Veteran low-cost traveler and TPG contributor Lori Zaino offers some valuable advice on how to fly on notorious budget carrier Ryanair. These tips and tricks might just get you to your destination without (too many!) stressful moments and crazy last-minute fees.
Low-cost carriers like Ryanair can certainly be cheap, and a lot of folks decide to book them so they can have extra cash on hand for all the other fun travel-related expenses a trip to Europe involves. But first, you have to survive that Ryanair flight and get where you’re going without being hit with all kinds of hidden add-on fees the airline is notorious for charging. Here’s how:
1. Make sure to print your boarding pass ahead of time. Although Ryanair has recently lowered the cost of printing your boarding pass at the airport from 70 euros (that’s a whopping $96) to just 15 euros (still $21), that’s only if you’ve managed to check in online first. If you need to both check in AND print the pass at the airport, you will have to pay the full 70 euro fee – for a piece of paper! This fee even got the best of TPG a few years ago in Edinburgh, so make sure to print your boarding pass between 15 days and 4 hours of departure in order to save yourself a stressful moment of panic at the airport…and of course, to save you from paying that fee. (Because let’s face it, that’s probably much more than you actually paid for your Ryanair ticket itself!)
2. Wear noise-cancelling headphones unless you want to be bombarded every five minutes with announcements and advertisements. Ryanair is notorious for blaring ads during their flights. My personal favorite is the one where they sell raffle tickets. Has anyone has ever won this supposed raffle? Anyway, these announcements typically hit just as you are nodding off for your nap, so a nice pair of noise-cancelling headphones would ensure a little peace and quiet on your flight.
3. Make sure to get give yourself enough time at the airport to get in line early so there is overhead space for your carry-on bag. Although Ryanair has recently begun assigning seats to passengers, they haven’t changed their boarding procedure accordingly, so the process is pretty much like herding cattle. It doesn’t matter whether you’re seated in the back or the front of the plane; once general boarding is announced, it’s a mad rush to board – in no particular order. People still line up ahead of time and if you don’t get a good spot in line, you’ll have to check your carry-on.
4. Be ready to face evil, evil gate agents. I can’t prove it, but I’m almost certain these gate agents get bonuses for how many grown men they reduce to tears. I have seen fights, arguments, crying…I’m convinced these gate agents have received super-secret-ultra-ruthless-take-no-prisoners training. So stand tall, and be prepared. I suppose a smile towards them wouldn’t hurt either, just for good karma. I salute you, Ryanair…now please let me board without shaming me!
5. Make sure to measure your suitcase, or prepare to pay! Ryanair’s acceptable size for carry-on baggage is 55 x 40 x 20 cm (21.7 x 15.7 x 7.9 in). They enforce this rule with an iron fist (see number 4), and lest you think you can you can fudge it, know that you’ll have to fit your bag into metal sizers under the watchful eye of the gate agents, so make sure to measure your bag ahead of time. The sizing dimensions include wheels and handles, so keep these in mind when you measure. If your bag doesn’t fit, it will cost you 60 euros ($82) to check it. A small tip: If you’re looking to squeeze in something a little larger, if it’s on your back or over your shoulder (aka not a rolling bag), you might get lucky. It’s not a foolproof method, but they seem to size rolling suitcases much more often than backpacks or duffles.
Additionally, the weight of your bag cannot exceed 10 kg (22 lbs). If it does, you’ll be subject to the same fee unless you take something out. However, they really only weigh the bags in some countries. For example, in Italy they weigh it without a doubt, every time. In Spain, where I’ve flown Ryanair over 50 times, my bag has never been weighed. Recently, Ryan Air has changed their rule to also allow one small handbag in addition to your carry on, which is actually great news. I no longer have to distort my purse to smash it into my carry-on while boarding and then immediately take it out once I’m onboard the plane.
Another tip: Most places in Europe where you can shop for suitcases offer a chart where you can confirm that the bag you’re purchasing works for Ryanair standards. I check the chart when I purchase so I can be certain I won’t get hit with an extra fees for too-large luggage.
6. Pay for your checked luggage online for the best rates. If you’re sure you’re going to check a bag, do not wait until you get to the airport to pay to check your bag. Do it online beforehand for a much better rate. Each passenger may check up to two bags weighing either 15 kgs (33 lbs) or 20 kgs (44 lbs) when make their initial booking. After the booking is made, checked baggage can be added to a reservation via the Manage My Booking tab on the Ryan Air website up to 4 hours before the scheduled flight departure time. The rates vary from high season to low season and depending on the route, but usually if you purchase online, you will pay between 15-35 euros ($21-$48) for a 15 kg bag, or 25-45 euros ($35-$62) for a 20 kg bag. However, if you decide to check at the airport, these rates rise to 30-70 euros ($42-$97) for a 15 kg bag and 40-75 euros ($55-$104) for a 20 kg bag. So save yourself the headache and the money and do it ahead of time.
