We just got back from a few days visiting friends in Stockholm, which was also our first experience with RyanAir.
Photo by Mikelo on Flickr
We’ve flown other discount carriers before, but RyanAir is often held up as the example of how much discount carriers can nickel-and-dime travellers, and exactly how deep the race to the bottom has gone.
RyanAir is known for being exceedingly tight-fisted across the aviation industry. We were chatting with a check-in agent on a different trip about our (heavy) luggage and he dropped into the conversation that “hey, we’re not RyanAir here, our parents are married.”
So to say I was a bit nervous about how we’d fare on this trip was an understatement.
Turns out that if you channel that nervous energy into checking and re-checking the conditions of carriage, and have exactly no expectations about any standard of service, you might just be pleasantly surprised!
There are a few things you need to know about how RyanAir operates that are likely a bit different from some other airlines. These can be especially frustrating for frequent travellers, who are used to their routines and like to arrive as late as possible to spend as little time waiting around as you can (I am totally one of those people). So your first tip is to arrive early. No seriously, I mean it.
RyanAir closes their bag-drop, passport-verification and check-in desks 40 minutes before flight times. They make this fact well-known. But they don’t tell you they also have a skeleton staff checking people in for flights (fewer employees means lower fares!), so if you need to get to the desk before your flight, you should count on an additional 30 minutes (at least) of line-up time. And unless you are an EU citizen, checking no bags, you need to visit one of those desks. We definitely needed the line-up, since Isaac and I had to have our passports verified, and we had to get a luggage tag for our gate-checked stroller (the one and only (and appreciated!) freebie) as well as check-in the travel cot we’d paid for.
And here’s where I give you tip the second about traveling with an infant on RyanAir: check a travel cot. Cabin baggage restrictions are stringent (one piece only, max 55cm x 40cm x 20cm and 10kg). Any personal items (laptop, camera, handbag) must fit inside that one piece. Infants get no cabin baggage allowance, and it’s expensive to purchase checked baggage (£25-£40 per direction).
But! If you are traveling with an infant you can purchase a checked travel cot for £10 each direction, and it can be up to 20kg. We managed to roll Isaac’s fleecy blanket, some jeans and sweaters of our own, and a bunch of diapers up inside the thing while it was all folded down and bagged up to squeeze those few extra items onto the flight.
Photo by bigpresh on Flickr
Boarding is also a special experience.
Like other discount carriers, RyanAir employs a “general admission” process. Queue up, and pick a seat once you’re on board. There is no special treatment for those traveling with babies. If that happens to be you, here’s tip the third: pay for priority boarding. The cost is negligible (usually about £5 per direction), but it puts you up a the front when it comes time to board.
When going with a tiny human, you’ll find the extra cost totally worth it as you can store your cabin baggage nearby and find a block of seats with your party (the last to board generally end up split up over an assortment of single seats). You can pay £20 for reserved seats, but the priority boarding is really totally adequate.
So! You’re on the plane, adjusting to the bright yellow and assortment of public-transit-esque ads, and ready to go! Just make sure that if you have timed your flight so your tiny-human might sleep, you employ the fourth tip: have a setup prepared to block out some noise and sound for your baby.
Another way RyanAir keeps fares low is to plaster the inside of their planes with ads, and bombard you with offers to purchase things (duty free! snacks! drinks! smokeless cigarettes! lottery scratch cards! more snacks!) for the duration of your few hours with them. There is literally an effort to part you with your money every 20 minutes during the cruising time of the flight.
Photo by JayFreshUK on Flickr.
It’s not a hard sell, just a constant barrage of offers. They’re fairly easy to tune out as an adult, but not conducive to sleep for babies who are startled and/or bothered by a constant stream of announcements and carts up and down the aisles. It also means they never turn down the cabin lights while cruising. If your kid depends on some dark and/or quiet, it’s worth getting some earmuffs and/or jury-rigging some sort of tent-ish thing during the flight to try and insulate them a bit.
It also helps for those times a couple cretins and their brood of hellions who like to throw toys at each other over the seats and rile each other up into a vibrating, shrieking frenzy end up sitting a couple rows away. Not that I’d know what that’s like or anything. At least it makes your baby seem extra angelic in comparison.
Other than that, it’s hard to argue with jetting across the continent for less than it costs us to take ourselves and our car on a BC Ferries return trip from Vancouver to Nanaimo. Or less than a fancy dinner. It cost us more to park our car at the airport than one of our tickets.
Everyone loves to complain about the horrors of flying discount airlines, but it’s a compromise. And as long as you’re prepared, it’s really not much different than flying with an infant on any other carrier. Be ready to deal with longer lines, comply with the baggage restrictions, and employ a shred of the manners your mama taught you about living in polite society, and both your wanderlust and your wallet will thank you.