Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Cheapo Flying

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I am fascinated with flying and I like going places (unless I’m wearing my eco-warrior hat, in which case I strongly advocate not even walking). And all these new ‘low-fares’ airlines really opened up new possibilities as I noted a while ago. Both by the style they use and by the flexibility you get. And, if you’re lucky, even in price.

When going with Ryanair, who now conveniently serve Bremen rather than just far-away airports, I keep having the impression that they deliberately want to look and sound a bit trashy just to remind you all the time that they are cheap. If the materials look cheap and the colours are horrific then it must have been a good price, right? Just looking at the way they do (or rather don’t) decorate their departure halls and their planes, suggests that getting something nicer looking would have just required some asking for it. Getting things that ugly might just be more expensive than doing them conventionally. But then the whole ‘spirit’ would be gone, I suppose.

And while their initial fares are quite good, they are approaching creepy oblivion step by step. Naturally, some hefty airport fees (say, just under €20 for Bremen to Stansted and just over €30 for Stansted to Bremen) will be added to the fare once you have selected your flights. And most of the times you will also be charged an extra fee for paying by credit card. And that charge won’t just be added once for the whole transaction but rather for each of the ‘tickets’. (I used to be able to evade that particular charge for flights booked from the UK by paying with my UK Switch card, but I’m not sure whether that is still true. It’s also a mysterious secret why only flights starting in the UK cand be paid in that way.)

But that’s far from it, they also started charging you for each piece of luggage you check in which apparently is cheaper when done while booking than it would be at check-in time (makes me wonder whether they just rent out the rest of the baggage hold to other people), they introduced ‘priority boarding’ as an additional chargeable feature, and they try to peddle some travel insurance while you’re at it. This makes booking a ticket a bit of a minefield as you really have to read all the fields and make sure that no extra unwanted charges are caused by their default values.

The next ‘improvement’ to Ryanair’s service, btw, will be that they’ll charge you for check-in at the terminal. Or, as their press release puts it, they’ll start doing free online check in for all flights. It remains to be seen whether that check in charge will be part of the luggage charge. But I somehow doubt that and things will just add up and add up.

The next thing of course is the on board experience. You cannot recline seats and there are no magazine pockets. I find that acceptable for short flights. And not having the magazine pocket means seats can be closer together (or a centimetre of extra space for my legs, depending on whether or not you’re an optimist).

Without the magazine pocket they needed a new place for the safety instructions which they just stick on the back of the seat in front of you. Very efficient, I have to admit. Both at keeping you informed and at keeping the possibility of a crash fresh in your mind (not a problem for me, but I can see people not appreciating that).

It appears that the typeface used for those safety instructions is proper Helvetica (wouldn’t Arial have been another nice and subtle way to communicate cheapness?), although I wonder whether it really is the best thing to read in an emergency. But then again, I wonder whether the somewhat artificially rough dot-screen style they use for their printing and the many raster points on the instructions (rather than using exactly matching colours) help readability. To me they just make these presumably vital instructions harder to decipher.

Ryanair Boeing 737-800 Safety Information

So that is quite amusing. And with a whole flight’s time to look at it, you’ll be delighted to see that they actually are honest about how close the seats in front of you will be to you and that bending down to your knees for a ‘brace’ position will not be possible. You’ll also be amused that you’re asked to remove earrings, dentures and glasses in the case of an emergency landing. That will give a few funny scenes when the old ladies can’t leave the plane after they removed their dentures because the guy in front of them can’t find the way out without his glasses. Fun!

Another thing I found somewhat questionable is the way in which they used pre-recorded safety announcements. It appears that the newer 737 planes have their life-vests above your seat rather than beneath it. The plane and also the safety information in front of you is labelled that way. But the recording, which is probably the same on all their planes contained sentences telling you that the life vest is either beneath your seat or above you and asking you to find out where it is (before telling you that it’s forbidden to remove any of them and it’s a criminal offence to do so). If that information is vital – as decades of playing those messages to people suggest – it shouldn’t be full of conditionals. There should be a straightforward message that suits the plane it is played in.

Another thing I noticed was this:

Ryanair 737 Emergency Exit plan

Look at the over wing emergency exits indicated on the plan. Going by that, how far do you think they’re apart? and is that the same as this:

Photo of the distance between the two emergency exits

If graphics are important, they should communicate their message clearly. And I do miss that clarity in these graphics.