7. MAKE SURE TO GET YOUR STAMP BEFORE YOU BOARD. And yes, I am shouting this at you. This one is super important because it’s not just a fee thrown at you – this will actually make you miss your flight. As a non-EU citizen flying with Ryanair, you are required to get a stamp on your boarding pass. You cannot board the plane without this stamp. However, they seem to allow you through security just fine without it, so this typical situation is that non-EU citizens don’t realize they have to get the stamp, breeze through security, and then later are denied boarding. Ouch. So make sure to go up to the check-in counter and ask where you need to get the stamp, as it varies per airport. Sometimes there is a special desk dedicated to this or some times simply at the regular check-in counter. Just ask and make absolutely sure you’ve got the stamp before you go through security. Give yourself enough time to do this, because sometimes they combine the stamp counter with the re-ticketing counter (efficient, right?) so you have to wait 20 minutes for someone to argue and complain (this person probably missed their flight because they didn’t get the stamp!) before you can get your stamp.
8. Brace yourself during take off and landing. Now, don’t get nervous. As I’ve stated before, I’ve flown many times with Ryanair and I think that safety-wise, they’re legit. But for some reason, during take off, they seem to go straight up at a perfect vertical and my stomach drops every time. Many years ago I thought this was just my experience, but then I learned this was a common feeling among Ryanair flyers. So just close your eyes, hold on to the armrests, and pretend you’re an astronaut shooting into outer space…you know, without the whole Sandra Bullock Gravity sitch. This makes me feel more like I’m being adventurous instead of wondering why I didn’t splurge to fly on Iberia as I struggle to hold down my breakfast. Same goes for landing. Brace yourself, grab the armrests, and picture your happy place.
9. Be prepared to squeeze yourself into uncomfortable positions as Ryanair has some of the smallest seats in the airline industry. Luckily I am 5’2″ and practice yoga, so I am able to squeeze my teeny tiny little self into a Ryanair seat without too much drama (however I still to this day have no idea how TPG even walked through the aisle without hitting his head on the top of the plane ceiling, as he’s almost seven feet tall!). But for a person of normal proportions, be prepared to be mildly uncomfortable during your flight…or start your Cirque du Soleil training ASAP. The seat proportions are as follows:
- Width from one armrest to the other is approximately: 17 inches (43.18cm)
- Pitch from the back of the seat to the tray table in front: 30 inches (76.20cm).
- From the base of the seat to the bulkhead in row 2 D, E, F: 40 inches.
- From the floor to the control panel (PSU Panel): 64 inches (162cm).
- Most seats are 43cm wide and 58cm from the back to the edge of the cushion. There are some narrow seats which are 40cm wide and 58cm from the back to the edge of the cushion.
- The height from the cushion to the top of the seat is 27.2 inches (69cm).
I compared these sizes to a recent TPG post on Transcontinental Economy Seats in the US, most of which are 31-32 inches in pitch x 17-18 inches wide, whereas Ryanair is a full 1-2 inches short on pitch. Also, the Ryanair seats do not recline, so you are stuck with that pitch all throughout the flight. It’s not the end of the world, just be prepared to be slightly uncomfortable for a couple hours, especially if you are larger than, say…an oompa loompa.
10. Read through the fine print more carefully than the best class-action attorney. Ryanair was actually recently sued for not making their insurance policy clear on the website and making it difficult for passengers to claim their rightful refund when things went wrong. The airline recently revamped its website, but it still has little idiosyncrasies that make it difficult to purchase your ticket and gauge the price you’ll actually be paying. I advise you to go slowly and focus, and make sure to say “No thanks” to all the extras they try to sell you on page after page of the purchase process.
An important note: Many times Ryanair will ask you if you want to purchase insurance or something else. Instead of giving a clear “NO” option, they will offer a drop down menu with a list of things, and smack in the middle will be a “No thanks,” requiring you to scroll through all the options just to say no. Sneaky Ryanair, but you don’t fool me! If you know to look for this, booking your ticket will go much faster.
Now, this post isn’t meant to discourage you from flying with Ryanair or other low costs carriers. It’s simply to prepare and help you to fly low-cost with fewer complications. I’m an avid flyer of Ryanair and Easyjet, simply because it’s usually hundreds of euros cheaper than other airlines, and I would rather use that money on other things during my travels. Assuming you’re prepared, you should have a very uneventful and low-stress Ryanair experience. If you’d like some more information on European low cost carriers, please read our post here.
Have you ever flown Ryanair or another low cost carrier? Any other tips for flyers or experiences you’d like to share, please comment below.
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