Ryanair runs a tight, reliable ship, and legroom and seat width are acceptable. My only gripes are their painful visa check process, as well as the complete lack of substantial buy-on-board food options
I’m trying to find the best way to travel around Europe on a budget. Nowadays there isn’t a massive difference (both in price and onboard experience) between the legacy European carriers such as British Airways, KLM, Air France etc., and low-cost carriers such as Easyjet, Ryanair, and Wizz Air, so I’ve been endeavouring to give them all a try. The last three airlines I listed were what I’d call the “low-cost trifecta”, as they’re the major low-cost workhorses in the region. This flight rounded off said trifecta for me.
Ryanair gets such a bad rep that I was actually really looking forward to this flight. I know they get the job done, though I was hoping they’d be a hot, hilarious mess otherwise. While this wasn’t quite the case, there were still some “Ryanair-isms” that I was able to spot on this flight, which I’d like to report back on. Here’s my review of the flight.
Booking My Flight on Ryanair
My flight from Cork to Luton ran from 14.99 EUR one-way. This wasn’t quite what I paid, since I added a couple of add-ons just to make sure I could get a good review (as well as my preference of a window seat). Ryanair offers three add-on bundles:
- A Regular package comes with seat selection, priority boarding, and a 10 kg carry-on (this went for 22 EUR/£18.78/HK$187 extra on my flight)
- A Plus package comes with seat selection, a 20 kg check-in bag, and free airport check-in (this went for 27.48 EUR/£23.45/HK$233.5 extra on my flight)
- A Flexi Plus package comes with seat selection, priority boarding, a 10 kg carry on, free airport check-in, and free changes including changing to an earlier flight (this went for 70 EUR/£59.75/HK$595 extra on my flight)
I purchased a Regular bundle, which gave me some flexibility to take a carry-on to Ireland if needed, and also gave me seat selection and priority boarding (both things I would’ve purchased separately anyway, especially if I was going to review the flight). In the end I paid 36.99 EUR (£34.16/HK$340), which I considered to be reasonable given the add-ons. I also had to sign up for a myRyanair account in order to book the flight, though this was painless.
Ryanair would never turn a profit if everyone only paid the base cost – expect to pay some add-on fees if you’re going on a trip that lasts any longer than a couple of days, unless you’re into 40 x 20 x 25 cm backpacking and/or packing super light.
I’d also like to point out that I could’ve travelled back home from any London airport (there were evening flights into Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, none of which arrived at a particularly ridiculous time), and chose specifically to land into Luton to get the full “landing in the middle of nowhere” experience. Fear not, I realise that isn’t Ryanair’s hub – I’ve got plans to fly in/out of Stansted soon.
Ryanair Check-in, Visa Check and Ground Experience
My Ryanair flight left from Cork Airport, so my friends and I got there at around 6:15 PM, 90 minutes before our flight.
Cork Airport Exterior
Ryanair sent me a total of six emails between when I booked and when I took the flight:
- an “activation code” email for my myRyanair account
- my booking confirmation
- a “need a hand?” email with guidance for booking changes, bag policies, and online check-in
- a seats policy email, suggesting I’d be randomly allocated a seat and that I could purchase an extra seat if I wanted
- an “important boarding information” email suggesting I was boarding from the front, and to take my seat as soon as possible after I boarded
None of these suggested that I’d have to get my visa checked, which is really annoying, given that the gate agent suggested I wouldn’t have been able to board without getting a visa check. Fortunately I knew this going in, so I stopped by the visa check desk once I got to the airport. I’ve written about this in a separate post, so won’t rehash this here.
While I dislike Ryanair’s visa check process execution in principle, thankfully the lines were nonexistent, so this took all of five minutes.
Getting my visa checked with Ryanair
Security was also really quick at Cork Airport. Cork Airport has a grand total of eight gates, and our flight was the only one leaving at that time on a Sunday evening, so most of the airport was completely deserted.
