When people think of flying Ryanair it seems to conjure up images of despair and misery, along with endless delays and flight cancellations. Surprisingly, Ryanair claims to have an on-time rating of 92%, although other sources are skeptical of this.
Most people that know me will consider me somewhat of a travel snob, and I am not afraid to admit that I do spend exorbitant amounts of money to make the most out of my travel experiences (such as flying the Emirates A380 in first class), especially when it comes to air travel. It came as somewhat of a surprise to my friends and work colleagues when I announced that I had booked my first Ryanair flight. To make one thing clear, I did end up booking a “Business Plus” fare; after all, I had to satisfy the inner snob in me even when traveling on the world’s most infamous low-cost carrier.
Ryanair’s Business Plus fare is a relatively new product for the airline. It is a direct result of brand development to suit business travelers, and includes the additional premium perks (by Ryanair standards) of checked luggage, seat selection (extra legroom and exit rows seats included), as well as priority security screening and boarding. And it doesn’t stop there; Ryanair recently announced their intention to offer connecting flights (currently, they are solely a point-to-point carrier), as well as the rumored upcoming launch of a frequent flyer program.
The reason I had come to book my Ryanair flight was simple: convenience. I had to get from Gdansk, in northern Poland, to Krakow in the south, and the best option was to fly. I was able to get a single one-way Business Plus ticket for about €20 when I booked a little over a month before flying – a bargain considering the taxi to the airport cost more. The standard truly “no-frills” ticket would’ve cost about €5. This is a great deal for a one-hour flight.
As most people who have flown Ryanair will tell you, make sure you check-in online and print your boarding pass at home to avoid the airport check-in fee (sometimes in excess of €100). One of the perks of the Business Plus fare was that it included airport check-in. Even so, when I arrived at the check-in desk, the agent had to check my reservation to make sure I really was entitled to free airport check-in.
The agent also informed me I was entitled to use the fast-track lane at security. Unfortunately, when I get to the screening point, the fast-track lane was already closed for the night. Given that it was the evening rush, this meant a wait of about 10 minutes in the main line (which probably sounds lovely to Americans right now). Not a big deal, but it would’ve been nice to have the fast-track.
Boarding for the flight commenced even before the aircraft had reached the parking stand from its inbound flight. Having priority boarding meant that I passed through the gate and into a “holding pen” and, after about 10 minutes, the doors opened and we were allowed to board the aircraft. Despite Ryanair having introduced allocated seating, there was still a classic “mad rush” to be the first to board. For boarding via the front door, Ryanair uses the aircraft’s built-in “airstairs” — this is another smart initiative to minimize costs and ground turnaround times.
Our flight had 154 passengers out of a possible 189, so a pretty good load for a Friday night flight within Poland! Despite the decent load, boarding was completed a full 15 minutes before scheduled departure! We pushed back from the gate some 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Who says 25-minute turnarounds on a 737 are impossible?
Another perk of the Business Plus fare is that exit row seat selection is included in the price. Being the travel snob that I am, I selected 1A. I was fortunate enough to have the whole row to myself, and unlike some airlines, there is no bulkhead at row 1 so the legroom is quite generous.
Shortly after departure, the in-flight (buy-on-board) service commenced. As I found out from the very friendly crew, Ryanair caters their aircraft only prior to the first flight of the day, as there simply is not enough time to cater them during the 25-minute turnarounds. This means that on late night flights such as mine, the selection of food and beverage is extremely limited. I was looking forward to trying their infamous French fries, but unfortunately it was not to be, so I settled for a rather stale ham & cheese panini. There was not even any beer left to wash it down. For an airline like Ryanair, where the bottom line is influenced so much by ancillary revenues such as those from in-flight sales, I find it very surprising that they are not able to re-stock the aircraft at least once during the day. All it would take would be to extend one turnaround from 25 to 45 minutes. Surely this move would bring in more revenue at the expense of a further 20 minutes on the ground?
Soon enough it was time to land in Krakow. Following a quick taxi to the gate, we deplaned and walked maybe some 50 meters into the terminal. On a side note, I am a huge fan of the design of Polish airport terminals, they are all very modern and exude a bright and airy feel; if only all airports were like this.
Ryanair got me from A-to-B (on-time) without any frills and for a very competitive price. Despite some minor issues such as the lack of fast-track on departure and the limited catering offering on-board, it is a great way to fly if you are on a budget and do not care for the little perks that the more traditional full-service airlines offer. I think the experience is best summed up as “you get what you pay for, nothing more, nothing less”. I would not hesitate to fly them again in the future, but the price would have to be very competitive over any other options.
And no, you do not have to pay to use the lavatory on-board — well, for now at least….