I Tried Ryanair for the First Time. Here's What I Found.
During my recent trip to Europe, I wanted to make my budget go as far as possible. When it comes to European low-cost airlines, there is no bigger beast than Ryanair. I knew I had to try the infamous airline and see what they had to offer.
Ryanair is a massive airline that holds a special spot in the world of air travel. It’s the world’s largest airline when it comes to the number of routes, the third largest airline in terms of passengers carried, and the sixth largest airline when looking at fleet size. From rock-bottom fares to seats with no recline to proposals for standing tickets, the airline is well-known around the world for many reasons — both good and bad.
The airline is possibly the budget carrier of all budget carriers, going above and beyond to minimize costs and offer low fares. With my £30 ($35 USD) round-trip ticket in hand, I set off for my flights between London Gatwick and Dublin. Here’s what I found on the world’s largest low-cost carrier.
They Will Charge You for Everything but Weren’t That Strict at the Airport
The business model of a low-cost carrier generally involves low base fares and fees for any add-ons, and Ryanair is no exception. During the booking process, the airline first allows you to upgrade your fare to include things like an overhead bag or seat selection.
I went with the cheapest option since I only had a small backpack. The website asked me if I was sure that I didn’t want to upgrade my fare. Once I declined that offer, it immediately tried to sell me a cheaper package that included just an overhead bag and priority boarding. The cost of this option would have nearly doubled the price of my ticket. While this sounds absurd on the surface, the reality is that I still would have paid less than I would have for a ticket on a full-service carrier.
I ended up paying a few extra pounds for seat selection, but only because I’m an air travel nerd and am willing to pay extra for a window seat.
The experience doesn’t end at the online booking process though. Trying to make a reservation at the airport counter? There’s a fee for that. Didn’t check in online and want to check in at the airport counter? Ryanair will charge you for that too. Want a printed boarding pass? No problem, but you will have to open your wallet. Remember, this is the airline where the CEO once proposed standing tickets and coin-operated lavatories.
Interestingly, I didn’t see Ryanair employees being particularly stingy with carry-on bags at the airport. Despite my flights being mostly full, I didn’t see anyone being forced to check a bag or being asked to put their bag in the carry-on sizer. There was a strict warning during booking that if my bag was too big, I could have to pay up to £70 ($85 USD) at the airport but I didn’t see any baggage enforcement being done. With only one or two employees working at the gate, perhaps the staff didn’t have enough time to inspect bags and charge fees. Or perhaps the airline’s fees and reputation are enough to ensure that overhead bin space won’t be a problem, even if a few bags are too big to go under the seat.
And Then They Will Upsell You at Every Turn but the Prices Are Reasonable
Not only will Ryanair charge you for everything beyond your seat, but they will try to squeeze every last dollar, pound or Euro out of you. When booking, they offer typical add-ons that you can find with many airlines: priority security access, travel insurance and credit for onboard purchases.
But then there was more. Need a rental car? Ryanair will try to sell it to you. Airport parking or airport ground transportation? Ryanair has got you covered.
On board, there is no free service provided — you even have to pay for water. But Ryanair makes it very clear that they have a lot of snacks, drinks and other goodies for sale. When flying to Ireland, Ryanair famously also sells scratch cards and I witnessed this firsthand.
Despite constantly trying to upsell me, I found that Ryanair offered pretty standard prices for these items, truly offering an unbundled air travel experience. Yes, it was a few pounds for any sort of drink, but it wasn’t any more expensive than what you would find at an airport or with another budget airline.
The Seat Is Bare Bones but It’s All You Really Need
Ryanair’s seats are very simple. They don’t have much padding or legroom and they don’t recline. They’re not particularly comfortable but most of Ryanair’s flights are fairly short and I found the seat perfectly fine for our hour-long trips. That said, I don’t envy the passengers who take Ryanair’s longer routes and are stuck in them for four or five hours. Needless to say, there’s no business class on Ryanair but you can pay more for seats with extra legroom.
The airline also doesn’t have seat pockets. So where do they put the legally required safety card? The safety instructions are in right front of your face on the back of the seat in front of you. While there aren’t any seatback pockets on board, each seat has a tray table so that passengers can enjoy their buy-on-board purchases.
They Run an Impressively Efficient Operation
It is well-known in the airline industry that planes don’t make money when they are sitting on the ground and Ryanair seems to have a good grasp on this principle. The airline uses doors at both the front and rear of the plane for boarding and disembarking, doubling the flow of passengers. Boarding begins mere minutes after all passengers from the previous flight have gotten off the aircraft.
Not only does the airline double the boarding and deplaning speed by using both doors, it also rarely uses jetways. Instead, Ryanair has built-in stairs under the front door that mechanically deploy and retract. At the back of the plane, passengers use a set of airstairs. Airports charge airlines fees for using jetways and portable airstairs, so Ryanair saves both time and money by only having to use one set of portable airstairs for each flight.
Ryanair is known for being a no-frills budget airline and it certainly lives up to this reputation. The experience was largely what I expected: low fares, extra fees for everything and bare-bones seats. On top of that, I was impressed by the efficiency of the operation and the creativity of the airline when it comes to revenue generation. If I’m ever back in Europe and looking for a cheap way to get around, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly with Ryanair again.