I Flew RyanAir, and I Almost Liked It

What it’s really like to fly on a €10 flight from Ireland.

After typing in dates for a flight from Shannon – Ireland’s west coast airport – to London, my computer search churned out an insanely broad range of flight options. Several came in at around €130 ($140), loads more were over €200 ($217), and more than half the results came in at over €2,000 ($2,178).

The offer that garnered my attention came from RyanAir. They presented a round-trip ticket for €20 from Shannon (SNN) to London-Stansted (STN). This rock-bottom price was not a hoax; Ireland-based RyanAir built its reputation on low-cost flights within Europe and became the continent’s largest airline.

To offer such low fares, RyanAir has been willing to try anything to keep costs down and profits up. Many of the measures they introduced years ago are now commonplace in the industry… such as paying for extras like checked luggage, choosing your-own seat, food, and priority boarding. They’re also not afraid to grab headlines by suggesting one day they may charge to use the toilet or offer standup seating to fit more passengers (they have not implemented either option).

Over the years, I’ve heard horror stories from RyanAir customers. Yet, travelers keep booking, and many people sing the airline’s praises.

Looking at the €20 roundtrip fare in front of me, I was left wondering, “What’s it really like to fly RyanAir? Could I really fly from Shannon to London for less than I could take a bus from Shannon to Dublin?” Here’s an overview of my experience…

A view of Hook Head, County Wexford, from my RyanAir flight.

A view of Hook Head, County Wexford, from my RyanAir flight.

ONLINE BOOKING – “Here’s the cheapest flight… now, let me sell you something else”

RyanAir’s online booking system operates like most airlines; with two notable points of difference, it’s built to help you spot lower fairs on other days or times. Once I selected my flights, other purchasing options were boldly presented like adding an extra bag, choosing a seat, security fast track, priority boarding, and insurance… all priced between €4 and €16. Before final checkout, the site offered to book my car hire and hotel as well.

In the end, their final pricing was comfortingly straightforward. There were no surprise taxes or fees when I reached the final payment screen.

Things to consider when booking your flight:

  • Regional Airports: RyanAir routes mostly utilize secondary airports. So you may find yourself farther away from major cities (hence, I was flying from Shannon to London-Stansted instead of London-Heathrow). This could mean that you’ll be spending more on ground transport when you leave the airport.
  • Choose Carefully: If you need to change your flight, it may be easier and cheaper to sacrifice your ticket and buy a new one than try to make changes.
  • Not Every Flight is So Cheap: RyanAir constantly adjusts their flight prices, so not all flights are as inexpensive as the one I booked. In fact, that same route on another day was showing up at €136.
  • Be Wary of Connecting Flights: RyanAir only promises to deliver you and your luggage from point-to-point. If you’ve got a connecting flight in your journey, RyanAir doesn’t take responsibility for forwarding your checked luggage or offer assistance if your flight is delayed.
Here's a snapshot of my RyanAir boarding pass.

Here’s a snapshot of my RyanAir boarding pass.

CHECK-IN & VISA CHECK – “DIY boarding passes… let me sign that for you”

RyanAir made it clear; they wanted me to check-in using their smartphone app or online where I would also need to print my boarding pass before arriving at the airport. There can be separate fees if you don’t check-in before arriving at the airport, if you don’t print your boarding pass, and if you don’t check your luggage during online check-in.

Although many RyanAir customers have howled in disgust over fees, I found the airline did a good job of informing me of the rules. In fact, the boarding pass was designed to be folded into a handy booklet that included a timeline and all the most important details of my flight.

Because I hold an American passport, it was marked in three places on my boarding pass that I required a Visa check. This process simply required a staff member at the bag drop to review my passport and add their initials and the date to my boarding pass.

