Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Lyin'air

On Tuesday I woke up at 4 to catch a Ryanair flight to Turin, Italy for a family holiday. Why travel so early? Not our choice, of course. The only flight to Turin on most days is first thing in the morning. Almost all flights at ridiculous times are Ryanair’s because they're the cheapest for Ryanair to buy - you have to pay the airport/service provider less to run a flight at that time - and therefore Ryanair (to keep costs down) get them.

I’d had a wonderful day on Monday but, as I tweeted, there was nothing that could have reminded me of the stresses and harsh realities of life better than a Ryanair flight ‘experience’. Queuing for hours before the sun has risen is bad enough when you don’t have staff running up and down every two minutes shouting at the top of their voices ‘Any more for...’ (various place names, every other one pronounced incorrectly). Bergamo (real pronunciation ‘bearrgamo’) as ‘burrgumough’ or Parma as 'parrmuh'.

Once we got to the front of the check-in queue, we were told to transfer luggage from one suitcase to another because we’d ‘gone over’ the 15kg per suitcase limit. One of the two cases we checked in weighed 17kg, the other 11kg. You don’t need a maths degree to know that this adds up to less than 30kg. Surely if common sense prevailed they’d see that we were carrying less than people who’d put 15kg in each of their two cases. Common sense is not something Ryanair staff appear to possess, however. I wish it was because the woman at the check-in desk had OCD that she'd made sure our suitcases were both under the limit even if they added up to less than those of passengers who'd made both 15kg - that would be understandable - but no: it’s because she was rigidly sticking to rules of a company hoping to make any extra pennies it can from customers in a hurry and/or with deeper wallets than our own who would rather pay extra money than open their suitcases in front of hundreds of queuing people. This is the same airline that sells ‘priority boarding’ even when buses are needed to transport passengers to the aeroplane. First on the bus is normally last off, and I’m pleased we’ve at least never wasted money on that.

Most Ryanair staff are probably nice people away from work. It’s just that the ridiculous rules they enforce (and are no doubt disciplined if they don’t) make them all come across so, so badly. I’m not being cynical when I talk about a high level of discipline. When you heard about BA staff deciding whether to strike or not, you didn’t hear anything about Ryanair. Why is that? Were they all so happy they didn’t want to strike? No, it’s that they would have been out of a job if they had taken strike action – it’s strictly forbidden by Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary – and with unemployment being so high, they couldn’t afford to lose their jobs at this moment in time.

At times it almost seems that they’re purposefully trying to be rude and unhelpful. I heard one staff member snap ‘I can read, you know!’ at a man who merely tried to show her his booking details. Maybe this is in part because they’ve been told ‘it’s ok’ to be unhelpful and unfriendly to customers as long as you’re trying to get more money off them and partly because the workers’ rights are so lacking (or nonexistent) in the notoriously anti-union airline.

Once you’ve finally boarded you can surely just go to sleep on the plane and forget about your nightmarish start to the day, can’t you? Only if you can get to sleep with the loud adverts they repeatedly play during the flight. If you do manage to sleep, you’ll be awoken by the fanfare they play when you land, claiming ‘you’ve arrived on yet another on time Ryanair flight’ and that ‘Ryanair is the airline with the best punctuality record’.

Let me dispel another myth: this is simply untrue. What Ryanair do is claim routes take longer than they actually do to fly. This gives them an extra 15 to 20 minutes to ensure they arrive ‘on time’. When they’re ‘early’, they’ve normally arrived in the time it actually takes to fly a route. When they’re ‘on time’, it’s often because they’ve given themselves an extra 15-20 minutes to get there in. It is because of this that they’re so often ‘on time’: because being 15-20 minutes later than what they could fly it in for them counts as being punctual, while other airlines would classify it as being late. For a flight to Seville, for example, BA say it takes 2 hours, 20 minutes (and so give themselves that long to arrive if they want to be ‘on time’) while Ryanair claim it takes 2 hours, 40 minutes so can afford to be 20 minutes late and still say they were ‘on time’.

‘If you hate them so much, why do you travel with them?’, you may ask. Doesn’t that make me a hypocrite? I’d argue no, of course. We sadly don’t have any other option but to travel with Ryanair if we want to be able to afford our yearly holiday to Italy to visit my grandma and other relatives. They’re not always the cheapest, mind. Last summer we found less expensive London-Turin flights with BA, and I haven’t even mentioned Ryanair’s many hidden costs. They are the least expensive more often than not, though. Yet until they show an inch of customer care, people like myself will be doing everything possible to avoid passing any more time ‘under the care of’ Ryanair staff. Why am I blogging about it rather than complaining to the airline? Because blogging's free and Ryanair are the only major airline to have nothing but premium-rate phone numbers, of course.

What does the future hold for Ryanair? O’Leary recently expressed an interest in making people pay to use the toilet on board or even reducing the number of toilets on Ryanair planes to a single one to make room for more seats. He’s also spoken about having standing places on planes! He claims the on toilet idea would be ‘to further lower prices for customers’. I see where he's coming from, but why should journeys for the customers with no option but to use Ryanair, when flying become even more uncomfortable? He knows most customers are in the same boat so feels he can do whatever he want even if it means making journeys even less enjoyable. Ryanair has a monopoly on over 20% of its routes anyway - so passengers have literally no option but to use them if they fly there.

I didn’t even spot a forced smile on the face of the flight attendant as I left the plane this time. The company’s profits were down last month. Maybe the end isn’t far away for O’Leary’s company. Wishful thinking, I fear.

2 comments:

  1. The bit about Ryanair's maths ineptitude did make me chuckle... As well as understanding your frustration of course ;). Thanks for reminding me of something good about not having had a holiday this year.

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  2. Yeah, it was even worse on the way back. A staff member came over to make sure our hand luggage wasn't too big, and we frantically transferred stuff to make sure it fit in the measurer she'd brought over, theatrically cheering when it did. She didn't like our sarcasm, though, and said to us after we made them fit 'Fine, but you'll pay when you get to the counter'. Luckily she either forgot or just went AWOL: she wasn't there when we got to the counter so we didn't have to pay extra. Thank God...
    You're welcome.

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