Do you ever feel when you fly with Ryanair that check-in is really trying to prove your bag breaches some rule? Well, that might be because they’re being paid to do that. From Ryanair’s annual report (pdf), page 67:
As part of its non-flight scheduled and Internet-related services, Ryanair incentivizes ground service providers at many of the airports it serves to levy correct excess baggage charges for any baggage that exceeds Ryanair‘s published baggage allowances and to collect these charges in accordance with Ryanair‘s standard terms and conditions. Excess baggage charges are recorded as non-flight scheduled revenue.
So if you thought that because it’s airport staff doing it it must be the law or safety or something, it’s not. It’s a revenue stream.
Only now can the story be told – because since I got back I’ve been too shagged. How did I become involved with the Ballyhea Burn The Bank Bondholders band? I have to be honest, I am not altogether sure. It sounded like a wild thing to do. It was a noble cause. It would mean spending time with one of my favouritest people. I had some time, flights were cheap, what the hell.
Our journey begins as it ends – in Knock. Knock is one of the world’s weirdest little airports. It has a runway long enough for 747s, but it is miles and miles away from anywhere almost anyone would want to go. The nearest cities are Galway, Limerick and Derry, but the closest of them is an hour away and they all have their own airports anyway.
Knock was the brainchild not of a planner or politician, but of a priest – who thought that the site of a minor and, it has to be said, suspect apparition could become a major destination for pilgrims, if there were only an airport to bring them. But the maxim “If you build it they will come” applies poorly to superfluous infrastructure. Knock had to wait for a new miracle and a new prophet – Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, who knew how to put unwanted airports to good use. So from Knock, an hour away from Galway, we can fly to Hahn, two hours away from Frankfurt. It’s a very useful service – and not only for us, as we were to find.
Knock though is well worth visiting for itself, if you enjoy mocking people’s beliefs. Perhaps I can find a better way to put that… It’s fascinating, because it displays religion at its most incredible. The town of Knock is more or less a religious strip mall, selling objects of veneration in boxes of a dozen beside charming isn’t-drunkenness-funny souvenirs. It’s hard to imagine how anyone’s faith could survive a pilgrimage here.
I would swear that religious art has just got more dumb-looking in recent decades. These figures seem actually to have concussion, the features weirdly cartoonish and toy-like. The 3D pictures of animals are… unexplained. Virgin Marys now come in Standard and Luminous. I resisted the desire to buy a luminous one.
I do not know what a Happy Death Cross is, or how it differs from the usual sad death type of crucifix. We speculate that if you look close, Jesus has a big smile.
So we tear ourselves away from the anthropology just in time to meet up with the Ballyhea folks at the airport, and board our flight. Though not before paying an extra €10, for Knock is a toll airport.
Aboard then, and of course the first thing that greets you is Ryanair’s extraordinary panoply of warnings, right in front of your face. They know that the usual safety cards are often damaged or taken as souvenirs (seriously, I have a friend who collects them), so to save a few cents every flight Ryanair plaster them to the back of the seat in front of you. You spend your entire journey being constantly reminded of the things that can go wrong with a plane.
And I ask you, if you didn’t know all the safety drills already, would you really be able to work them out from this? What the hell is that guy doing with the yellow vest – the hula? And look at the first panel of “Exit B Overwings”, the bottom row of the right side. The whole point of doing this in pictures is so you don’t need to read English to understand the drill. But without that caption, the picture seems to say “If you look out the window and see fire, stay in the plane”. That’s really only good advice if you’re flying through a fire.
Gotta say, plane wings are lovely things.
When we boarded though, someone noticed a thing that took us all by surprise. Among our fellow-passengers was one of the people we were hoping to meet in Frankfurt – Doctor Patrick Honohan, the governor of Ireland’s Central Bank, on his way to the very meeting we were going to picket. This, I admit, was troubling. Were we so broke that our Central Bank Governor had to fly Ryanair? It seems almost shameful. Of course to his credit, Honahan had recently turned down a pay rise in the hope, naive as it might seem, of business and public sector leaders following suit. So perhaps this was another example of economy.
