I am not a nervous flyer, so I was surprised to feel so anxious when boarding a plane in Barcelona last month. The flight itself did not concern me. In fact, my worries were not related to the aircraft at all. Instead, what had aggrieved me so acutely were my clothes. And not because they were aggravating my sunburnt skin, or because the airline had lost them and sent them to Eastern Nepal, or New Delhi or wherever it is that lost luggage is inevitably sent, but, simply, because I was wearing them. And I was wearing all of them. I was standing in the middle of the runway at Terminal 2 with temperatures approaching 35 degrees wearing four t-shirts, two trousers, multiple pairs of socks, shoes, and an anorak, the pockets of which had been crammed with yet more clothing, toiletries, and a book. I was wearing six and a half kilograms of my luggage- and I was seething.
It is with similar frustration that hundreds of people board Ryanair flights every day. Whether you have failed to print off your boarding pass, or your hand luggage has been too large to fit into that eternally shrinking measurement device, or simply because you have decided to pay for your tickets with a Mastercard, Ryanair always finds a way to extort and to frustrate.
In hind-sight, I feel I was too smug. Last month I had strolled into the airport with my blue and yellow boarding pass tucked primly into my pocket. I had wheeled my pre-measured hand luggage proudly up to the desk, and as the check-in girl (she was probably called Denise: most of them are), greeted me with her sickeningly false smile, so I reciprocated with all the fakery I could muster. All the while, her trained eyes scrutinized my baggage, my passport, and my boarding pass, scouring for one small fault on which she was desperate to pounce. “Yes, Denise. Yes, I have packed my own bag” I declared, gleefully. “Why yes, of course I have printed my boarding pass” I handed it over. She smiled, disappointed. Soon, though, I realised that in spite of my care to adhere to their most arbitrary of measures, I had forgotten their most basic: my hold bag was eight kilograms too heavy. Would Denise sympathise with my plight and let this one slide? Would she hell! “Oh no! What a shame”, she purred (God, I hated this woman) . She threatened me with a £130 charge – yes, Ryanair’s excess weight policy is an astounding charge of £20 per kilogram. In order to spite this woman, and to save me a small fortune, I put on every item of clothing I could. Eventually, covered head to toe, and yet stripped naked of my dignity, I still had to pay £40. Denise lapped it up. “Have a lovely flight”, she cooed. I hated her even more.
Now, I have no problem with entrepreneurs who make their money by charging their customers fairly for the provision of a decent service. However, Ryanair’s method of charging customers is not fair; it is abhorrent, and the service they provide is often worse still. Customers are herded onto aircraft, subject to arbitrary baggage checks that can see them charged forty Euros on the spot, and then blasted throughout their flight with lengthy advertisements that promote everything from the Ryanair Air Hostess Calendar, to the latest company attempt at a music single. Not content that his passengers have suffered enough, Ryanair CEO, Michael O’Leary has decided that all customers should be welcomed to their destination by the world’s most infuriating sound: the tinny cry of the Ryanair trumpet. It’s follow up message: that Ryanair is the least delayed airline in Europe is as spurious as many other of the company’s claims. In this particular instance, the airline deliberately schedule their flight times for longer than expected, so any short delays are not counted as such. It is one of many cheap tactics by Europe’s morally cheapest airline.
This week O’Leary has revealed plans to cut the number of toilets on all planes in order to install extra seats. On a flight that could last as long as four and a half hours, passengers, all two hundred of them, will be forced to share one single toilet. Why? Because, according to O’Leary, “We very rarely use all three toilets on board our aircraft”. Well, that’s all very well, but why is it so dreadful that some toilets remain temporarily unused? Need a toilet’s existence really depend upon its eternal engagement? In hospitals, when doctors find that they have spare beds, they do not see fit to destroy the ward they are kept in, just because they want to expand the staff car park. And it is not just the inconvenience that we should worry about. When, next year, passengers are queuing the length of the aisle, and a plane hits turbulence (and this is as mild a disturbance as there could be) then passenger’s safety will be jeopardised.
In fact, removing extra toilets in aircraft is the latest in a long line of proposals by O’Leary that have only money in mind. The initiative, he claims, will reduce the average ticket price by two pounds. But when the direct implication is the absence of toilet access, how can O’Leary have the gall to disguise this money making policy as an initiative that has the client in mind? The pretence of caring about the customer, and of O’Leary and his staff working as hard as they can to ensure that passengers are spared of any extra cost is so infuriating. Publically, O’Leary is offering his customers the smallest of savings, whilst behind their backs, his minions are busy devising ever more underhand schemes to pickpocket us at every opportunity.
Many refuse to use Ryanair out of principle. So uncomfortable is the whole experience; from purchasing the tickets, to praying that bags are the right size and weight; from the incessant regurgitation of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusic prior to take off, to the patronising trumpets that signal the journey’s painful end, that some choose to ignore the company altogether. It is admirable, but there is one issue. Ryanair’s base rate prices are the cheapest around and however abhorrent people find O’Leary and his schemes, a ten pound trip to the south of France is difficult even for the most strong willed of us to turn down. Thousands are teased each year into flying with Ryanair, thinking they can escape the charges, perhaps unaware they even exist. Of these, many will soon find themselves on the runway, in their jumpers and anoraks, cursing their choice, and promising they will never fly with Ryanair again. But they will do. The prices ensure that. And O’Leary will welcome them with open arms, as he reaches into their pockets once more.