While British Airways is enduring something of an annus horribilis – featuring long queues, last-minute cancellations and even a two-week period when it stopped selling tickets – for Ryanair, things have rarely looked better. Disruption has been rare, so too those once commonplace PR hiccups, and this week it was able to get one over its old rival by announcing, hours after Heathrow extended its flight cap until October 29, 500 more services to and from its main hub at Stansted over the same period.
Indeed, one could argue that the low-cost behemoth – though headquartered in Dublin and emblazoned with the Irish harp – has become the de facto national airline of Great Britain. For starters, it now takes significantly more Britons on holiday than BA, with a July capacity of 2.36m seats compared to BA’s 2.19m. It also bears more of the hallmarks one would expect of a flag carrier, like reliability (of late it has cancelled 0.4 per cent of its departures, compared to BA’s 4.27 per cent and EasyJet’s 4.17 per cent) and, dare we say it, likeability – Telegraph Travel’s articles frequently carry comments from readers who have fallen hopelessly under Ryanair’s no-nonsense spell.
Flying with it remains an idiosyncratic experience, of course. Reliable it might be, but it’s far from perfect. So for anyone who hasn’t jetted off with Ryanair in a while, and is about to bite the bullet, we have a few words of advice and caution.
The priority queue is now longer than the normal one
Perhaps you remember a time when only a few self-important show-offs paid extra for priority boarding. No longer. If you want to board your flight carrying anything larger than a coin purse, you must buy a ‘Regular’ ticket (rather than the cheapest ‘Value’ option). This typically costs £20-£25 more per flight and secures you priority boarding, two items of cabin luggage (the classic 10kg carry-on bag plus a smaller item like a laptop bag), and seat selection. The majority of people (for reasons outlined below) now choose this option, which means the queue for priority boarding is often considerably longer than the queue for laggards. Which rather undermines the idea of priority boarding.
It is undermined yet further when the priority passengers and the laggards are ferried from the terminal to the aircraft on board the same bus, and then disgorged at the steps in one seething mass.
For non-priority customers, sneakiness may be required
Holders of ‘Value’ tickets have no privileges, and are expected to squeeze all their belongings into a bag no bigger than 40cm x 25cm x 20cm which “must be able to fit under the seat in front of you”. If your bag is deemed too big, it will be seized, banished to the hold, and you’ll be charged £25. These dimensions are tiny, and I’ve seen customers with offending items attempt to slyly slip away from approaching representatives, or else politely argue, usually in vain, that their hefty holdall will fit.
That said, enforcement is variable, and so long as your bag looks like it ought to fit under the seat, staff will normally wave you through. Wheelie bags are asking for trouble; small backpacks are a safer bet.
The other key issue for ‘Value’ passengers is the lack of seat selection. Instead, Ryanair will “randomly” assign you somewhere – usually a middle seat, 20 rows from your travelling companion. Cue more sneakiness, as you attempt to convince the old gent in 6D to play musical chairs with you.
You’ll still need to clutch all your possessions
One of the most curious – and unchanging – aspects of flying with Ryanair is the lack of seat-back pockets, meaning passengers must cling on to their novel, passport, iPad, or copy of The Telegraph, for the duration of the flight. After take-off, one can pop them on the tray table, or store them in a small bag beside their feet – but it’s not exactly convenient. We take the seat-back pocket for granted – you only miss it when it’s not there.
It’s all down to speedy turnarounds, says Ryanair. Having pockets gives the cabin crew something to check and clean, which takes up precious time. Another factor could well be weight. The heavier the plane, the more fuel it burns – and fuel is the single biggest cost for all airlines. Two square feet of soft material hardly tips the scales, but it all adds up. Ryanair, back in 2012, cut the size of its in-flight magazine, publishing it on A5 instead of A4 paper, a move it said would reduce its fuel bill by thousands of pounds.
It’s all online now – and its website has improved immeasurably
Ryanair was a relative latecomer to the world of mobile boarding. Who can forget the tale of Suzy McLeod, who received the backing of half a million Facebook users after the airline charged her €300 to print out five boarding passes before a flight from Alicante to Bristol, and was later labelled an “idiot” by Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s CEO? It harks back to an era when no holiday was complete without a mad dash around Antalya searching for a 24-hour internet cafe. Now, while printed boarding passes are still accepted, everything can be done via an app, which – from experience – usually works impeccably.
