Guide to flying Ryanair

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If you’re a budget traveler, chances are, you’ve flown Ireland-based Ryanair. Now whether you survived the experience or not is another story. At the very least, you’ve heard of the low-fare king. From its modest beginnings in the mid-1980s, Ryanair has grown into one of the largest short-haul carriers in the world, operating thousands of flights per day, mainly between European destinations.

Basic information on Ryanair

Ryanair is a short-haul, low-cost carrier that operates 1,800 routes, connecting 40 countries with 79 bases. The airline travels across most of Europe and also touches on North Africa, operating 2,500 flights a day, all with the same fleet of Boeing 737-800 aircraft. From 1986 to 1987, its first full year in operation, Ryanair carried 82,000 passengers with just two routes, increasing market competition with British Airways and Aer Lingus on flights from Dublin to London. With basically all of its bookings handled online, the cheap-flight carrier makes its money off of upsells, like seat preferences, checked-bag charges, and more — what the company calls “travel extras.” If you’re willing to do without many amenities and are simply in search of basic hub hopping across Europe, Ryanair is a great option.

Why Ryanair is so cheap

Ryanair’s additional fees keep the baseline flight costs low. Charges include fees for checked baggage (over one carry-on and one personal item, which are allowed), “Fast Track” access, which can save you time by giving you access to the priority lane at the airport, seats with extra legroom, seats closest to the front and lots more.  In short, the carrier specializes in quick, cheap travel, with many pay-as-you-go add-ons. It’s great for last-minute getaways, but not necessarily for those looking for a luxury experience.
Ryanair’s route map. (Courtesy of Ryanair)

Baggage policies

Like most carriers, Ryanair allows passengers to bring one small “wheelie” carry-on bag and one smaller personal item on board. After that, it’ll cost you. To save a bit of cash here, indicate how many bags you need to purchase at the time of booking. If you wait until check-in, it’ll cost more.  Checked bags cost 25 euros (~$30) if purchased while booking the flight, and 40 euros (~$47.50) after you’ve booked the flight. Each passenger can purchase up to three checked bags of 20 kilograms/44 pounds. And on the topic of weight, customers are allowed to share baggage weight allowance with others on their reservation when they check-in together.  So, if you’re checking in with your partner, for example, and your bag is 15 kilograms, and the other bag is 25, that is fine because it’s still under 40 kilograms total. Go over, though, and again, Ryanair will charge you — approximately 11 euros (~$13) (subject to change) per kilogram over.  Similar restrictions go for passengers traveling with musical instruments or large sporting equipment. While logged into your account, you can purchase bags through the Manage My Booking section up to two hours before departure.  Watch this video to learn more about Ryanair’s baggage policy. And if you do end up needing to check a bag, be sure to use the right credit card for your purchase. Earning rewards will at least help soften the blow of having to pay the fees.

Seat selection and boarding

For maximum legroom, and for a fee, you’ll want to book seats in rows 1 (A, B, C), 2 (D, E, F), 16, and 17. The front seats, rows 2 (A, B, C) and 3-5, are the first to board the plane, and standard seats are the rest, located throughout the cabin.  If you’re traveling with a group of people and you want to sit together, make sure you reserve your seats in advance.  Note that if you’re traveling with children, Ryanair now makes it mandatory for accompanying adults to reserve a seat. The good news? You get free reserved seats for up to four children (ages 2-12) with each adult seat you book. 

Can I get a refund or change a flight?

All Ryanair flights are changeable, but they can’t be canceled. If you log into your account at least 2.5 hours before your flight, you are permitted to change flight dates, time or routes. Once a flight is in operation (and not delayed for more than two hours), then you cannot get a refund.  The exception is with a death in the family. If you’re already traveling, Ryanair advises you to contact the call center to book a quick return. If you had planned to travel within 28 days, and you want to cancel due to bereavement, Ryanair will provide a full refund after you apply for it

Is Ryanair a good airline?

As with many things, the answer is subjective. When it comes to customer service, Ryanair CEO Micheal O’Leary once said, “Are we going to say sorry for our lack of customer service? Absolutely not.” But you be the judge. The carrier does offer many ways to get help. On the website, the Ryanair Bot is available 24/7, and if you still have questions and need a real person, agents are available during set times. As for the experience, O’Leary strikes again, saying, “We already bombard you with as many in-flight announcements and trolleys as we can. Anyone who looks like sleeping, we wake them up to sell them things.” That said, the company does not purport to sell luxury experiences, rather cheap and quick flights. 

Does Ryanair have a frequent flyer program?

The short answer is not really. In 2019, the carrier launched Ryanair Choice, a type of frequent flyer program that runs ~$235 a year. Membership gives travelers free seating choice, fast-track security passes and priority boarding. According to the Telegraph, you have to be quite the frequent traveler, though, and opt into many of the upgrades when you do travel for the cost to be worth it

Bottom Line

Like with any “budget” experience, there are pros and cons. Ryanair prides itself on being the low-fare king. If you’re looking for luxury, look elsewhere. But if you are in search of quick, affordable trips, and the ability to add on several perks – or not – it’s a great European carrier. Featured image by Vytautas Kielaitis/Shutterstock.

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