September 22, 2007, 0:12

Tagged as arial, helvetica, travel.


Comment by Dave2: User icon

I rather like RyanAir, but out of Germany I usually fly GermanWings because they are based in Cologne (which is usually where I end up). GermanWings, while being a discount flyer, has quickly become one of my favorite airlines to fly. They just seem to try harder. Of course now-a-days ALL airlines are pretty much discount flyers, so they’re competition isn’t that difficult. :-)

September 22, 2007, 4:24

Comment by Simone Manganelli: User icon

Ugh. RyanAir.

We tried using that while I was in Europe last time. Huge mistake. It was sooo inconvenient, and due to things you’ve noted here (e.g.: charging exhorbitant amounts for luggage over some ridiculously low limit, other fees) it so wasn’t worth it.

I suspect that our mistake was in assuming that RyanAir would be as good for international travelers as it would be for local Europeans. Coming from the U.S., we had really heavy luggage and not flying in to the major airports was a major pain in the ass. Those two things just made RyanAir really inconvenient and crappy, and we didn’t end up saving much (if any) money.

The most amusing thing about RyanAir, however, is that their vomiting bags double as depositories for film that can be dropped off and the film will then be processed. Imagine if one did not realize that these actions were mutually exclusive? :)

September 22, 2007, 9:39

Comment by ssp: User icon

@Dave2: These Cheapo airlines definitely changed the market and made flights of their competitors both more affordable and more flexible. That’s great for travellers and bad for the environment, I suppose. So I find it hard to decide whether that’s a good thing or not.

@ Simone: I can see that Ryanair are not really useful for this kind of travel. Particularly if people use them for the first time and blindly assume that the city name given implies that city’s main airport (which it does for Bremen but blatanly doesn’t for many others such as Frankfurt Hahn which is almost in Luxemburg and rather far from Frankfurt). You need to be aware of this problem and its impact on the price and duration of your travel before you book your ticket. And obviously Ryanair don’t make a big effort to point things out to me. I do think, however, that they got told off for some of their more deceiving airport names and they were forced to add proper specification to the names (ie Frankfurt (Hahn) rather than just Frankfurt or Hamburg (Lübeck) rather then Hamburg). Then again, a few other names seem quite absurd but can actually be considered helpful and don’t imply too drastic distances (eg calling an airport Bratislava (Vienna))

The luggage limit probably hits you particularly hard as flying on American routes seems to mean that you are allowed to take huge amounts of luggage to begin with. As far as I can tell the standard amount of luggage pretty much anywhere else (in cattle class) is 20kg. And then Ryanair just giving you 15kg doesn’t make that much of a difference.

I don’t think they do the film developing thing anymore. You don’t have puking bags either as there is no magazine net… I can’t remember having seen anybody puke on a plane in all my life (with the exception of a little baby sitting next to me but that one was too small for such a bag anyway).

September 23, 2007, 0:43

Comment by Simone Manganelli: User icon

I can see that Ryanair are not really useful for this kind of travel. Particularly if people use them for the first time and blindly assume that the city name given implies that city’s main airport (which it does for Bremen but blatanly doesn’t for many others such as Frankfurt Hahn which is almost in Luxemburg and rather far from Frankfurt).

Well, we did know that RyanAir only flew to the lesser-used airports, and we did factor that into the cost. We just didn’t think about how annoying it would be to have to wait for the bus to bring us to the downtown area of the major city, and what would happen if the plane was late, or if the bus was full, etc.

I don’t think they do the film developing thing anymore.

Huh. This was just last year that I encountered those. I actually took one just for fun — I was gonna take a picture and post about it. :P

September 23, 2007, 7:31

Comment by David Bridge-Collyns: User icon

Hi there,

I would just like to add to this fantastic article that my friends and I found the Ryanair safety card extremely amusing. Instead of “putting the hat on” of a normal consumer, we imagined that someone had guffed and what one should do in such an emergency. You basically have three main options:

  1. Bury your face in your hands
  2. Duck below the haze and crawl
  3. Leave the aircraft mid-flight

Thanks for bringing back so many great memories.


November 19, 2008, 23:41

Comment by amy hardwick: User icon

ryanair provide a fair and good service. very low fares and even if you do pay extra for a bag, you still pay less than other airlines eg.BA

March 17, 2009, 0:40

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