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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Flying Ryanair for the first time?

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Flying Ryanair for the first time?

At some point, I just had to blog about one of the low-cost airlines out there....when I googled Ryanair, I was surprised to not find any firsthand accounts?  Maybe I didn't google it correctly...but I still thought there would be loads of stories out there on passengers sharing their experiences.  Anyway, so here's my story, the good and the bad...  Follow me as I get on a Ryanair flight to Venice from Charleroi (Brussels South as they like to call it which isn't anywhere near Brussels).  Know how to plan ahead and how to avoid these mistakes that can put a real crimp into your nicely planned vacation.

While you are reading these tips, keep in mind that we are talking about a BUDGET airline....'nuf said.

  • Get on Ryanair's email list.  You'll be forewarned of their "special" 5 euro fares all throughout Europe.  I sometimes hear people asking how they can fly so cheaply....well, it's not exactly 5 euros in the end, but it is cheap compared to the other mainstream airlines.  They can get you a better price because this is bare bones flying (hey, they even want to start charging to use the toilet and are working on "squatting type" seats to pack more into each plane).  You'll pay for any extra tangible items AND priorities.  For example, that 5 euro fare is going to go up if you don't take the very first flight out of the day (usually around 7 am) and the last flight back (such as 10 pm) or vice versa.  Ryanair can get away with cheaper pricing because they fly into "lesser" airports many times that are anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour from your actual destination AND they fly at off peak times.  You'll of course get charged for taxes, web check-in (which everyone has to do), priority boarding (if you don't want to be herded on like cattle, and the possibility of not sitting together freaks you out a bit) and an administration fee.  Also, because one of our flights was not the really early or late flight, the base price went up on one of our legs times three (there were three of us traveling).  So instead of what you think is going to be a straight 30 euro flight back and forth for three people, ends up being 260 Euros!  But, for me...that's still awfully cheap!  Update:  To Dublin it was only around 150 Euros for four and  around 100 Euros to Barcelona (so check all the possibilities) recently.
  • Be sure to follow Ryanair's RIGID baggage carry on restrictions.  Know that a checked bag for each leg of your journey costs 35 euro per person....not worth it in my opinion for a short trip!  So, measure your carry-on bag wisely.  You can only take this ONE bag.  Your purse, laptop, backpack and whatever other bag you want to bring must fit inside of it.  It can also not weigh more than 10 kg.  More on this later.
  • Within 10 days of your flight, you'll go online and print out your boarding pass for each passenger.  You'll need birthdate and passport information for each.  Keep this with you....lose it, and you'll pay 35 euro for each lost paper...I mean e-ticket!  See how this 35 euro keeps repeating itself?
  • Non-EU (European Union) passengers are recommended to arrive 40 minutes before the flight leaves.  I arrived one hour before...no 1-1/2 hours before, as I had never flown out of Charleroi.  Try to trade drop-off and pick-up services with another military family flying out of there (obviously not at the same time).  If you can't, there is long-term parking....look for the sign "long term" which is right next to the parking garage.  It'll run you 55 euro for 5 days.  See rates here.  Don't park in the wrong lot or overpay!
  • After arrival, at the larger airports, non-EU passengers and passengers checking in luggage must check in at the ticketing desks (in the front).  They may give you a more traditional boarding pass, or you'll keep your computer printed boarding pass which they will stamp (because they will check your passports).
  • Then, it's into the security line.  You'll keep hearing announcements saying that boarding for flights leaving will close 30 minutes before departure, which is the signal for you to get through security and to not hang around in the check-in area.  They really do mean this, and I did see people turned away.  Make sure you read their policy if you miss your flight or better yet, get there EARLY and allow time for things that can go awry.
  • A Ryanair agent will have you put your bag into a metal cage-like display to show it meets their baggage requirements.  I saw people manhandling that thing...the agent didn't care (the first time we went thru)...as long as you can squeeze it in there, it's good.  We had one rolling backpack and two larg gymbags.  Gymbags and backpacks are great cause you can mold them into that stupid cage! There are also these displays scattered throughout the terminal, so be sure to test it out before the pressure of the people behind you watching you manhandle your bag causes you to sweat and stress unnecessarily.  Brought your lunch?  It better be in that bag?  Any purchases?  You will not go through until you put it in the bag.  Some of these displays also have a scale and will beep incessantly if you are overweight.  Try to balance out your weight among everyone's bags if you are traveling in a group.  Check it all out ahead of time.  Yes, I saw people having to do the walk of shame back through the line to the main check-in desk to check their bags...for 35 euros a pop....ouch.  No money?  Credit cards will do.  AND, some airports will have Ryanair checking your baggage dimensions at the gate rather than security.