Furthermore, booking flights with Ryanair is no longer akin to having root canal treatment. Back in 2013 a Telegraph Travel study found it took 20 clicks of a mouse to reach the payment screen, with passengers forced to manually opt-out of offers for airport parking, a RyanairTalk mobile card, airport transfers, sightseeing tours, an official Ryanair cabin bag, and car hire. There was also an offer to play the now defunct “win your trip for free” game. Things since then have been streamlined significantly, as we reported last week.
The social media team appear to believe they’ve wandered onto the comedy stage
Far from solely devoting its time to solving passengers’ travel conundrums, Ryanair’s social media team has in recent years been focusing on the more important goal of attracting topical lols with what might be best described as ‘lads’ banter’. Indeed, the window of time allotted for passengers’ travel conundrums seems to be shrinking by the day.
My manager if I don't get another banger tweet soon https://t.co/spONGYKKpw
— Ryanair (@Ryanair) August 15, 2022
There’s a ‘window seat’ that’s nothing of the sort
Speaking of windows, if you’re the sort of flier who loves nothing more than a window seat, promising views of the Alps, or the island-studded Aegean, don’t book 11A. Your view for the duration of your flight will consist of a white plastic wall panel. Don’t get us wrong, it will be a very nice wall panel. Fire resistant. Clean and shiny. But a wall panel nonetheless. That’s because 11A, on every single Ryanair plane (it only flies one model, the Boeing 737-800), has no window. Nor do 11F and 12F, on the opposite side of the aircraft. They are window seats without the fundamental feature that makes them window seats.
How does Ryanair get away with it? Surely some sort of refund is in order? Apparently not. A seat is a seat, appears to be the airline’s philosophy. And, in fairness, those who do pay to choose their seat are warned. “This seat has no window,” says a small pop-up box when you hover over the offending chairs.
Bizarrely, Ryanair even tries to make a virtue of the window’s absence. Its website lists “Seven Seat Hacks You Need To Know Now”, including the following: “Red-eye warrior? Not a lot of people realise that seat 11A has no window, meaning it’s the perfect seat if you’re planning to catch up on some zzzs during a morning flight.”
Sunglasses are still required if you don’t want to be blinded by the yellow
The colour scheme on Ryanair’s planes has been muted over the years, but still seems to have been inspired exclusively by the football kit of the Brazilian national side. And in plumping for blue and yellow, Ryanair has, according to various studies, opted for the most and least popular colours in the world. A metaphor, perhaps, for the divisive character of the airline.
The on-time jingle has been canned
Remember that trumpeting sound, which rang out at the end of most Ryanair flights, heralding another on-time arrival, despite the fact you took off half an hour late? Critics would say that’s schedule padding for you, though Ryanair has always claimed it doesn’t engage in the practice of overstating journey times to meet punctuality targets. Yeah right. It’s all by-the-by, anyway, because that irritating jingle has been scrapped.
The whiff of paninis is rarer, as is the flogging of scratchcards
Perhaps it’s because they’ve already managed to convince most of their passengers to part with an extra £25 for a priority ticket and are laughing all the way to the bank, but in recent times we’ve noticed that Ryanair has eased up considerably on the in-flight salesmanship. Subsequently, the unmistakable smell of floppy cheese-and-ham paninis is rarer, and you can even read a whole chapter of your novel without a flight attendant attempting to flog you a scratchcard.
You still might end up a long way from your destination
You live in Bristol and you fancy a weekend in Barcelona? Good news: Ryanair can get you there. Well, part of the way; the airline will actually drop you off in Girona, 60 miles from the Catalan capital. You can find your own way from there, right?
British customers continue to pay more
Ryanair, uniquely, charges the same in pounds and euros for all extras, no matter what the official exchange rate is. This means, for example, that Britons must pay £25 to take an infant on board, while Europeans pay the equivalent of £21.04. How is that fair?
Surprisingly cheap flights can still be found
If you’re willing to squeeze all your clothes into an A4 folder, sit in a middle seat 22 yards from your wife and child, and board the plane last with the rest of the riff-raff, some staggeringly cheap flights still exist, with £14.99 tickets to Menorca, Perpignan, Barcelona and Limoges all up for grabs right now.
No airline can match it for price, and your flight will almost certainly not be cancelled. During a cost-of-living crisis, that’s all we really need from a national airline.