  • Read Your Boarding Pass: RyanAir’s boarding passes contain a lot more information than most airlines. All the most important details will be printed on one of the panels.
  • Check Your Luggage: If you arrive at the airport with luggage to check-in, you can proceed to the bag drop area. Staff are on hand to assist you at the self-serve kiosks. For best results, declare your checked luggage when you check-in online or on the app.
  • Carry-On Calamity: RyanAir can be very strict with the size and weight of carry-on luggage (although they didn’t check anyone’s bags on my flights). Be sure you note the size and weight requirements provided on your boarding pass.
  • Traveling with More than One Bag: If you are traveling with a lot of luggage, you will be charged extra for bags and the fees are based on how many bags and how much they weigh. To avoid extra charges, it’s best to check your bags online.
  • Not Always Ideal for International Travel: If you’re arriving on an flight from outside Europe with checked luggage, RyanAir might not be your best option. The airline promises to deliver only the luggage you check-in with. If your luggage from another flight gets delayed or lost or if you fail to check it, you might have a hard time recovering it.
  • Do-It-Yourself Check-In: Use the RyanAir App or print your boarding pass before you arrive at the airport.
  • Stick to the Schedule: Your boarding pass offers a suggested timeline that includes when you should arrive at the airport, check your bags, and arrive at the gate. Deviating from that schedule could result missing your flight or paying fees.
  • Get the Stamp: If you are required to get your boarding pass stamped (like the Visa check I needed), complete this task at the bag drop when you arrive at the airport. If you wait until you get to the gate, you may not have time and you could miss your flight.
Just a few of the lines we waited in before boarding our flight.

Just a few of the lines we waited in before boarding our flight.

ARRIVING AT THE GATE & BOARDING – “Hurry up and wait”

Although we were at the airport two hours early, our gate number was announced less than 45-minutes before the flight. The time between the announcement of the gate and the closing of the gate seemed significantly shorter than with other airlines.

Once announced, we made our way to the gate where we waited in a long line. Then we were led to an outdoor holding area where we waited in another long line. As a passenger, I felt as though I spent an extra amount of time rushing to get to the next step only to wait in a new line.

  • Wait in Line: Since our seats were assigned, I was tempted to wait until the lines thinned out to board. However, that would have resulted in me being one of the last to board. That’s no big deal if you’re only traveling with a micro carry-on (i.e. purse), but stowing any larger luggage would have likely proven difficult as the overhead bins filled quickly.
  • Braving the Elements and the Stairs: On my flight, we had to take several stairs (lifts/elevators were available). We also had to wait outdoors for twenty minutes before boarding; on a fine day this wouldn’t be a problem, but in bad weather this would make for a miserable experience. FYI – the airline IS required to assist passengers with special needs.
  • Outdoor Boarding: Just like the US President disembarks from Air Force One, RyanAir customers on my flight boarded and deplaned using exterior stairs. For efficiency, they boarded us from staircases in the front and the back of the aircraft… my entrance was clearly marked on my boarding pass. Again, this could be a problem if the weather was unfavorable.
  • Go with the Herd: Repeatedly waiting in unorganized, confusing lines reminded me that I was flying a budget airline. Although everything seemed to work out fine, I constantly questioned whether I was in the right line or doing the right thing.
  • When the Door Closed: As soon as the crew closed the plane door, a rush of passengers relocated to any open seat they deemed more desirable than the one they were assigned.
You can't miss the safety instructions when you fly RyanAir.

You can’t miss the safety instructions when you fly RyanAir.

ON THE PLANE – “Here’s your bare bones seat… now let me sell you something”

Aside from the plane being garishly decked out in RyanAir’s trademark navy and yellow colors, the aircraft itself didn’t vary much from others I’ve flown. I opted to allow RyanAir to choose my seat for me rather than pay to choose a seat myself. I was given a window seat, and my traveling companion was automatically seated beside me.

I must confess, before this flight I had never thoroughly read a plane’s safety instructions. On RyanAir, the instructions were permanently attached to the seatback in front of me, so I looked them over again and again and again. Who knew I should cross my arms across my lap if I use the emergency exit slide?

