Ryanair is widely regarded as the worst budget airline in the world. At least, that was the impression I got from endless bloggers, redditors, and journalists when researching what flying on Ryanair would be like for us. They’re known to be stingy, misleading, and extremely unaccommodating, and they almost pride themselves on that reputation. After all, infamy sells seats.
But for how awful a name they have it, they’re one of the most successful and most-used airlines in the world, thanks to their ridiculously low ticket prices. Almost everyone in Europe who’s flown has flown with Ryanair, and though experiences do vary, the abuse seems to be worth it.
In our case, however, we didn’t witness any abuse. We did what we could to abide by the rules they seem to be most picky about (bag size/weight, checking in online) and let things play out. Thankfully for us, they played out quite nicely – not only did we have priority entrance onto the flight (where they didn’t even bother to check our bags), we were given plenty of attention while in the air. Frankly, it was a better experience than half the flights we’ve taken so far on this crazy trip.
So we figured out what it boils down to – here’s the scoop on flying Ryanair with a family (or at least a baby), and what you can expect before you hop on board:
No frills, no kidding—Ryanair doesn’t mess around when they say the word “budget”. You get what you pay for never stood so true, and so you should expect that they will cut every corner they possibly can. It’s not because they’re out to get you; it’s because they want to make money on a severely discounted ticket price, and “free unlimited drinks” isn’t the way to do it. If you can wrap your head around this, you’ll be alright.
Forced Online Check-in—This is one easy way to cut costs, forcing everyone to check in via their website. You can do so 7 days in advance and their website is simple to use (in fact, one of the better airline websites I’ve seen before). Don’t have internet? No worries… for a mere $96 per person they’ll be happy to get you and your family squared away. Honestly, online check-in is easier anyway, so just go with it. Just ABSOLUTELY make sure you print all your tickets at home, and for the love of everything holy GET THEM STAMPED. So many people have been left flightless because they didn’t go up to the counter to get their ticket stamped before boarding—in fact, it almost happened to us.
Decent Cabin Baggage Allowance—This is one area where people often get hung up; everyone talks about how bags have to be a certain size and weight, and agreeably the fee for exceeding these things is steep. But Ryanair gave us more cabin baggage allowance than any other airline out there, including big guys like United and Malaysia Air. We got 10kg each bag, another carry-on with smaller dimensions but no weight limit, and 5kg for Carter, even though he was flying as a lap child. No other int’l flight has allowed us a separate bag for Carter. There is a catch, however; if you’re not one of the first 90 people boarding, there’s a chance there won’t be room for your bag up top and you’ll have to check it at the gate (for free).
Pay Extra for Booking Baby—They do charge an extra fee for a lap child, more so than the typical 10% other int’l carriers charge. It’s a pretty straightforward fee (£20 each way), but it’s annoying and make an otherwise cheap flight not so cheap. If you think that another airline in Europe is going to be better, think again… turns out this is pretty much universal in the EU.
Checking in at the Gate—Checking in is a breeze if you have a baby or kids, less so if you don’t. We got bumped to priority because of our kid so we got it easy. All others were in shuffled into a long, sweaty line and were the last to board.
Boringest Seats in the World—Going along with the “no frills” philosophy, I guarantee you won’t find a more bland seating situation than with Ryanair. Not only do they avoid brochures and magazines, they don’t even have a place to hold them—besides the lack of screens and everything else, there are no nets on the back of seats to hold things. Prepare you and your kids’ pockets accordingly, and try your best not to lose toys.
Catering to Small People—Unless you’re the size of a typical 13 year old, you’re going to be a bit uncomfortable. I have a 43″ shoulder span and I was as much in the aisle and Emily’s seat as I was in my own. My hips (which don’t lie) were pressed in to undesirable extremities, leg (or even foot) room was practically nonexistent, and the kicker: the seats don’t recline. Not even a little bit. Thank goodness Europe is comparatively small.
On Time—One extra benefit which most people overlook when judging Ryanair is their on-time performance. While I tend to doubt their claim of 90% of their flights to be within 15 minutes of schedule, they do seem to have numbers to justify it. At least in our case, it was one of the few flights that left at the time originally planned, didn’t wait on the tarmac for another 10, and even got to the destination ahead of schedule by a few minutes.
All in all, our flight from Liverpool, UK to Pisa, Italy was one of the simplest flights we ever took, and though there are a lot of factors that made it so, Ryanair did their part to keep it so. We’d fly them again, with or without children. Just know what you’re getting yourself into first.
If you want to read more about how to prepare for flying Ryanair with a family (or without), click here to check out ThePointsGuy’s article on the matter.