It’s not unusual of me to fly low budget airlines. And although most of them have failed to leave a mark on me (positive or negative), my recent experience with Ryanair made me stop and think if budget airlines were beginning to get greedy and sneaky by enticing passengers with jaw-dropping low rates whilst slyly charging them for services they didn’t even expect or ask for in the first place. And the ultimate threat that comes at the last minute – of not being allowed to board your flight, is the key arm-twisting technique to ensure there is no room for an objection. It left me wondering, is that cheap Ryanair ticket really worth it?
I was recently in Spain and looking for an inexpensive yet quick way to go from Barcelona to Mallorca. The alluring price of merely € 22 seemed too good to be true at first, so I read through the terms and conditions (the usual only 1 cabin bag allowed, food available for purchase on board, randomly allocated seats, no in-flight entertainment, etc.) and it all sounded fairly standard. So, I booked the flight from Barcelona to Mallorca and from Mallorca to Madrid, feeling so happy to have found a cheap Ryanair ticket. So, was it really worth it?
Firstly, the ‘cabin’ bag that is allowed in the ticket is a SMALL bag, which means it can only be a laptop or a small backpack. If you need to carry a bag bigger than that, there’s an additional charge of € 20 (which is almost the same price as the ticket itself) unless booked in advance along with the ticket. That too, there’s no clarity as to what size is exactly considered larger than the ‘small’ size. When booking, the size specified is 40x20x25cm. However, while boarding, there are all types of rolling suitcases and other bags that are being carried on board, without any measurements in place.
For example, the first Ryanair flight allowed me to carry my small rolling suitcase as a cabin bag whereas the second one objected to its size, even though I explained to them that the earlier flight had let me carry it on board. While several other people could carry their small suitcases on board, some were picked to pay for it. When asked on what basis these people were picked, the staff refused to answer any questions. You either pay for it or you cannot board – its as simple as that! The staff is not helpful at all in terms of providing any explanations, they're downright rude in fact, and their word is final and binding; you may be denied boarding if you plan to disagree or contest their decision.
Secondly, and this was a total shock for me, there’s a fee of € 55 if one checks-in at the counter instead of online! This is something you’re not informed of when booking the ticket and unless you’re connected to the internet 24 hours before the flight departure time, you’re most likely not even going to find out about it. And if due to any reason (non-availability of an internet connection, website issues, etc), you’re unable to check in online before the flight, your only option is to pay the price (which is more than double the ticket price) to check in at the counter. Rather unfair, wouldn’t you say? As a tourist, you’re expected to be connected to the internet somehow and check in online lest you end up shelling out a ridiculous amount of money for availing their services at the airport (so much so for digitally detoxing on a vacation).
Oh and do not expect much help from their customer service- despite insisting that I had tried to check in online 4 hours prior to the flight but the website wasn’t loading, the staff told me clearly – pay for the counter check-in or miss your flight but there’s nothing we can do to assist you. They literally called me a liar to my face, telling me that they daily experienced such "cases where people fibbed about trying to check in online only to save money".
I ended up paying almost € 100 for a flight that I had initially thought would cost me only € 22. Was that cheap Ryanair ticket really worth it? Well, clearly not!
I’m now apprehensive about booking budget airlines- every new airline that comes up with lucrative prices is likely to have hidden charges which will be made clear to you only closer to your flying dates. The size of the 'free' cabin baggage keeps on becoming smaller, new unexpected charges such as counter check-in fee are popping up out of nowhere, and the customer service seems to be going down the drain. There seems to be no regulation as to the basic standard of service that an airline must maintain, and it is no surprise that without directives in place, airlines are beginning to lose trust of the travelers. Wouldn't you rather pay a little extra for airlines such as Vueling, that charge a little more for the same routes as Ryanair yet give one the security against any hidden, unexpected or sneaky agendas to make money from an unsuspecting passenger? Is that cheap Ryanair ticket really worth it?
Don’t get me wrong – I keep my expectations minimal. I’m not crabby about leg space, bad airline food, random seat selection or paying extra for checked-in bags. But maybe one day we will find out that the new extra-low-priced airline doesn’t even have a toilet on board or charges anyone above the body weight of 70 kgs an extra few euros to board the flight. Or maybe charge for wanting to sit at all, versus standing like in a public bus in some crowded, over-populated country like my own (I've heard the owner of Ryanair had planned to have standing-room only fares initially). Where will the ludicrousness really end?
Of course, I won't stop flying budget airlines altogether (I mean, let's be realistic, I cannot afford to fly the more expensive ones), but I will now make sure to read enough reviews beforehand in order to be prepared for all the hidden costs and sneaky charges that I should expect, if I choose to fly yet another notorious airline like Ryanair. Kudos, you crafty business people, for managing to worsen the stress of flying for the budget travellers, by putting them on the back foot about where they might have to shell out the extra money that they tried so hard to save in the first place!