Cork Airport Airside
We were assigned gate 8. This was across the Aspire Lounge Cork, a Priority Pass lounge. I was out of free Priority Pass credits with my AmEx Gold card (I get four per year), but still decided I’d give the lounge a visit, since it was new – I’ll review it in a separate post.
Ryanair’s Boarding Process
I’d been tracking our inbound aircraft from Luton, and saw that it was planning to arrive late at 7:33 PM, 12 minutes after our scheduled departure time. I knew that there was no way we’d be leaving Cork on time. Despite this, I was suspicious that we’d be lining up fairly early, given reports I’d heard of Ryanair in the past.
While we probably still lined up later than we otherwise would’ve, the gate agents directed us to queue at 7:30 PM, when the aircraft was still airborne on its way to Cork. I was amused that the gate agents announced an “assembly call” at gate 8, making it quite clear that we weren’t going to be boarding the plane just yet. Talk about an interesting passenger culture…
Ryanair Gate Area at Cork Airport
As you’d expect, the gate was separated into priority and non-priority boarding. Everyone who purchased the right to bring a cabin bag onboard (myself included) was given priority boarding, which ended up being about a third of the passengers on the plane.
Ryanair Boarding Signage at Cork Airport
We were lined up for about five minutes, and boarding began at 7:35 PM. While theoretically my combined baggage shouldn’t have exceeded 10 kg as per my baggage allowance, neither of my two bags (one cabin bag + one backpack) were weighed before getting onboard.
I headed down the stairwell leading to the aircraft, knowing full well that we wouldn’t be getting on the plane just yet. The doors were closed at the bottom of the stairwell, and we were held there for about 10 minutes.
Boarding and Waiting at Stairwell at Cork Airport
At around 7:45 PM the doors opened, and we waited for a further few minutes in a covered walkway with the plane in sight.
Ryanair 737 at Cork Airport
Finally at 7:50 PM we were allowed to board. It was cold and rainy, so I was extra excited to get onboard my first 737 in a while!
Ryanair 737 at Cork Airport
If you’ve never heard much of Ryanair in the past, you might think that this is an operational glitch. Well, it’s a feature, not a bug – Ryanair is able to charge such low fares because their plane utilisation is among the industry’s highest.
Generally you’ll find that the plane waits for passengers if you’re flying a full-service airline, so that boarding can begin as scheduled. With Ryanair, the passengers wait for the plane, and board the second the plane is ready to go. A quick cabin check is done to ensure that there’s no rubbish lying around, and within seconds the first passenger boards.
Having set the right expectations coming in, and having done my research (including tracking my inbound flight, and knowing that when my boarding pass was scanned we were still quite aways from being able to board the plane), this didn’t feel like too much of a hassle for me. I’d get in the headspace of being willing to queue and wait for a little bit if flying Ryanair.
Ryanair Flight FR424
Sunday, January 28, 2024
Origin: Cork (ORK) Gate: 8 Dep: 19:45 (20:05)
Destination: London Luton (LTN) Gate: Bus Arr: 21:05 (21:20)
Duration: 1 h 20 min (1 h 15 min)
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800 Reg: EI-ESS
Seat: 9A (Standard Class)
Ryanair 737 Cabin and Seat
I knew from tracking the inbound aircraft that we’d be getting an older Ryanair 737, with bright yellow finishes, and notorious thick plastic seats commonly seen on internet memes about chaotic airplane journeys. And alas, it was borderline surreal to see these seats in person, after years and years of intrigue – I was welcomed onboard by two flight attendants, before heading to my pre-assigned seat, 9A.
Ryanair 737 Interior
I found Ryanair’s row 11, which social media seems to enjoy having a laugh about (due to the lack of a window, and Ryanair’s website algorithm of automatically suggesting you the seat if you express a preference to pay for seat selection).
