travel: Europe – the Ryanair way (3/3)
15 July 2011
Nine countries for 500 euros. The two Le Monde journalists conclude their tour of the continent with the observation that the Irish airline will take you everywhere ... but leave you a long way from anywhere.
DAY 4: A FEAST OF FEES
They had also chosen Ryanair for the low prices. At least, so they thought. With their three young children, Liam and Deirdre Ryan had no other alternative if they wanted to spend their holidays far from the shores of their native Emerald Isle. Liam runs a small construction company in North Dublin, while Deidre teaches Gaelic in a national school. The Ryans are the owners of a camping-car. “But the ferry to the continent would have cost 1,700 euros, and we would have had to pay for diesel, which has been going up and up, as well as for campsites,” they explain. The return flight to Catalonia, via Reus airport (which is one hour and 20 minutes from Barcelona), was supposed to cost them 1,100 euros – “A reasonable price and the cheapest we had seen,” remarks Liam, who obviously wanted to take advantage of the best offer. But that was not to be. First and foremost, Ryanair has recently increased the average ticket price by 12 per cent (to 39 euros) to take into account a hike in fuel prices.
Secondly, just because you are traveling in a group does not mean that you can expect a discount on the various taxes and fees. For example, take the six euros commission on all credit cards (with the exception of Prepaid Mastercard): even when there is only one transaction to buy several tickets, buyers still have to stump up for each leg of the journey and for every passenger. The same applies to registration fees, which are also billed at 6 euros and multiplied by the number of individual journeys. Added to that you have the cost of putting one or two bags in the hold (between 15 and 40 euros depending on the weight, the period and the number of bags). All in all, the bill can be much stiffer than expected.
No wonder passengers are so attached to free cabin baggage. But bear in mind that there is one condition: cabin bags must comply with specific stipulations for weight and size. With regard to this issue, the least we can say is travelers should not expect equal treatment. In Trapani, Frankfurt, Riga and Reus, no one paid the slightest attention to our luggage. However in London and Charleroi, each bag was scrupulously weighed and had its dimensions checked in the dreaded Ryanair rack.
The fear of having bags banished to the hold for a cost of 40 euros has resulted in strange scenes in departures. On occasion, you can see distinguished-looking men and women on all fours shifting their possessions from one bag to another. Some passengers go the extra mile by covering themselves in sweaters and overcoats to lighten their baggage.
Others force their bags into the rack only to find that they are incapable of getting them out without inflicting damage. In Dublin, we saw a member of a football team – on his way to play a match in Porto – empty out half of his belongings so as to fold his bag in two and successfully pass the test. The human comedy, played out under the eyes of Ireland’s greatest writers whose pictures bedeck the walls of Dublin airport, is nothing short of extraordinary. The quote next to the portrait of Lady Gregory (1852-1932) seemed oddly appropriate: it reads: “It is sweet to people to be telling a lie, but it is bitter in the end.”
DAY 5: THE LONG ROAD FROM VATRY TO PARIS
On a grand tour, it is nice to go out with a final flourish. We had been to Vatry (in the Marne) the previous year to attend the official opening of new services to the terminal there, which specialises in air freight. What we had forgotten is how long it takes to get back to Paris, more than 160 kilometres away. In spite of the distance, the destination, which has been officially renamed “Paris-Vatry (Disney),” is now an approved airport for tourists on their way to Disneyland and/or the capital. The plane from Porto landed bang on time at five minutes past three. Three quarters of an hour later, the sole direct means of transport to Paris pulled out of the airport: a bus scheduled to arrive at the foot of the Eiffel Tower at 7:45 p.m. – a full four hours and forty minutes after landing! The route to the capital included stops at three Disney hotels.
As one airport employee nonchalantly explained: “It is quite simple if you have the time.” She had a point. The other solution was to dive into a bus to the railway station in Châlons-en-Champagne, and from there to catch a train to the Gare de l’Est in Paris. We were past caring about the cost of this final transfer (36.90 euros), which would be more than we had just paid for our flight from Portugal (32.50 euros). We would be in Paris less than three hours after landing: a mere jiffy. Well almost. As it happened, there was a problem with “malicious damage” to the railway line, which resulted in a half hour delay… But we stayed cool and sat through it, telling ourselves that everything would be okay. And only occasionally looking at the time on our new “miracle” watch.
Translated from the French by Mark McGovern