Advantages Very Cheap Flights. "Interesting" Destinations. Looked After Me!
Disadvantages "Interesting Destinations". Cut Price Service at Stanstead.
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Update: 14.02.06.Following last night's Channel 4 "Despatches" programme I have to say that if I knew then, what I know now, I would definitely NOT be flying on Ryanair.
Whilst my opinion remains that the media generally give the low cost airlines a "bad press" and that this programme went "looking" for trouble, the number of very obvious safety and procedure breaches that they found was too great in number to be dismissed as "minor" or in any way "one off" occurrences.My following review has not been altered in any way, as it remains a truthful accound of our experiences on the day, which I have to say, did not coincide whatsoever with the impression left by last night's television programme.
This one is specific to Ryanair, with whom the return booking was made and paid for on our behalf by Club Direct, our travel insurance company.
Sorry about this folks, but I have another "linking" review for you here, connecting with my two previous ones covering, and following, the aftermath of the breaking of my ankle in Poland on New Years Day.
As you probably know, Ryanair was the very first of the low-cost airlines, founded in 1985, really taking off (lousy pun, forgive me!) since their flamboyant Chief Executive, Michael O'Leary started fronting the business in 1988. Founded, as it remains, very much a "no-frills" airline, it competed initially more with bus and coach operators than with existing airlines.That was soon not to be the case though. Ryanair proved that, as a business, it was possible to be profitable by filling planes with passengers who had paid very little. Along the way the national air-carriers, along with the national pride in many cases took a hammering, and in some cases went out of business. Ryanair now face low-cost competition from many sources, Easy Jet being the highest profile here, although Central Wings are giving them a good run for their money in Europe.
Ryanair quickly gained a rather dodgy reputation, largely fuelled I think by the existing airlines who were flying more than half empty planes and charging grossly inflated prices for their service. Operating various cartels, they managed to make sure that it was either not possible, or that the landing fees were just too high at the major European airports for Ryanair or any other cut price competitor, to touch down there.Ryanair responded by locating out of the way airports which, naturally, were desperate for the business - and flying his customers in there. Then, when the passengers got off the plane, they discovered that these airports were as much as two hours away from the city described on the ticket - Frankfurt being a prime and much publicised example of this. The airline industry and press ridiculed Ryanair and Mr O'Leary personally, but still the customers kept coming. The established major airlines failed to see the point, the new airline was not actually competing with them, it was competing with buses and trains. By this reckoning, who cares if you are two hours from Frankfurt? An hour and a half flight from London, a two hour bus ride equals three and a half hours travelling. Better than spending eighteen hours on the bus perhaps?
Then maybe there are a few other people like us, for whom Ryanair's little out of the way airports just happen (by sheer luck!) to be really convenient, both geographically and because we prefer a small airport anyway.Whilst Freddie Laker may have had the initial idea and lost his shirt on it, the world is now a different place, undoubtedly low cost airlines are here to stay. Not only that, but they have done all of us a favour in driving down the GENERAL cost of air travel, whichever airline we choose to fly on.
So a big thank you up front to Ryanair and here follow my own personal experiences travelling on Mr O'Leary's slightly notorious airline!
Those of you who read my reviews regularly, will be aware of our twice yearly visits to Poland by car. Visiting my wife's family there now for the last four and a half years, we rapidly came to realise that logistically and financially it was far more prudent to take our own car. Even now that you can fly to Poland for literally only a few pounds on Central Wings or Ryanair, hire cars are very expensive there and during the course of a two week stay a large bill will result.
A young English speaking doctor came into my hospital room one afternoon to say that he had heard from my English insurance company and that he had informed them that I would need to keep my left leg elevated whilst flying, or indeed travelling by car. The answer apparently was to book me three seats, one for my bottom and the other two for my plastered leg.On contacting them upon my release from hospital, Club Direct knew of my medical (more accurately orthopaedic!) requirements, what they did not know was very much about our geographical location and the airport options in the south east of Poland. Their Polish agent, as already described in the previous review was worse than useless, it was left to us to discuss the flight options with them.