Ryanair’s 737 Celebrity Seat
I headed to 9A and got acquainted with my seat, which according to Ryanair’s email was “very excited to meet me”. Legroom isn’t atrocious in these seats – I’m 5’8″, and could sit in the seat comfortably without my legs reaching anywhere near the seat in front. You may struggle if you’re 6’+, though, and you’ll certainly have to get out of your seat if whoever’s in the window seat needs to use the lavatory.
Ryanair 737 Legroom
A tray table folds out from the seat in front. It’s actually relatively large, if not the sturdiest.
Ryanair 737 Tray Table
Ryanair has heavily toned down their in-cabin advertising, though the safety instructions are still situated by the seatback in front of you. There’s also a QR code to view the full menu if you wished to buy anything onboard.
Ryanair 737 Seatback
As with most narrowbody aircraft, this aircraft also featured air nozzles. This is one feature that you’ll find in Ryanair’s 737 economy, but not some airlines’ first class cabins (that being said, they’re probably only provided for free because Ryanair just couldn’t find a way to monetise it).
Ryanair 737 Air Nozzles
Notably absent is a seat pocket – Ryanair has purposefully not installed them so ground crew don’t have to dig within the seat pockets to pick up rubbish between flights. I typically use the seat pocket to store my laptop during takeoff and landing if I get some work done during boarding, but in this case had to put it in my bag instead (which is no big deal at all for me, especially when flying Ryanair, though you may think differently). I also noted that padding wasn’t great, though I wasn’t expecting anything more.
Sorry if you have to fly a 5+ hour Ryanair flight to North Africa – these planes are built to resemble a bus in as many ways as possible. The seats feel tight, particularly since they aren’t slimline on these older aircraft, though not unbearably so.
Takeoff from Cork Airport
Throughout the boarding process, crewmembers would make announcements such as “your seat has been allocated to comply with weight and balance, so please sit in your assigned seat”, and “people are waiting to get onboard the aircraft and it is raining and cold, so please take your seat as soon as possible”.
I work in operations consulting, and feel like I have a lot to learn from Ryanair. I know deplaning for the inbound flight began at 7:35 PM according to FlightRadar24, I boarded the flight at 7:50 PM, and the last passenger was boarded at 8 PM for a full flight with 187 passsengers. That’s 25 minutes at the gate in total.
The captain came onto the PA, announcing a flight time of 1h 2m. He mentioned that there were clear skies along the route. I found it interesting that someone was bringing an acoustic guitar to the UK a few rows behind, and the guitar was strapped to the seat next to him.
Ryanair is one of the safest airlines in Europe – they can’t skimp on safety, or they’d have to pay copious amounts in fines and compensation fees if something did go wrong. So as protocol would suggest, the lights were dimmed before takeoff.
Dimmed Lights in Ryanair cabin
We took off at 8:15 PM, 30 minutes behind our scheduled departure. Unfortunately it was a night flight and the windows were showing their age, so I couldn’t see very clearly out of them.
Takeoff from Cork Airport
After takeoff, the crew came round to sell magazines.
Ryanair’s 737 Lavatory
While I hate to be the annoying window seat passenger that has to ask my seatmates to file out so I can use the loo (on a shorthaul flight – I feel like it’s more reasonable if I’m flying longhaul), unfortunately nature called on this flight, so I did have to end up doing so. The lavatory was fairly standard for an older 737.
Ryanair 737 Lavatory
The lavatory featured a…I’m not sure what this is. It was a cross between hand soap and air freshener.
Ryanair 737 Lavatory Toiletries
Ryanair’s Buy-on-board Meals (or Lack Thereof)
Ryanair conducted a buy-on-board service once we’d taken off. You can find the full menu here, though Ryanair does two types of meal deal:
- A drink, a snack, and a hot meal goes for 11.99 EUR
- A drink, a snack, and a sandwich goes for 10.99 EUR
This is on the more expensive side and I can’t imagine the food quality is great. However, I did want to test it out on my first Ryanair review.
However, this wasn’t to be. My conversation with the flight attendant went a bit like this:
Me: Can I ask what meal deals do you have?
Him: Did you say cigarettes?