  • Once through that test, you'll go through routine security with the x-ray scanners.  Some personnel will make you take off belts....others, your shoes...some, nothing. Take your laptop and portable DVD players out to have them scanned separately.  Also take off coats, watches and large metal jewelry items if asked.  I almost always get beeped, as I refuse to take off one of my bracelets (in fact, I forgot how to take it off is the honest truth...and I won't admit it), so I get the personal search.  Gee, she went inside the band of my underwear this time...that was new.  Anyway, if you come early enough, you'll breeze through security.
  • While waiting at your gate, you'll see two signs marking the two lines for boarding.  One is Priority.  This is the line you'll stand in if you paid extra for priority seating.  Even though your ticket will have a seat # on it, you won't get that particular seat.  This just means that your priority line is let on the plane before the rest of the folks who didn't pay for this privilege.  They stand in the other line.  As you get on the plane, the flight attendants will tell you which rows you can sit in and will try to guide you to the middle of the plane.  Sometimes you'll see folks all laid out at the beginning of the non-priority line waiting to board well before boarding time.   We've gone that route too.  If you don't want to pay extra, let this be you, so you'll be the first person getting on after priority boarding.  You can sit then wherever there's a free seat.
  • Once on board, seats are pretty standard, although bare bones and probably less legroom (I'm tall and noticed this).  After all the traditional safety briefings are done, here comes the parade.  These flight attendants will go through the plane selling everything from drinks (no free sodas, drinks or peanuts) costing about 1,50 euro to phone calling cards to hot and cold sandwiches and other snacks costing anywhere from 3 to 7 euro, watches, perfumes...you name it.  I told my kids before they got on the plane they weren't getting anything and made sure to buy them a screwtop drink at the airport (which already was expensive enough, but what are you going to do when you can't take that stuff through security, and you're gonna get thirsty?).  We also carry plenty of snacks.
  • Other than our plane leaving an hour late, which is UNHEARD of on your regular airline, I didn't notice it phasing any of the Ryanair personnel.  Our flight coming back from Venice left on-time though.  I have also heard that Ryanair flights can be canceled more often than your standard flights but have not experienced this myself.  Look what these passengers recently did who were three hours late.
  • Immediately after landing you'll get a small treat by hearing the little ditty they play at the racetrack when the horses are called to race....yes, they really play that...everyone claps and you disembark.  Since this is the EU, you won't routinely deal with customs unless someone decides to pull your suspicious self aside....or maybe the dog smelled something on you...I don't know.
 Once you get the hang of this Ryanair thing, investigate blind bookings (google it).  Get sent real cheap to anywhere Ryanair flies...you just won't know where you are going until AFTER you've paid....be adventurous...it's like a gameshow...you can even narrow down the choices...of course, at a cost.  Try some of the other lowcost carriers in Europe.  Try being creative.  Have you heard of Wizz Air?  Try flying them through Budapest or Prague and then on to your final destination.  That may even be cheaper.  I'll leave you with a safety notice...even though these airlines are cheap, they are relatively safe..they are safter than your car, and all of them have a good safety record, so don't get worked up over that.  There are no reports of any of them skimping on safety that I have found.  I do wonder what will happen with airline travel once the "across the Atlantic" barrier has been breached by these lowcost airlines....something to think about?  Comments or your own recommendations?

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4 Comments:

OpenID unexpectedtraveller said...

I've had a few odd experiences with Ryanair before (http://wp.me/ppqxP-co) but what really amused me was Charleroi airport. Did you see the huge sign just before security: http://wp.me/ppqxP-yF

November 22, 2010 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

I did see the sign that basically said if you don't get thru security 30 minutes before your flight....you're toast and can forget it....is that the sign you are thinking of?

I just read your blogpost...of course I find it AFTER I was searching for Ryanair first hand experiences! Thanks for sharing!

November 22, 2010 at 10:36 AM  
Anonymous susanna said...

I guess you'd call this bare bones flying?
OH, and Wizz Air? *cracking up* Love it.

November 29, 2010 at 6:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you! I am not as afraid as before to book Ryanair now. People had me scared. It doesn't sound that bad. I wish you had your blog on shape families because you say a lot about living in Belgium. I wish I knew about your sight when we came here when we were looking for a house!

February 27, 2011 at 6:03 PM  

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