How to Survive a Ryanair Flight
Flying on low-cost carriers like Ryanair can be an amazing travel hack — why pay more when you can travel for less, right? While savvy travelers can snag some incredible deals, if you aren’t familiar with the carrier's many rules and regulations, you’ll end up paying a lot more. After more than 45 flights, I consider myself a Ryanair veteran — here's my handy list of things you need to know so you can have a positive experience as well.
Print or Download Your Boarding Pass Beforehand
Doing this is essential because if you show up at check-in without your boarding pass, Ryanair will charge you 15 euros (~$15) to print it. TPG himself once had to pay $96 several years ago when he didn't print his out. While the airline did recently launch mobile boarding passes, the option is unfortunately not available when traveling from certain airports, so keep that in mind as well.
Get Your Boarding Pass Stamped
All travelers who don't hold EU citizenship must get their boarding passes checked and stamped before going through security. You can’t board the flight without this stamp, and many have learned the hard way and have been denied boarding altogether, so make sure to obtain this before going through security. Most European airports offer the stamp at the Ryanair desk where you buy flights and pay for luggage, though some may stamp your boarding pass at the check-in counters. Always ask at your particular airport just to be sure, and allow plenty of time for this additional step — oftentimes you’ll get stuck behind someone purchasing a flight and may have to wait in line longer than you'd like to.
Know the Luggage Rules
Ryanair allows passengers to carry on one cabin bag weighing up to 10 kg with maximum dimensions of 55 cm x 40 cm x 20 cm, plus one small bag up to 35 cm x 20 cm x 20 cm. Don’t push this. You will be forced to pay for and check your bag, and Ryanair doesn't mess around with luggage. Measure your bag beforehand, as many carry-ons purchased in the US are often too big — sometimes when you buy suitcases in Europe, there's actually a tag attached saying whether or not it's Ryanair cabin-appropriate. If you're certain your carry-on fits, smash it into the sizer if they ask you to try and make it fit. If it goes in and comes out, you won’t have to check it.
Pay for Checked Bags Ahead of Time
Book and pay for your checked luggage while purchasing your ticket or before you travel, since if you end up having to pay at the airport, it will cost you more. You can check up to two bags once you've purchased a checked-baggage allowance of either 15 kg or 20 kg during your initial booking. To make matters even more unpredictable, Ryanair often charges different prices for different weights on different routes, with fees varying seasonally. Save some time, money and sanity by electing your desired weight, paying when you buy your ticket online and weighing your bag before you go, since, of course, you'll have to pay a bit more if it's overweight as well.
Spend a Little Extra on Priority Boarding
Since no one wants to pay to check baggage, most Ryanair passengers bring along rolling carry-ons — if you're among the last to board, there often won't be any room left for yours, and you’ll have to check it anyway. Not to mention the fact that herds of cattle passengers will be rushing the gate to board, so it’s just, well, a hot mess.
On my last Ryanair flight from Madrid to London, priority boarding cost just 2 euros (~$2), plus 6 euros (~$6) more to select an aisle seat in the front of the plane. Honestly, it was 8 euros (~$8) well spent considering I boarded first and was seated in 6C. Had I not paid a little extra that day, I could have been standing in the boarding line for 40 minutes, eventually had to check my hand luggage and might have gotten stuck between two burly passengers hogging the armrests in a middle seat in the back of the plane. While the prices vary for each flight, it may be worth purchasing if you'd like a less-stressful boarding and flying experience. There are also options to purchase seats with extra legroom or exit-row seats, which can be a worthwhile luxury if you happen to be tall — regular Ryanair seats are not spacious by any means.
Three Words: Noise. Canceling. Headphones.
Ryanair just loves to make announcements and sell you things — duty free, food and drinks and charity donations, among other things — and irritatingly, this tends to happen more often and in shriller, louder voices on those 6:00am flights when all you want to do is sleep. I also find that, thanks to the airline's low prices, your fellow passengers are often people who, let's just say, haven't had a lifetime to hone their travel etiquette skills, so you may be forced to deal with loud, unruly or drunk passengers, screaming babies and misbehaving children. I've even seen truly crappy passenger etiquette, like people putting their smelly bare feet on the seats or clipping their toenails — yes, all things I have seen on Ryanair flights myself, unfortunately. Do yourself a favor, slip on your favorite pair of noise-canceling headphones and just zone out. Or take photos of these nasty passengers and post them on Twitter with the #PassengerShaming hashtag — just kidding (sort of).
Know That Business Plus Class Isn’t Really Business Class
Ryanair offers a Business Class Plus ticket, but it’s not exactly business class — there’s no separate cabin and you won't get giant seats or free food. Instead, Business Plus on Ryanair includes the following perks for each passenger:
- Complimentary airport check-in
- A premium seat (subject to availability; keep in mind this just means a seat up in the front or possibly one with some extra legroom, not a true business-class seat)
- Priority boarding
- Airport FastTrack security service (available at participating airports)
- Flight details delivered via text message
- Flexible ticket changes
- One 20 kg checked bag
Book the fare if it makes financial sense, but don’t expect Champagne and caviar — or even a free Diet Coke.
Lower Your Expectations
Most Ryanair flights are just a few hours long so unless you’re freakishly tall or just a cranky person in general, you can probably handle it for a short time. I find if you go in with really low expectations, you’re bound to end up reasonably satisfied. Don’t board your flight thinking you’re going to have a Delta or British Airways experience, because you aren’t. Take Ryanair for what it is. You probably paid half the price you would have with a traditional airline, so take that into consideration and lower those expectations at least halfway to match. If you know you can't deal, then pay twice the price and fly with another airline.
Know Where the Heck You're Actually Flying
Paris Beauvais–Tillé Airport (BVA)? Yeah, that's not really in Paris — it’s basically one runway and a hut in the middle of a French forest. Milan-Bergamo (BGY)? Not really in Milan. Barcelona-GRO? Actually in Girona, a totally different city. Often, flying into a spot two hours away from your desired destination completely negates the money-saving aspect. Ryanair is often sneaky with its airport locations, so before booking your ticket, make sure you know exactly which airport you’ll be flying into and how to get to the city center.
Avoid the Ryanair Bus
Ryanair offers many buses to and from the airport in various cities, which I’d strongly suggest you avoid at all costs — if the bus is late and you miss your flight, you’re on your own and Ryanair won’t assume any responsibility. There are plenty of other options in Europe to get to the airport from the city center and vice versa, so I’d encourage you to find a different way and only book your flights with Ryanair — not bus transportation.
Do Your Homework Before Booking Ryanair
While it’s true you can score some great deals on Ryanair — I once flew to Dublin for $12 and to Budapest for $20 from Madrid — sometimes, especially at the last minute, it may not make sense. Several times I’ve found flights on Iberia, KLM or Air Europa (which included a checked bag, by the way) for the same price or just slightly more. Or it may be possible to fly on a different low-cost carrier that has more relaxed rules, like easyJet or Vueling, for the same price or less. Take the time to do some extra research and make sure you're really getting the best deal before you book.
Have you flown with Ryanair? Tell us about your experience below.