Would you fly Ryanair?
Eight years ago, I boarded my last flight with Ryanair… and vowed I would never use the airline again. It seemed that every time I flew with them, it was filled with hassle and a sense they really couldn’t care less about their passengers.
From the petty incidents at check-in, such as the decision that because I was carrying a hat and newspaper which wouldn’t fit in hand luggage, I’d need to pay a hefty additional baggage fee (I wore the hat and threw the newspaper away), to those onboard, including cabin crew trying to fob me off with scratchcards instead of my change, finally short-changing me just before landing after repeated requests.
Or the error over booked hold luggage on my last flight, which saw me shuttled from one long fraught queue to another, insisting once more that there were extra fees to pay (when I wasn’t being ignored). As a trip booked for work, I had had no choice of airline – but I vowed that if it were my decision, I wouldn’t fly with them again. And for eight years, I haven’t. Until this half-term.
I’ve flown with other low-cost airlines, including easyJet and Wizz, I’ve stuck within tiny luggage restrictions and brought my own food: I don’t expect to be pampered on board these days. But still, my heart sank slightly, when I realised that the only direct option to get us all to Tallinn on the dates we wanted, was Ryanair – and Stansted airport (not my favourite either).
To ease us in gently and avoid a hideously early start (although a 6.45am flight is never going to mean a good night’s sleep), I arranged to stay overnight at the Radisson Blu Stansted, where our suite, lovely meal and lots of luxury touches started the holiday nicely.
But eventually, we had to check out, wander the couple of minutes into the terminal and check in.
If you saw my Twitter from Sunday morning, you’ll know things didn’t altogether go smoothly.
In fact, the first alarm bell had run when Ryanair changed their policy so you were only allowed hand luggage if you’d bought a specific fare – or paid extra. Happily, we had. But I don’t like buying a ticket and knowing that the goalposts could be moved at any point, so you no longer get what you had expected to.
Stansted itself was busy but Ryanair staff were generally helpful, polite and smily. I wouldn’t rank it as my favourite airport experience but so far, so good.
We made it to the gate with minutes to spare… having turned up two hours in advance and only paused to buy a coffee and sandwich. This is not an airport where you can cut it fine if you want to be certain of boarding.
A joke and chat from the cabin crew as we boarded and we were in our seats. At which point, the captain made an announcement that there was no fuel to be had at the airport and no word on when there would be – and that we should expect a long delay.
As it later turned out, a lightning strike from the previous night’s dramatic storm had knocked out the system, engineers had been struggling to restore the hydraulic pumps and in the meantime, we were dependent on fuel trucks refuelling each plane individually.
No-one was going anywhere. Before long, no-one was landing either. But it wasn’t only Ryanair affected – BA, easyJet, Thomas Cook, Jet2 and who knows who else were grounded. And if Ryanair didn’t exactly go above and beyond (selling soft drinks, but no free water or invitations for kids to visit the cockpit as a similar stranded Jet2 plane offered), they kept us updated.
Three hours late, we finally took off and flew smoothly on our way to Tallinn. Being fair, there was absolutely nothing Ryanair could have done about the utterly improbable lightning strike and subsequent fuel issues (although the utter lack of information from Stansted didn’t make me want to fly out of there again any time soon).
Except. It turns out that we were among the lucky ones (and I promise, it didn’t feel like that after three hours waiting on a hot plane). Because once the delays started to build up, flights started to be cancelled.
Arguably, Ryanair could do little else – each day has a finite schedule and with so many delays, there comes a point that it’s not possible to get all those planes into the air.
The problem is what happens next. Because with friends whose flights were cancelled and had to be rebooked, I know that Ryanair didn’t bend over backwards to help, families which had paid to be together were split up across a plane (including a six-year-old seated alone).
Problems happen. Everyday ones like French traffic controllers striking and weird freakish issues like destructive lightning bolts – or ash clouds, or messed up pilot rotas or who knows what else – happen. It’s easy to be good (or fine, or tolerable because you’re cheap) when things are running smoothly.
It’s how you react to the problems which shows how good an airline is – even when those problems are not of your own making. Personally, we had a friendly, professional crew who did their best to keep us updated in a trying situation. I suspect that had our flight been a little later, that experience could have been very different.
It’s been over eight years since I last flew Ryanair, or flew from Stansted. Our return flight with BA back to Heathrow is pricier and pretty much no-frills too. So when I’m booking again, have Ryanair won me over? Maybe it’s unfair – but I’m not convinced.
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