After takeoff, the crew came around with a beverage and food and snack service. They offered a selection of items for sale ranging from water, coffee, tea, soft drinks, juice, liquor, candy, snacks, sandwiches, and other items. Payment for these items could be made in euros, pound sterling, or credit card. At one point, the crew also walked through the cabin selling lottery tickets.

  • Forget the Extras: You should not expect extras like inflight entertainment (they’d have to charge more if they did), reclining seats (the seat mechanisms require too much maintenance), or seatback pockets (cleaning them takes too much time).
  • An International Crew: The cabin crew on my flights were all very professional and seemingly well-trained — the only thing I noticed that differed from other flights I’ve taken was that they were all quite young and spoke English as a second language which made it hard to understand some of the inflight announcements.
  • Tolerable Seats: Although the seats did not recline, they offered the same amount of comfort as other short-haul flights I’ve taken.
  • My Fellow Passengers: The crowd on my flight represented a diverse group of people but mostly young parents with children and regular working folk in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. If I were to notice one group not on my flights, it would have been the over 60 crowd — I offer no explanation for that.

PARTING WORDS

If I’m only paying €20 for a flight, I simply expect the airline to get me to my destination safely and on time. Travelers with higher expectations should probably fly with another airline. Ultimately, if you follow RyanAir’s rules, you can fly at a very low cost with minimal hassle… drift from their processes or find yourself in an unforeseen circumstance, and things could fall apart quickly.

I will note that I also booked my car hire in England through RyanAir. Confession time, the process was significantly easier than my past experiences renting in Ireland. I purchased the zero deductible insurance offered by RyanAir, and the car hire company didn’t try to sell me any additional insurance. Everything worked out as planned. My only question now is… is booking car hire in Ireland through RyanAir just as easy?

Feel free to share you RyanAir experiences in the comments below…

Author: Corey

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6 Comments

  1. I have flown with Ryanair twice, once from Glasgow Prestwick to Barcelona El Prat (main airport), and once from London Stansted to Santander, Spain. In neither case did we board or deplane on an exterior stairway. Perhaps it depends on the airport? I have had nothing but positive experiences with Ryanair and would not hesitate to use them again. People do complain about fees, but you do a good job of pointing out that, although maybe they were ahead of the curve, major airlines now also charge for many of the same things.

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    • Thanks, Nancy. I’m happy to hear you also had a positive experience. I too would fly with them again without hesitation… but I also realize budget airlines aren’t the right choice for all travelers. I hope my overview helps folks decide if it’s right for them.

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  2. Great article Corey, I’ve often wondered if I would use them for a similar trip and you’ve give very useful decision making info, THANKS!

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  3. Shannon to Stansted is a standard business route so might explain the lack of older folk although many older folk would have booked to Gatwick for London or stuck with AerLingus ~ Heathrow.

    UK car hire follows different legal/insurance requirements so can be a lot easier than our car hire.

    Personally, used Ryanair for years, even managed a few free & 1 cent flights when they were going. Just stick to the rules and they are like a flying bus service (with a fair bit of queuing) and yes Priority boarding might get you on the plane first but can have you standing in the open for a while before marching to the aircraft.

    Shannon is a good user friendly airport and EU flights only need you to be at the airport 1 hour max before the gates open. Its also a lot easier for less able passengers (Stansted is a nightmare for Assisted boarding/disembarkation)

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  4. I flew WOW Airlines from Boston to Reykjavik in July 2015. It was fine! Low cost (relatively so) for $630 including taxes, round trip, non stop in July. $14 for extra room seating which we happily paid, $11 for bigger carry-on, $50 for checked luggage (we shared one). Still, it came to MUCH lower than the same flights on Icelandair.

    The seats were comfy, the staff friendly and professional, and we arrived 10 minutes early. I’d fly WOW again any time. Now they’re flying to Cork, too!

    Post a Reply
  5. Great post, especially good to know about the easy car rental through them

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