Me: No, meal deal…
Him: Sorry, we have no meal deals, just snacks and drinks.
Given that they were literally only selling packaged snacks (think Kit Kats and pretzels) and drinks on this flight, I passed. Maybe someday I’ll get to test out Ryanair’s “mouthwatering café” selection.
Ryanair Service (?)
While there isn’t any structured service on Ryanair apart from them selling various items (flight attendants are there primarily for your safety, but I guess on Ryanair they’re only there for your safety…and for facilitating auxiliary spend), everyone I interacted with on the flight was friendly. That’s not easy when you see literally thousands of passengers a day on tens of flights, so I found that to be commendable.
Landing into Luton Airport
Shortly before we commenced our descent, the crew came round selling scratch cards with prizes. Pricing was as follows:
- 1 for 2 EUR
- 5 for 5 EUR
- 10 for 7 EUR
While I would’ve wanted to do it for the review, I couldn’t bring myself to spend even two euros on a scratch card – it was just so out of left field for the type of spending I’d normally have.
We were wheels-down into Luton for a smooth landing at 9:20 PM.
Tarmac at Luton Airport
We taxied for a few minutes, then stopped. I could tell that we were nowhere near the terminal, as I could see it being quite far away. I did see a couple of air stairs however, which told me that we’d probably be bussed to the terminal…but no buses.
Sure enough, one of the flight attendants repeated what I was thinking – “we are waiting for buses as we are very far from the terminal, we should be ready to deplane in 10 minutes”.
Bus-less bus gate at Luton Airport
The bus actually arrived within a couple of minutes later, and the flight attendant came back onto the PA and said “actually I meant ten seconds, thank you for flying with us”, before opening the door and allowing us to deplane.
Bus at Luton Airport
Nobody likes a bus gate, though it was nice to get another glimpse of my first Ryanair 737.
Ryanair 737 at Luton Airport
There were two buses taking us to the terminal, and they were both packed fairly full. As passengers arriving from Ireland we didn’t need to get our passports stamped (even more of a reason why Ryanair should rethink visa checks on these routes), and we made it straight out to the arrivals hall.
Luton Airport Arrivals Hall
From there we took the DART train to Luton Airport Parkway, before taking an EMR Connect train home.
Conclusion: My Flight on Ryanair
Operationally, Ryanair does the job – it gets you from A to B on time, safely, and very cheaply. Those who pay the “base” cost on Ryanair are typically just going on a weekend trip, as you do have to pay for everything extra, including seat selection, carry-on baggage, meals, and more. That being said, this is the case even when you’re flying a full-service airline.
The “Ryanair-isms” on this flight consisted mainly of being lined up to board before the aircraft was even deplaned from its previous segment, waiting outdoors for a bit before boarding (especially non-priority boarders, who had to stand in the rain as those in the aircraft took their seats), and having to wait for buses to be bussed to the terminal at Luton. These are fine as well – I know what I’m paying for, and it’s to get me from point A to B. Also I wasn’t thrilled by the lack of food whatsoever (even for purchase) on this dinnertime flight, but I can make do.
I’d say that the bits I’m less okay with involve some of their more deceptive traits, such as automatically adding add-ons when trying to check-in online, the lack of clarity with the visa check process, as well as general lack of training with visa requirements at some of the airline’s outstations. There are some aspects of the Ryanair experience that make me wonder whether they want to up your ancillary spend by making you pay for a new flight altogether. This makes me want to avoid Ryanair on principle, even though I feel like I have a good sense of how to circumnavigate some of these practices (I’m privileged to be able to do that, since Ryanair makes it especially difficult for some passengers who can enter the UK for transit without a visa).
Ah well, I suppose I’ll unavoidably end up flying them a few more times. I’d say on flights under three hours, if you do your research (and get your visa checked if you’re flying on a non-UK/EU/EEA passport), you’ll most likely be in for a pleasant enough flight.
Have you flown Ryanair before? Did you have a pleasant experience?