I was doing the unthinkable, on the brink of breaking my new year’s resolution, booking a flight home from Pisa to London, with Ryanair. The reasons for my personal boycott of this particular no frills, no thrills airline were perfectly valid but it was a long time ago since I last flew with them. Surely it couldn’t still be that much of an unpleasant experience? They were still operating, after all.
So, at my computer I negotiate my way through the online booking process, lured in by the illuminated strobe candy !!€7 until midnight!! (I think that refers to the price of the snack pack on board, which doesn’t come with a drink by the way. What kind of snack is that?). In the extra cost field I dodged the default priority boarding tab and the automatic travel insurance, backed up the automatic text message alert truck, hurdled across the branded Ryanair luggage purchase (please!) and jumped all over the recommended hotel and car hire bookings…with the skill of the penitent Indiana Jones “kneeling” before God to claim the holy grail.
Moment of hesitation: Number of bags to check in? Sod it, Indiana Jones only needed his leather satchel and his hat, I’m not paying to cart around two pairs of extra shoes. I’m taking one pair of shoes, and they’ll be on my feet at check-in. I was only going for 2 nights after all. Laptop can go in my hand luggage next to shoes, a couple of pairs of knickers and socks, a few tops, mandatory chunk of Parmesan cheese for my brother, and off I go…
As outbound flights go, this one wasn’t too bad. No one weighed my bag at Pisa airport or seemed to mind me carrying a small handbag in addition to my carry-on case, which I was prepared to put inside the case if necessary – I was playing by the rules. Apart from the roller coaster, get to know your neighbour, bright yellow seats and the ridiculous trumpet sounding on landing celebrating that we were all still alive and Ryanair had managed to land on time (sorry, should we be thanking them for sticking to a timetable?) I arrived at Stansted relatively unfazed.
A curry in Brick Lane, a filling of London Pride, a spring picnic in the park with the family and a Kate & William memorabilia tea towel purchase later, I was back at Stansted, and here I should have foreseen a challenging journey ahead after my first error of purchasing a jar of farmhouse pickle as a gift to my cheese loving Italian buddies BEFORE passing through security. I checked with 3 different airport staff before accepting that chutney was indeed a liquid and therefore a clear threat to passengers, and proceeded to offer the freshly purchased product to newly arrived visitors to the UK. A nice gesture, I thought, seeing as the alternative was to bin it. Surprising though, how difficult it is to persuade people at airports that you offering them a jar of chutney is neither strange, nor dangerous. In the end a happy German couple queuing for train tickets were delighted to take the English relish of my hands.
Next up: security. My bag got sectioned and swabbed, as I’d forgotten a small pair of scissors in my bag, which they ended up letting me take on board – obviously less of a threat than chutney – but after a quick rummage through my dirty laundry and emptying the contents of my wash bag, I was on my way. Realizing I didn’t have too long until my gate closed I whizzed through the terminal, stopping to buy a 5 litre (travel size!) bottle of water and two enormous boxes of roses chocolates from the giant duty free shop. It had all gone far too smoothly and just as I was smugly sailing towards the gate without a care in the world, ready to embrace Ryanair back into my life…I was unwittingly snared, in a beeline straight to the lions’ den…the Ryanair post check-in, post-security, post plastic bag filling and liquid rejecting, pre-boarding team, spanning the arrival into the departure gates like defenders on the backline. The home strip of crisp royal blue, sensible shoes and hair lacquered into a second scalp, poised. Out of nowhere, into my ear hole: “You’ve got three bags madam, you can only have one.” Ooh this guy was good…a winger in an orange bib covering the sideline. “Excuse me?” I said. “Yep, going to have to throw some of that away madam”
Now the thing here is that I hadn’t even had the chance to prepare by putting my handbag into my case and rearranging the water bottles and chocolates to look like it was my on board snack. Caught, red-handed, over the limit. I had to think fast. I moved away with a faint smile as if to say “Ok…I’ll just go over here and throw away…erm my computer” and I headed towards the ladies room.
Blocked by a blue suit with a huge weighing scale. “Bag on here please madam”. I was prepared now. “I’m just going to the toilet actually!” “We need to weigh your bag first. On here please…and boarding pass.” Bugger. There was nothing for it, short of making a dash for it, but then I wasn’t in a Richard Curtis movie and I did actually want to get on the plane. I watched the scale register 11kg and was relieved, thinking that, being only 1kg over the limit they’d be lenient, smile and say “please keep it to 10kg next time, including the roses chocolates.” Instead my boarding pass and freedom to travel was whipped from my hand. “That’s £35, cash or card?” “I’m sorry?” “You’ll have to check this bag in. £35 pounds, over there.” I could have screamed.
I looked over to the other side of the desk where another passenger, an elegant Englishwoman was trying to choose between a copy of Eat Pray Love and Hello! Magazine. Taking both would apparently take her over her weight limit. Behind me the orange bib was darting across the crowds, currently explaining to a flustered father of three, carrying a baby in one arm and a bag of food in the other, that “he’d have to throw one of them away.”
No mercy: those that made a run for it were called back and cash was shed. I was sure I could hear the spritely credit card machine “ping” like a cash register every five seconds after “making a sale” as the guilty passengers, oddly enough, pretty much all of them, were rounded into line to pay their penance for buying that bottle of whisky on offer in the terminal, as a present for grandpa. I simply couldn’t resist asking the kind lady processing my credit card what she thought of all this. Without looking up she calmly reeled off the tongue for the umpteenth time that day “Just doing my job madam, trying to make a living”.
Now this is fair enough but I, for one, was trying to protect my own hard earned living, and to give Ryanair a second chance. I was then informed, again devoid of eye contact or any ounce of compassion, that “each airline is free to operate as they wish madam and it’s all written out very clearly in the booking terms and conditions…” I decided not to point out that by the time anyone reads the terms and conditions online, and returns to the booking screen they have “missed” their window and have to start all over again. We ended up missing our own take-off slot because it took everyone too long to squeeze their bursting cases and spare children into the overhead lockers, but once we were on our way the staff were quick to entertain us with offers of glittering scratch cards where, amongst other prizes, we could win…a Ryanair flight. Er…no thanks.
There was no trumpet on landing this time!
How comforting to discover that websites like www.ihateryanair.org exist!
Joëlle Edwards is an English event and wedding planner, working in exclusive venues across Italy. She recently moved to Florence from London, after having lived and worked in Switzerland, Palermo and Barcelona.
You can reach her at email@example.com
Visit also: www.joellemarie.co.uk