We, that is my wife and I, plus her family at various times, had only experienced Poland's major two airports, Warsaw and Krakow. We were aware however that the airport in Rzeszow, the local administrative city, had before Christmas "gone international" thanks to the arrival of Ryanair.Rzeszow, on a good day, is approximately 55 minutes drive on an acceptably well surfaced road. Krakow however is a minimum of two and a half hours away, on a notoriously dangerous and in places badly surfaced road. From Krakow airport, Club Direct would have had the choice of three carriers, all flying into Gatwick; British Airways, LOT Polish Airlines and Central Wings - the "low cost" arm of LOT. From Rzeszow it would be Ryanair or nothing, flying into Stanstead.
On the face of it Gatwick, being our local airport only 25 minutes from home, would have been the logical choice. However, in England the roads are far better, as was at the time the weather, -16degC in Poland, +10degC in London. From previous runs to Stanstead I knew that away from the M25 rush hour period it would not take more than an hour and a half to get home on a well surfaced road. This was a far less hazardous option than attempting to reach Krakow. Given the choice, it simply made more sense to add to the road distance back in England.I explained all this to Doriana, the Club Direct operator and they jumped at the idea of flying us out of Poland from Rzeszow on Ryanair. For that, I was truly grateful, even though I had never previously sampled Ryanair, nor visited the airport at Rzeszow.
In my current state, with my left foot and leg plastered from the little toe to the knee, I qualify as a special needs case - effectively disabled. This would not, by any standards be your usual (cheap or otherwise) walk-on flight then. My first experience on Ryanair and I would be testing them to the limit, not a bad angle to approach a consumer review from you might say.Club Direct, as well as laying on the flight, also had to lay on airport assistance, both for myself, in terms of a wheelchair and helper, and for my wife, overburdened having to handle all of our luggage.
We arrived at Rzeszow Airport at just before 9.00am, following a very snowy two hour taxi ride from my wife's parents home. Due to the snow, both falling and deeply (about 6ins) covering the ground and roads, the road journey had taken twice as long as it would otherwise have done. The taxi driver rapidly located both a wheelchair for me and a baggage trolley. Bidding him a grateful farewell, we found ourselves in a near deserted, if very small, booking hall at the front of Rzeszow's small, but modern, terminal building. We were only the second pair of passengers to book in for the 11.35 flight to Stanstead.The staff there were expecting us, and had obviously been fully briefed as to our needs. Impressively this applied to both the airport staff and Ryanair employees. A female airport manager came out from behind the scenes to explain that the special wheelchair on which I was sitting would be carried onto the aircraft, indeed it had a full body harness seat belt into which I was strapped during movements by airport staff.
From the strictly Ryanair point of view, booking in - entirely completed by my wife on behalf of us both - was painless and swift. The young check-in assistant did not even get sight of me, I was enjoying a cup of coffee in the café as I was checked in!In relation to the booking-in process, naturally comes baggage. Here you need to be a little careful with the weights. Flicking around the airlines on the net, it would appear that the normal luggage weight allowance is a total of 25kg. What you need to watch is the way this is made up, in Ryanair's case your hold bag must not weigh more than 15kg, whilst your carry-on bag can contain up to 10kg in weight. In the case of British Airways or LOT, this is a 20kg / 5kg split.
On the subject of baggage, you may remember that we travelled to Poland by car. We do not travel light! We had been told by Doriana that the two extra seats were just that, there was no additional luggage allowance to go with them. As it turned out, with my wife having to handle the luggage later, this was just as well anyway.Our combined luggage had weighed vastly in excess of our individual allowance - we had been faced with no choice but to send a large suitcase full of belongings back to England in the back of the car, returned to England courtesy of the AA.
Luggage checked in, we were assisted through the very thorough customs and security checks. It struck us later that in a tiny airport with only two international flights per day, that they have far more time to conduct thorough body searches on everyone, than in a place like Gatwick or Stanstead. Never mind, personally I would rather have confidence that I am flying "safe" than moan about the inconvenience of receiving a very thorough and officious body frisking.It was 9.20 and we were fully processed and through into the small departure lounge. Being "special needs" passengers we were placed immediately adjacent to the exit doors on the "air" side of the barrier. We felt rather like a king and queen sitting there with the airport manager coming to ask us if everything was ok at regular periods!
