Saturday, May 08, 2010

getting screwed

In communism, the purpose of a company is the good of the people. In capitalism, a company serves its shareholders. Ryanair, the Irish budget airline that dominates the European short-haul market, fits neither worldview. It brings inner-European air-travel within reach of even the least well-off, but that's not its primary goal. It is thus not communist. It has made and continues to make its owners shedloads of money, but that's not its primary goal either. Transporting people is a means of assuring generous profits, but either is only corollary to the raison d'être of Ryanair, which is the aggravating, ridiculing and buggering of its customers.

Ryanair is the only company that I know that not only openly despises its customers but bluntly and tirelessly tells them so. Most of its business innovations are aimed at fleecing people, and it is very upfront about it. All novelties are proudly and loudly presented in front of the international press, as if to mock those about to suffer from them.

What do I mean? Ryanair pioneered the nefarious practice of advertising imaginary prices. Three years ago, I went from Barcelona to Rome on a one-cent ticket. The unavoidable fees amounted to nearly 2000%. The price I paid in the end was still ridiculously low and could have been used to advertise the competition out of business. It wasn't because Ryanair doesn't care about that. It cares passionately about future passengers experiencing painful abuse when they make a booking.

This is also the reason that Ryanair frequently sends planes to airports that have only a tenuous connection with the advertised destination. On said trip to Rome three years ago, take-off was in Girona, farther from Barcelona by bus than from Rome by plane. Had I not already known what I was getting, I wouldn't have easily found it out on Ryanair's website, and I would have been pissed.

This kind of information is now more prominently displayed, no doubt thanks to European legislation, but money-gauging schemes have multiplied. Two years ago I flew Ryanair to Belfast. All fees and charges included, the ticket cost me 13 pounds, slightly less than the train out to the airport (in the fields an hour outside of London). That would not be possible anymore. Electronic check-in is now charged at five pounds, and it is unavoidable. Don't try to save money by checking in at the airport. It costs eight times as much to print your boarding pass there, but no one might be present to do it for you. Payment by credit card costs an extra five pounds, and this is per person and per flight. Do you feel anger rising up inside you already?

Checked bags are fifteen pounds each, but only if you register them at the time of booking. Bags added later to your ticket cost disproportionately more. Be careful what you pack: Ryanair apparently has the lowest baggage allowance in Europe but charges the highest excess luggage fee. It also limit the dimensions of carry-on bags more than other airlines. For no other reasons than to flaunt its kiss-my-ass attitude, Ryanair requires passengers on flights within the UK to possess a valid passport and has instituted a number of arcane visa stamp procedures unique to this airline and devoid of any useful purpose.

Once aboard, the irritations continue. Instead of handing out food and drink (*), the flight attendants flog scratch cards for a highly profitable lottery and shove catalogs for in-flight merchandise in the faces of annoyed passengers. At the same time, the overhead speakers screech advertisements in an infinite loop. The latest fuck-you-customer scheme is the installation of, and I kid you not, coin-operated toilets. And why not charge for the seat that you are required to take, though you can't choose it in advance (**)?

I passionately hate Ryanair for their deceitfulness, their dishonesty and their aggressive arrogance, and I avoid them where I can. I'd rather pay a bit more and use another company. Unfortunately, being the market leader, Ryanair flies to a lot more airports than other carriers, and their prices are competitive, even considering the outrageous charges (which makes their perfidy all the more aggravating).

This afternoon, I booked two flights that will bracket a stay in the southwest of France in three weeks. It was an effort that took the better part of three hours and exhausted me thoroughly. I had quickly discovered that Ryanair was the cheapest option, but its violent website and crooked character made me abandon my bookings four times and search for an alternative. There wasn't one, and I had to suck it up. And for the next three weeks, I won't complain about the airline. I brought the misery upon myself, after all.

(*) One can buy food and drinks on board, but the prices are excessive. A price comparison site found markups of nearly 300%. Pestered about this by a newspaper's travel supplement, a Ryanair spokesperson said with proud deceit: 'I would like to know how much Tesco are charging for flights from Barcelona to London', declining to explain how this is relevant. After all, Ryanair flies neither to Barcelona nor to London.

(**) Here, Ryanair is actually missing out. They could advertise every flight for the same price. I can see the billboards already, screaming in nasty purple: "One pound, no matter where you go, no matter when you book." All regular charges are added to this as before, and just before you're about to book your ticket, the charge for your seat is added, the magnitude of which would of course depend on where you go and when you book. Oh, people would be so angry!

1 comment:

Dee said...

essentially it is a flying bus to nowhere in particular. . . great if you are running away from home but not so good if you hope to ever get back