“Anywhere in Europe for ONE Euro!” flashed the headline from the RyanAir website. Naturally, an offer like this is hard to resist, especially by the most cost conscious traveler like The Flashpacker! Like a crazed shopper bearing down on a red light special, I was greedily divulging my credit card details – this was too good to be true! Soon, I was the proud owner of two return tickets from London to Stockholm for only 2 Euros!
Does anyone remember Eurail? You know, the ONLY way to get around Europe with a backpack on a budget? Well, once upon a time on a faraway continent, airline travel was undoubtably the most expensive mode of transport for anyone contemplating a European holiday, the cheapest way to go was with a Eurail train pass, valid for 2-4 weeks, valid for travel anywhere on the majestic European rail network.
Yeah sure, it was a great way to see the countryside and a gold mine for nostalgic, life-changing moments, but there were plenty of catches: sleep deprivation, fear of being robbed, random police searches and dodgy carriage partners just for starters. Waking up in a city that you hadn’t planned on visiting was always a surprise.
Today however, The Flashpacker is so spoilt for choice by a network of budget airlines seemingly hell bent on drastically under-cutting the other that the roles have been reversed. Traveling by train is now exclusively the domain of the rich and mad, just like flying used to be.
But be careful what you wish for.
Sure, budget airline travel today is the ONLY way to see Europe with a backpack and a budget, but get ready for some new experiences once you press ‘buy now’.
The bottom feeder of Europes budget battlers has to be RyanAir, which began its humble service in 1985 with just one route from Waterford in the southeast of Ireland to London Gatwick. It’s now the largest budget carrier in Europe boasting an average of 30 million passengers annually and flying to over 220 European routes.
RyanAir has persistently exasperated its rivals by not only profiting during the post 9/11 downturn, it now intends on altering the face of the aviation industry entirely by forcing passengers to do the dirty work and load their own baggage. That’s right, load your own bag!
From the everyman-for-himself anarchy of boarding time to the army of mournful service staff whom seem to pity passengers as much as themselves for lowering themselves to this service, Ryanair doesn’t fill you with much confidence at departure. And I felt low for it.
Once on the plane, jammed in shoulder-to-shoulder, passengers expect to pay 3 times more for a sandwich than the ticket. RyanAir is so no-frills that the life jackets under the seats are probably coin operated…
It gets worse.
When RyanAir staff aren’t too busy breaking you down to servile levels, they are attempting to warn potential new passengers about gaping holes in the company’s safety record.
On a web site specifically created to address the concerns of its members, the International Transport Worker’s Federation has highlighted the plight of disgruntled RyanAir staff by posting their grievances for all to read. From a member of the Cabin Crew came this:
"Ryanair are more concerned about sales then passenger safety. I can’t count how many emergency landings i have had due to trying to be early or on time and not working on the technical problem. I think it’s only a matter of time before some big accident occurs within the company due to no frills”
“Flying RyanAir is a constant danger... one day, we took off from Stansted with no portable water in the aircraft, so we didn't have water in the toilets, in the sinks, not anywhere. The engineer told us that the plane needed to takeIoff on time, and brought us another fire extinguisher, just in case "we had a fire on board". The Cabin Supervisor asked me to keep my personal water (the one I bought early that day) just in case we had an emergency. That day we did 2 flights in that condition.”
And finally, if the pilot manages to land at your destination, you will be happy to learn that you have another 3 hours travel by bus to the ‘actual’ destination. Huh?
When planning a trip around Europe it pays to look before you leap. Budget airline travel is now undoubtedly the cheapest and fastest mode of transport, however try to read between the lines rather than get too excited by the cheap prices as this translates into cheaper service standards.
You get what you pay for, or that’s what you will be thinking when you’re loading your own bag.