Ryanair: Oh where to do I begin, Mr. O'Leary? Your airline appears to be a joke at every passenger’s expense. You're not kidding anyone.
On a recent flight back from France, I was once again confronted with the unforgettable stale yellow and blue interior of a Boeing 737. I was greeted with the welcoming smile of one of the airline’s top cabin crew staff. Or I wish I had been; instead I got the confused look of a docile, young woman staring blankly at me while waving her arms in the direction of my seat. I noticed that Mr. O’Leary's joke extended to the cabin crew. What the hell is he making them wear? The staff resembled a group of beauticians on a training day. Maybe I could get a manicure after takeoff, I thought. I wouldn’t have put it past them, either: they try and sell you everything else. What happened to the image of air travel, a once glamorous employment opportunity?
All aboard. We are ready to go, so says the jolly captain. It’s always good to hear the voice of a jolly yet calm pilot, broadcast over the tannoy before takeoff. It is reassuring, if also completely irrational: that a nice sounding man is less likely to crash a plane than a grumpy man. But who would you rather have flying the plane!?
Due to Ryanair’s grueling schedule, there is a sense of urgency among the cabin crew before takeoff, which it has to be said, is not noticed by many of the passengers. Maybe it’s just the anxious flyers such as myself that find it hard not to freak out at any little anomaly we see. One of my favorites is staring out at the wing whilst holding back the urge to jump up and say, "Er, excuse me; I think there’s a bolt missing from the wing!" The automatic tannoy safety sequence is started prematurely, leaving the crew to break into a gentle jog down the aisle while flapping their hands left and right trying to catch up with the system. This again, is not reassuring. By this point, my pores have opened and the angst is manifesting itself as sweat running down my triceps. The elderly French couple to my right barely raise an eyebrow; I can only dream for that kind of confidence. I wonder what a crash would be like (probably not the best time to dwell on this subject), and think would I really be in safe hands with the beauticians on board? It appears Mr. O’Leary’s joke is spreading to all aspects of air travel now; when did flight safety not become paramount?
Once in the air and sitting as comfortably as possible in a seat designed for small a child, the selling begins. Even before the seatbelt sign flickers away, someone with more makeup than sense is shoving this week’s latest celebrity gossip glossy in my face—at a charge of £2 I hasten to add. Ryanair doesn't do freebies. Something like this should be their slogan:
Fly with Europe’s premier budget airline! We don’t do freebies, but we have plenty to offer.
After the first round of impulse selling is complete, and I think that now maybe I'll be able to relax, rounds two, three, four, and five commence. I won't be surprised if in another year you will be able to do your weekly grocery shop on the return flight. They were selling everything from scratch cards and cigarettes to train tickets and everyone's favorite: a small tin of peanuts weighing in at three quid. I noticed that the two staff manning the trolley have had enough of each other by this point, disgusted looks at every available moment. So now if we crash, the beauticians aren’t only going to be absolutely useless, but they’re not going to be cooperative at the vital moment. I really am one anxious and increasingly paranoid flyer, shit.
Thankfully, we land to the sound of some sort of celebratory horn. This was a new experience for me, and one that did the opposite of its job, which is to let everyone know that we were once again on land and home safely. Instead I almost jumped from of my booster seat out of panic that this is it, we're done for. Note to self, and any other anxious flyers: once back on the ground after landing you are safe.
After the celebration commences the unmistakeable sound of rustling passengers eager to get as far away from the colour scheme. As I get up, I’m greeted by the screech of an automated Irish lady who tells me and my fellow mugs that 90% of Ryanair flights landed on time last year. A record in the aviation industry, apparently. On the surface, I thought, well at least they got something right. And then I realised that the only reason they have this record is because they rush everything, from check-in and safety to the application of make-up on the staff.
A couple of days after my flight, I did some research on said Mr. O’Leary and his airline and was quite shocked at what I discovered. The beauticians only get £11,000 a year! I had imagined that the flight attendant profession wasn’t as profitable as it once may have been, but come on: that’s £6 an hour. Is it really possible to pay someone that little and expect them to get along, look good, be helpful—and then save 150 passengers in a worst case scenario. Well Mr. O’Leary thinks so. A recent article highlighted that he has proposed to get rid of co-pilots, and replace them with cabin crew trained to land a plane in an emergency, in hope of cutting even more costs. In the same piece, it was reported that there are plans to make planes void of seats. Standing room only? I think, Mr. O’Leary, this joke of yours has gone to far. Thankfully, the aviation watchdogs are keeping a close eye on things and there is no need to worry about putting our lives in the hands of those other than a professional pilot—not just yet. Who knows what Ryanair will be doing to impede on consumer rights in the future, but we can be sure that further cut impediments will continue so long as we continue to fill out the seats and well as O’Leary’s pockets. You have to ask yourself, is cheap air travel really worth it?
Mike Duggan blogs at somewordsbymike.