Behind us was a small, but good, shop selling alcohol, chocolates and some very good glass and wooden souvenirs.The time passed very quickly as the departure lounge filled completely, the Ryanair check-in desk closed at 10.55, thirty minutes before the flight was due to leave. Surrounding us were many Poles, a lot of Russians and people of other Eastern European races which my wife was unable to identify by the language which they spoke. Rzeszow is barely an hour from the Ukrainian border to the east. Obviously many nationalities were finding this far east of Poland airport a cheap and relatively convenient way of getting to England, thanks to Ryanair.
As already mentioned it was snowing and we were watching the snow blowers constantly plying the runway and taxi-ways. The Ryanair flight from Stanstead was due in at 11.10, which allowed only twenty-five minutes for the turn around. At 11.00 the snow clearing equipment came back to the terminal building and cars went out to test the runway.Then we waited and waited. The snow fell on and off, the white, blue and yellow Boing 737-800 landed just after 11.30. With a large harp on the tail, national symbol of Irelend, the thought went through my head that this did not LOOK like a cut price airline. The pilot wasted no time in taxiing almost up to the front door of the terminal building. Here you have less than a minutes walk to the plane, you do, I didn't!
Waiting for me was an electric two seater car, a "Melex" built on the very industrial estate in Mielec where my father in law works. Our hand luggage was loaded onto the back and with a driver at the wheel I was silently driven to the aircraft and then carried on board in the special wheelchair, all entirely effortlessly. My wife was accompanied on board by the airport manager who handed us over to the Ryanair crew. We were most grateful for her assistance.Once I was safely seated, the rest of the passengers were then allowed on board, women with babies first. As requested I had the full row of three seats abreast to myself, my wife sat in the first row immediately in front of me. The Ryanair cabin staff were friendly, courteous and again made sure that I was as comfortably accommodated as possible.
Having time to get a good look around the interior of the 737, again the décor reflected the colours of the outside of the plane, I noted that whilst it obviously was not a new aircraft, it was clean and showed every sign of being well maintained.Through the cabin windows my wife and I watched in awe the airport equivalent of ballet. The wings were being de-iced by one crew and their vehicle, the plane refuelled by a bowser team, the luggage loaded by hand. Amazing how much can be done during a "quick turnaround".
Following the standard safety briefing we were off! This was indeed a quick turnaround, no reason for any delays here, ours was the only aircraft at that time at Rzeszow airport, no taxi clearance or queuing to take off here, I am sure the pilots enjoy this place!There really is not much that can be said about the flight itself, it was smooth and the flight crew took care of what few needs we had.
Once the plane reached straight and level flying altitude the crew handed out the Ryanair in-flight magazine. This did let the side down a little, dated November 2005, the copy I had in my hand could only be described as dog-eared. Apart from the choice of food and beverages, a good one at that we agreed, there was nothing of interest to me in this magazine, I would advise taking a book to read on one of these, or any other flight.On the subject of catering, the food on offer, both cold, sandwiches and hot, burgers and pizza's, at around £3.50 each looked fairly good value for money. My wife and I had cold drinks at £1.10 for a small can, not cheap but I could have paid far more in a bar. The limited range of gifts, souvenirs and alcohol were reasonably priced. All currencies are accepted in payment for any goods sold on the aircraft, the prices shown in the magazine appear in Sterling and Euros.
Around the middle of the flight the chief cabin steward approached me and asked if I would be requiring assistance when we landed. I told him yes, that would very definitely be the case, and that our travel insurance company had already requested this. He said that in order to be sure they would radio ahead. We would stay on the aircraft until all the other passengers had left before disembarking ourselves, he also warned me that their docking bridge was broken and that there would be steps down from the aircraft to the hard-standing.After taking off about 30 minutes late, we were similarly late coming into the English hub of the Ryanair operation - Stanstead. Here I had been lead to expect a similar level of assisted service as at Rzeszow.
