I’ve had airline elite status in some form or fashion for almost 20 years. I’ve had top-tier status on at least one airline for the past 10 years. And yet, as the Big 3 of American, Delta and United Airlines have reduced benefits, I’ve flown more and more on low-cost carriers. Southwest has been a staple for years, connecting the dots between a handful of cities for me each year. Lately, even more low-cost carriers have started to creep into my flight history.
I flew Frontier Airlines, saved $400 and didn’t die. It was an easy decision, given the savings. Now, bad things can happen when you book with a low-cost carrier. But, I’m open to using them situationally for my business travel. I’ve flown Spirit Airlines and didn’t die, either. Saved a bunch of money, too. But, I’d never flown the Mac Daddy of them all, Ryanair. Until last month.
Booking My First Ryanair Flight
I found Ryanair’s booking process to be pretty straightforward. There are plenty of add-ons, hotel rooms and other gadgets to sell you along the way. I think the only thing I wasn’t offered was a toaster. Ryanair sells three levels of fares, Standard, Plus and Flexi Plus.
The advice I received from a number of friends was to buy “Plus” if you’re checking a bag. Generally speaking, I’d say that’s the right idea if you’re going to check a bag. I haven’t willingly checked my own bag since the 90s, though.
Priority Boarding Versus Plus
For folks who aren’t checking a bag, priority boarding may be a better fit for you. Thanks to Peer on Twitter for reminding me that I forgot to include that here. You won’t see the Priority Boarding option until after you get through seat selection. This doesn’t come with an upgraded seat assignment, like a bulkhead row. But, if you don’t care about your seat selection and just want to bring a second bag, this is likely a better value. In my example flight where it was approximately 25 Euro more to purchase Plus, if you purchased a standard seat assignment and Priority Boarding, you would save somewhere around 15 Euro.
Interestingly, though a lot of people chose Priority or Plus on my flight the bins were nowhere near full when I boarded. In my sample-size of one, purchasing Plus or Priority doesn’t necessarily mean you need to board first. Heck, the only reason I ever get on a short flight early is to make sure I have room for my carry-on bag. Ryanair’s fee structure and policing of the overhead bins may make that less stressful.
For my 2.5 hour flight from Ponta Delgado to Lisbon, the price to purchase a seat is pretty insignificant. The most expensive option was 10 Euro for a seat with extra legroom. In Ryanair parlance, that’s the bulkhead or exit row. Heck, you an even plunk down $3 to pick an aisle or window in the back of the plane.
Once you’re done booking your ticket, Ryanair wants to make sure you have all the details you need. They’ll even offer to send you an SMS text of your flight details if you want that in addition to the e-mail confirmation they send. It’s only 4 Euro to get a text of your flight info.
My First Ryanair Flight
I arrived at Ponta Delgado airport and quickly made my way through security. Azores Airlines actually maintains a lounge in the tiny terminal. So, when my flight posted an hour delay I went to hang out in the lounge. I walked out about 15 minutes prior to boarding and realized my first mistake. A lot of people had purchased a Plus fare. The lines were quite long.
Ryanair appears to have a bit of a sense of humor, like Southwest or Jetblue.
Because we were delayed, the Ryanair team was trying to get as many people outside and queued up to board the plane as they could. They stacked us up outdoors opposite the airplane for about 15 minutes while they finished servicing the plane.
Interesting tidbit I don’t recall with any other airline I’ve flown. Ryanair boards using their own stairs. That’s common on smaller regional jets, but not something I recall seeing on larger single-aisle jets like the Boeing 737 we were flying. Maybe it saves them money on airport fees if they don’t have to borrow equipment?
Once onboard, flight attendants were checking each suitcase to see if it had a tag to allow it to be stored in an overhead bin. I was a bit surprised that even with the large number of people purchasing a Plus fare there was still plenty of space in the overhead bins.
I had chosen a window seat near the front of the plane. The legroom was just fine for me at 5’9″.
Ryanair finds some interesting ways to save a few bucks. The plane I was flying on didn’t have any seat back pockets. Instead, the safety card was part of the headrest in front of me. The color definitely made it hard to miss.
Ryanair doesn’t do reclining seats, so no need to waste time finding the button.
The overhead bins have frames for advertising. Alas, all we had to look at was the yellow interior.
The flight attendants walked through the cabin handing out thick magazines that contained a menu and a lengthy catalog of merchandise for purchase. The prices really weren’t that bad. I had planned to try the Bolognese to take one for the team and see how it was. Alas, it wasn’t loaded on my flight. I settled for a Coke and some Pringles.
The tray table was also bigger than expected. And, because of no reclining seat in front of me, I actually had a pretty easy time using my 15″ MacBook Pro throughout the flight.
The Final Two Pennies (And A Giveaway)
I got pretty much exactly what I was expecting on Ryanair. I got the seat I selected, a clean plane and a courteous crew. It cost me next to nothing. The flight was about an hour late departing but we made up a bit of time in the air, ultimately landing about 45 mins late. I was off the plane and onto a bus a few mins later, a common occurrence in Europe. 10 minutes after that, I was walking out of Lisbon Airport. I don’t think I’d hesitate to fly Ryanair again. I’d also recommend them to my readers, though I’d keep an eye out for labor strikes. They’re having a small issue with that right now.
I also picked up some Ryanair scratch cards on the flight and I have two multi-packs to give away to readers of my blog. They give away cars, cash and other prizes, with a top prize of 1 million Euro. They also give a small portion of the proceeds to charity. According to this article, your chances of winning the grand prize are worse than getting struck by lightning. But, all you have to do is leave me a comment below for a chance to win. Let me know if you’ve flown Ryanair or not. If not, tell me someplace fun you plan on going soon. I’ll draw winners this weekend, Saturday December 8th and mail two winners a pack of scratch cards.
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