This is weird. I’m going to sunny Germany tomorrow, but I’m sitting here with nothing to do. For once I packed well in advance. This is as unlike me as it is possible to imagine, and must basically have happened by accident.
So tomorrow we’re driving to Knock, which should take about an hour, flying with Ryanair to Frankfurt, which should take two hours, and then getting from there to where Frankfurt actually is, which will be the longest leg of the whole trip. You know the usual way.
Hahn airport – “Frankfurt-Hahn“, as Ryanair have the nads to call it – is actually nearer Luxembourg. The tickets were fantastically cheap though, it must be said. We are going to Frankfurt basically because we can afford to. Oh, there will be some research and meetings and stuff. This is the home of the European Central Bank, the institution that is handling our currency in such a profoundly wrong-headed way, so there is much to learn. Perhaps we will even have a little protest. I plan to stand opposite the ECB with my arms folded, frowning really hard.
I’ve been planning this trip for a few weeks though, you think I found time to refresh my German? Did I hell. But then, do I need to now? My phone can speak German for me. Even the free Google Translate is very good – though bear in mind that to use an online translation service you have to pay for data at roaming rates. Right now I’m just getting it to say things like “How many cars may I eat?”, “This shop sells millions of ducklings in a box”, and let’s not forget that old favourite, “My wombat is constipated”.
It’s all right, I don’t need help really. It’s just the only wordplay I could think of. For today was May Day, a feast dedicated to Spring. Except in Ireland where it’s dedicated to Mary, because only the Catholic Church could transform a feast of fecundity into a celebration of sanctified virginity.
Of course before the Christians it was Bealtaine, still by tradition the first day of summer, and we’ve never let the fact that it’s usually raining deflect us from that.
And God it was miserable today. So it made my mind up. I have just now booked my holidays. I’m going to sunny Finland. Seriously. It’ll probably be much warmer than here, come July. I plan a week or so of simple rustic pleasures. Camp on an island, take saunas, get naked, chop wood. Though not in that order.
So I’ve just been through the usual “Ryanair or Aer Lingus” juggling game. The last time I went Finland way I just plumped for Ryanair, unrealising that if I’d gone with Aer Lingus I would have only paid a little more to fly straight in Helsinki where my friend actually lives, as opposed to Tampere, a tiny airport that’s a short bus ride – and then a very long¹ train journey – north.
So this time I gave Aer Lingus serious consideration. Just as well – Ryanair doesn’t fly to Finland anymore. Not directly anyway. You can go there from Stansted. Alternatively, you can fly from Dublin to Tallinn in Estonia, from where it’s a pretty short hop. There may be other ways you could make it, it’s not too easy to figure this out with their site, but taking a two-step trip with Ryanair is out of the question anyway. If the lateness of their first connection causes you to miss the second, they take no responsibility.
They’ve been a great influence on Aer Lingus though. It’s no exaggeration to say that the national airline is often actually the cheaper now. OK, in some respects their service has just plunged to Ryanair’s level, but at least you don’t get the feeling that if you click the wrong thing on their site you’ll lose a kidney. With Ryanair everything you press seems to raise the price, including the back button.
Mind you, there are signs that Aer Lingus might be going that way. It would be easy to get the impression that even after you’ve bought your ticket you still have to pay for your seat! In fact it’s an option to book a seat, but it’s not very obvious that you don’t have to.
I called it the national airline; of course, it’s now 3% less national. Abu Dhabi carrier Etihad just got a bit. We buy their oil, they buy our strategic transport infrastructure. That’s going to end well. And with the country’s finances being in the state they are, speculation is rife that the government will sell off its share. My flight’s not until July; by the time I take it, it may not be with an Irish airline.
Though this being Finland, very fast and reasonably priced.