I resist temptation, knowing full well that I can buy an americano for a third of the price once I land in Kerry Airport. When the man sitting to my left asks the air hostess for a panini, he is informed that for just €10 he could avail of the meal deal which consists of a drink, a sandwich and a snack. “Wow, what a good saving”, I say to myself, suddenly thinking about the massive Vietnamese red curry I bought for €4.50 the night before in Leipzig. When the paninis are handed out, they look limp and miserable: bleached white rubbery bread slices oozing with plastic looking cheese, almost as yellow as the plane’s gaudy interior.
Recently, Ryanair boasted it’s implementation of new initiatives such as more leg room (yeah right), LED lighting and ‘less yellow’. How reassuring. They’ve also added a ‘Rate my Flight’ function on the mobile app, allowing customers to rate crew and flights. In my experience however, the employees are never the ones at fault- it’s the company’s notoriously ruthless, penny-pinching management who have caused the most headaches for its customers in the past. The company is no stranger to bad press and recently gained a lot of media attention when it announced that customers would have to pay for priority boarding if they wanted to bring their hand luggage cases with them on the flight. This change in policy was nothing however compared to it’s cancellation fiasco last September which saw some 400,000 bookings being cancelled.
For Michael O’Leary, controversy seems intrinsic to the company’s publicity. Ever trying to cut costs, he forces staff to pay for their own training, uniforms and stationery and recently joked about charging his customers to use the bathroom during the flight. If drink prices are falling he has no issue telling pilots to “engineer a bit of turbulence” and has attempted to charge overweight passengers for two seats instead of one. While charging customers next to nothing for airline tickets, the company makes about a fifth of its revenue from extra charges: it takes in an average of £1.3 billion a year on extra charges alone.
Despite the company’s morals or complete lack thereof, and in spite of how much I resent any cent going into Mr O’Leary’s coffers, I still continue to fly with Ryanair. Why? Because the flights are just so cheap. A flight from Berlin to Kerry usually costs an average of €10 if I book it at the right time. I’ve flown from Ireland to Scotland and back for €20, have gone to Milan and back for €30 and paid less for a return ticket to Amsterdam than I would pay for a train ticket from Galway to Dublin. These low fares have made travel a reality for students and the lower classes when not too long ago air travel was a luxury reserved almost exclusively by the upper echelons of society. If you can stick by their rules and ensure that your luggage adheres to Ryanair’s guidelines, if you’re able to put up with the company’s garish blue and yellow interior that sometimes makes you feel like you’re in an episode of The Simpsons and if you’re okay with the likelihood that your flight will be delayed, then flying with Ryanair won’t a problem. You’ll save a lot of money- provided that you check in beforehand, make sure your bag doesn’t weigh a gram more than it should and you avoid buying snacks and drinks onboard. Otherwise you’ll just end up paying what you generally would with a normal, humane airline.