Flight: Ryanair FR 2436
From: London Stansted (STN) To: Krakow (KRK)
It had been nearly 10 years since I had last flown Ryanair, and after my most recent flight it might be 10 years before I fly with them again.
I had forgotten when exactly was the last time so I looked it up on my FlightMemory. It was a flight from Nador to Marseille in 2008. These were two cities I never would have thought to fly between, but that was the beauty of flying Ryanair for me. I needed an exit ticket from Morocco to somewhere in Europe. I hadn’t been to Marseille so that was a good way of discovering it.
I first flew with Ryanair when I was living in Ireland in 2002, and I used to fly with them often when I was spending more time in Europe. Even back then, Ryanair bashing was something of a sport among travellers, but I always defended them. “They’re a flying bus!” I would say, “and you know what you are getting when you buy a ticket.”
Not only would I happily choose them when presented with multiple options, but I used to go to their website to look for travel deals. Their website was really ugly in 2008, which made you feel like you were scrummaging through a bargain basement bin looking for a cheap flight.
They used to have these 1p plus tax sales, and one time I found a return trip from London to Aarhus for a penny plus tax each way. I didn’t even know where Aarhus was (it’s in Denmark) so these sales turned out to be a great way to randomly generate a European adventure.
I used to fly with them so much that according to my FlightMemory they still remain in my top 5 most flown airline, even though I haven’t flown them for a decade.
Flying with Ryanair in 2008 was a simpler experience. You paid for a checked bag and a carry-on was free, and there was no pressure to check in online before getting to the airport. Things have changed in the preceding ten years, and now here I am joining the chorus of Ryanair bashers.
I flew with Ryanair from London to Krakow. My eventual destination was Ostrava in Czech Republic, which is about three hours away by train. There is a direct London-Ostrava flight with Ryanair, but it wasn’t on the dates I needed and it was more expensive. I figured I would fly somewhere close by and see another city while I’m at it. I tried other cities in the Czech Republic, but the prices were far more expensive, so after comparing multiple flight options, Krakow was the best option for price and for being an interesting city I wanted to visit.
Ryanair fly out of four London airports – Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, and Southend (which I don’t count as London but they do). Stansted is Ryanair’s biggest base so this post is also a review of Stansted, as it’s part of the overall travel experience of flying with Ryanair from London.
With Ryanair being one of my most flown airlines, Stansted is also one of my most used airports. As you can see I used to spend a lot of time in London, with three airports in the top 10. After all these years I’m amazed that STN is still clinging to my top 10. I suspect another Southeast Asian airport will soon overtake it.
I don’t remember consciously deciding to stop flying Ryanair the last time I flew them, but I do recall the last time I arrived at Stansted that I said to myself to not to fly there anymore. That was in July 2010, so I’ve done well to have abstained for so long.
Half the problem with Stansted is how far out of London it is. According to Google Maps, Stansted is 65 km from London Victoria (the closest transport hub to where I was staying).
I booked a National Express bus ticket for 12 midday, giving myself plenty of time for delays. My hotel checkout was at 10am, so I didn’t want to wait around. The incoming bus was late so we didn’t leave Victoria Coach Station until 12.24, and it arrived at Stansted at 2.07, making it a 1h, 42m trip just to get to the airport. There is a train (Stansted Express) which takes 50 minutes, but that departs from Liverpool Street, so by the time you get there from West London you don’t really win much time.
When I arrived I saw a banner proclaiming that Stansted has welcomed 100,000,000 passengers in the last four years. 25,000,000 passengers a year is an enormous amount when you consider that this is the third biggest airport in London. There are plans to expand the airport to accommodate 43 million passengers a year.
Ahh Stansted, where you can check the weight of your bag for a pound.
I was there before my flight check in was open, so used this time to do some work. A young guy sat next to me in a bit of a panic as he didn’t check in online before arriving. He cracked open his laptop to try and get online to check in. It’s a £55 fee if you don’t check in first, and the check-in window is 48 hours to two hours prior to departure.
I had checked in online but I wasn’t confident about using a boarding pass on my phone. I had read that if you don’t have an EU passport you will still need to print a boarding pass. I found conflicting reports about this, so to be safe I printed a boarding pass. This is an extra pain as internet cafes are becoming increasingly rare. I found a place that charged a pound to print a page.
Once your flight check in is open you go to the main check in area. There is no separate queue for each flight.
I had a bag to check in so I went to the Self Bag Drop area.
There you weigh your bag and tag the bag yourself. You then need to go to another bag drop counter. It was here that my printed boarding pass was checked and stamped. This is required for non-EU passport holders as they are checking for visas if you need one. Here is a horror story of a boarding pass that wasn’t stamped.
Once I checked in and went through security (via the maze of duty free shops) I arrived at the airside departure lounge. Holy crap has this airport become crowded since I last used it. My gate wasn’t confirmed until an hour before the flight, so there was nowhere else to go except for this holding pen where everyone else is waiting for their gate number.