Welcome back to England!Once we stopped, before opening the cabin door, the steward once again leant over to inform me that the captain had again radioed requesting a wheelchair and helper, there were none currently available.
We were on the aircraft probably a further 20 minutes awaiting the arrival of a wheelchair. This being London, like the busses, two then arrived at once. A man came on board and asked if I could manage the steps on my crutches, otherwise they would have to bring a special chair aboard. I agreed to give the crutches a go, little realising that after nearly three hours in the air my plastered leg would weigh two tonnes! The steps swayed uneasily as I stepped off of the plane, I slipped on the third step down - fortunately landing flat on my backside. Equally fortunately, Mrs R. did not see this event take place.Helped down the rest of the way, I was then safely on the ground and into a wheel-chair. There was however no luggage assistance for my wife, she was expected to struggle with our hand luggage weighing 20kg, plus our various coats, camera etc. I finished up with half of it, plus the crutches and camera uncomfortably piled on my lap for what turned out to be a marathon "walk" through to the baggage claim hall.
The Ryanair helper stayed with us during the long wait to reclaim our main luggage, at which point I was then handed over to the BAA (British Airports Authority) desk to be taken through customs, out to the arrivals hall and eventually to the waiting hire car.Had I been fully able bodied I would have had nothing but praise for Ryanair. Indeed, viewing the bargain nature of the tickets normally, how could you view such a service in any other way?
In my specific case, during my hours of need, both at Rzeszow airport and in the air, Ryanair had looked after me as well as the most expensive airline could have done. Once back at Stanstead, hub of their operation, after a tiring journey (it is not comfortable sitting sideways in an aircraft seat for over three hours) when we REALLY needed the assistance, it was lacking. All that would have been required was a trolley for my wife to push the luggage on, but no, it was not available from the plane to the baggage hall.Whilst you may be able, by booking over the net, to actually pay nothing, but airport taxes, for a Ryanair flight, in our case that was obviously not possible as Club Direct made a last minute "mercy" purchase. In the normal course of events we would never have found out just what the four tickets cost our insurance company. By sheer chance, as she was leaving the aircraft, the senior cabin steward handed my wife a detailed receipt, commenting that he had been given this copy and had no need for it. I am able to inform you then, purely by chance, that the total bill for this flight was 3030.92PLN (Polish zloty), approximately equivalent to £551, or £137.75 per seat.
Should we wish to buy a ticket to Rzeszow in the conventional manner, dependant on when we were to fly, we could currently do so for £1.69 plus airport taxes "Not Exceeding £15.50". Less than £18 each then to fly that 1150 miles to Poland.Ryanair even have a partnership with Hertz Car Rental. Here, for us at least, is where the economics of flying fly out the window. Even on a "special deal" rental, for a Ford Focus 1.6 they want £560 for a seven day period. We are never in Poland for less than two weeks, add in the (very reasonable) Ryanair tickets - £72 and at £632 you have one very expensive stay. For us it is MUCH cheaper, still, to drive to Poland.
Ryanair fly to many European and eastern European destinations, far too many to list here. They also have many internal flight routes in the UK. My advice would be to seek out the pricing and route information on the internet as these are changing all the time.One warning here though, if you are taking even an internal Ryanair flight, you will be asked to produce a valid passport. Apparently some very well known "faces" (Tara P-T for one!) have been refused access to flights because they have turned up to book in without appropriate identification. Makes my own booking in look a bit of a mockery come to think of it - my wife could have had ANYBODY in that wheelchair and I would have been allowed onto the flight!
However, should you not have the need for a car during your stay and wish to visit south eastern Poland, then I would unreservedly recommend Ryanair. Incidentally, they also fly into Krakow airport, less than thirty minutes from the very beautiful city centre.Our experience of Ryanair was a largely positive one, others I know have been let down, but we would unhesitatingly use them again, hopefully under happier circumstances!
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