I couldn’t believe how cramped and dirty Stansted had become, or maybe I’ve been spoiled after spending so much time in Asian airports (hello Singapore!) Even Tan Son Nhat in Saigon, which is having its own capacity issues, is a pleasant airport to travel in and out of.
Once the gate was announced I went to wait to begin boarding. So far the flight was on schedule.
When my boarding pass was checked I was told my carry-on bag would be placed in the hold. I thought that as I already paid for a checked bag that a carry-on bag is included. I meekly protested but I didn’t want to be that guy who makes a scene and ends up as a news story in the Daily Mail. I took out my electronics in preparation to have by bag separated from me.
I’m still confused about this, but according to this article “the current rules allow passengers to take two bags through the security checkpoint to the departure gate. But only travellers who have paid for priority boarding can carry them onto the aircraft. Other passengers’ larger bags are tagged at the gate and placed in the hold.”
The rules will change again later this year, when you will have to pay a £6 priority boarding fee to bring your large carry-on with you onboard.
The flight departs London at 18:00, arriving in Krakow at 21:25 for a scheduled flight time of 2 h 25 m, though the actual flying time is under 2 hours. Todays flight pushed back 6.29 and departed at 6.38.
There are airbridges at Stansted, but Ryanair prefer boarding via the tarmac (because it probably saves them money).
I was surprised once the plane was loaded how much space was available in the overhead cabins. It took 45 minutes to get everyone onboard, so I don’t see how this system of removing bags is time saving.
Once I took my seat I noticed one of the cost-cutting measures that has been introduced since I last flew Ryanair, which is the removal of the seat-back pockets. This is annoying for two reasons. Firstly, as there is no place to put the safety information card the safety information is stuck onto the head of the seat in front of you. It just makes the whole cabin look ugly. And secondly, because seat-back pockets are actually useful. I had my laptop, kindle, and bottle of water with me, but nowhere to put them during the flight. I had the bottle of water between my legs, with laptop and Kindle alternating to my side.
This is a cost-cutting measure because with no pockets, there is no rubbish to be left behind, which then saves the cleaners time when cleaning the plane during the short turnaround.
There is a famous story in the aviation business that American Airlines worked out they could save $40,000 per year by removing one olive from each first class food tray. I think Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary got inspiration from this story. I imagine him dreaming up ways to save a tenth of a pence per passenger on each flight. He is known for coming up with outlandish ideas to try and save money. Some of his ideas are so outrageous that he is often accused of just looking for free press. While some of the ideas are ridiculous, they are probably trial balloons, and they might end up becoming reality.
One of the cost-cutting measures I do agree with was the removal of reclinable seats. I think for short haul flights it’s rude to recline, and especially when seats are configured in the low cost airline model (ie packed in tightly). By removing the reclinable seats it saves the airline on repairing broken seats.
With no seat-back pockets, there is no place for an inflight magazine, so that has been done away with as well. I suppose sick bags can be ordered upon request (just hope you can hold it in until it arrives).
The cabin crew walk through with a menu, so I took one to see what is on offer.
A mean deal (sandwich, drink, and crisps) is €10.
A coffee is €3.
And alcohol starts at €5 for a beer.
During the flight the crew were cheery and friendly so I couldn’t fault them there. And the other passengers didn’t seem to mind either. A group opposite me were knocking down those €6 bottles of mini spirits, and they were having a great time.
I was wondering if it was just me that was annoyed about the carryon bags and no seat pockets. Maybe if you fly Ryanair all the time you don’t notice these changes over time, like the metaphor of the frog in the boiling water.
So that was my flight with Ryanair. As I used to say about them, it’s a flying bus; a cheap way to get from A to B. If I absolutely had to get somewhere, and Ryanair was offering a flight €100 cheaper than the next flight, then of course I would take it.
What is galling about Ryanair is that their current slogan is Low Fares Made Simple, when a more accurate slogan would be Low Fares Made Complicated.
I can’t recall an airline I’ve flown recently that is so complicated, and I fly low cost airlines all the time. From the pressure of having to check in online, not knowing if I need a printed boarding pass, opaque carry-on rules, and no seat pockets.
In Asia I fly AirAsia, Jetstar, and VietJet on a regular basis, and they are simple to fly with. I don’t like these rules which are designed to trap passengers with fees who forget a part of the travel process. If Ryanair want to live by the “Low Fares Made Simple” slogan, just charge for a checked bag, and enforce the size and weight limits of the carry-on baggage.
It’s a shame it got so complicated as their new site is now much easier to find bargain flights using the cheap flights finder. 2008 James would have loved this feature, but in 2018 there is no “1 penny plus tax” fare that could entice me to fly Ryanair.
I don’t want to be that guy on his 234th flight with Ryanair who proclaims he’s never flying with them again. I might end up flying with Ryanair in another decade as my once-a-decade reminder to not fly Ryanair, but from now on I’m actively avoiding flying with them again. There are so many flights across Europe that I would just go somewhere else.