Dennis Wright's Blog

Flights of Despair with Ryanair

Posted in Travel by Dennis Wright on July 2, 2007

Italy Flag Naomi and I were the lucky ones. We looked on as mothers of young children burst into fits of uncontrollable sobs on being told they were facing yet another night camped out in a small airport with next to no facilities, with no idea when or how they were ever going to get home.

Certainly we suffered inconvenience, uncertainty and had to go to some lengths to get ourselves home, but we didn’t have to sleep at the airport and even enjoyed an unexpected bonus (more on that later). The biggest problems for us were around the impact of being a day late returning to work. We had to make a lot of phone calls and Naomi in particular had to call in favours so that the pharmacy department at the hospital where she works could open for business.

Ryanair aircraft

The trouble with lastminute decisions

We had returned to Venice, to revisit the scene of our honeymoon 25 years earlier. In fairness we had already been on our special Silver Wedding holiday, a cruise to the Far East. But that had been slightly premature – our anniversary is 13 June, but that is the height of typhoon season in South East Asia so we had taken our cruise a little early, in late April and early May. Our friends laid on some wonderful celebrations for us on the day itself but Naomi still had the itch to go back to Venice in June so I booked a long weekend via lastminute.com. June 13th was a midweek and work logistics made it difficult, so we had booked the weekend of 23/24 June, taking in Monday 25th and returning to work on the Tuesday.

The problem with relying on a service such as lastminute.com is that they tend to use cheap no-frills airlines which fly from (for us) inconvenient airports. In our case that meant Ryanair, and a long car journey from our home in Cheshire to Stansted to get our flight. To add to that, Ryanair don’t use Venice’s principal airport, Marco Polo, which is close to the city, rather the newer and smaller Treviso airport which is around an hour’s bus journey out of town.

Worst of all is that Ryanair accept no responsiblity for any of the consequences of their failing to provide a flight at the scheduled time. If they decide to cancel, for whatever reason, you are on your own. I see it as a kind of “reverse insurance”. With normal insurance, everyone pays a small sum so that the few unlucky ones who have some calamity befall them can get financial recompense, and everyone else at least had peace of mind for their outlay. With Ryanair, everyone pays less for their air travel but those who are affected by problems such as cancelled flights are absolutely stuffed.

As for whether this affects a few or more than a few I don’t have the data to determine. From my own experience, never having flown Ryanair before, the rate of cancellation affected trips is 100%, but then a sample of 1 is not exactly statistically significant.

The downward spiral begins

We enjoyed Venice just as much the second time, if not more so. We are still in love with the place, but come Monday 25th we had to bid a sad Arrivederci to the palaces, canals and the gondolas and make our way by Vaporetto to the bus station at Piazzale Roma to get our “official” bus laid on to co-ordinate with the 22:35 Ryanair flight to Stansted.

As we arrived at the bus stop the place was in turmoil. The driver had just informed fellow passengers already in the queue that there had been a road traffic accident on the route to Treviso and he couldn’t guarantee we’d get to the airport in time. Some passengers stomped off to get the train. Naomi and I chanced the bus, along with most of our co-travellers. We reasoned Ryanair would delay take off if most of the passengers were held up on route. Still, it was a tedious and stressful journey, starting off with an hour crawling in a traffic jam up the causeway to the mainland. Nevertheless, our driver miraculously got us to the airport in what should have been plenty of time to get the plane, but then the next bombshell. Our flight had been cancelled due to mechanical breakdown. We were told we could go on the 18:00 flight the next day, Tuesday, and transferred our booking having briefly explored alternatives but we were already too late for the British Airways flight from Venice Marco Polo to Gatwick.

A bed for the night

The immediate priority was somewhere to stay the night. Our problem, not Ryanair’s apparently. We were told we could get a list of local hotels from the information desk. Rather than queue I called my personal travel and bookings agent in Berlin, Jonathan. I reckoned he’d be sat in front of a PC with nothing more urgent to do. Within 15 minutes he’d booked us in at the Best Western Al Fogher 3-star, about 5 minutes by taxi from the airport. Bless him.

Arriving at the hotel at around ten past eleven at night the restaurant was closed, but the pleasant young lady on reception pointed us to the pizzeria across the street. She told us it closed at 11:30 but it seemed to stay open a lot later than that. I waltzed in and employed my best restaurant Italian “Due pizze margharita e due birre Moretti per favore …” When they came they were the most delicious pizzas we’d ever tasted.

The hotel was fine. Comfortable and clean. Breakfast included. We spent most of the morning sorting out work. I had to alert people to my continued absence and get things organised. It was tougher for Naomi as her job is more “real time”. She was supposed to be the pharmacist on duty at her hospital. She had started making arrangements the night before, having alerted matron and cobbled something together so the pharmacy could open.

We needed lunch and had some time to kill. The hotel lent us bikes so we could cycle the half mile to the walled historic town of Treviso. What a gem! A worthy holiday destination in its own right. It more or less turned a weekend break in Venice gone wrong into a two-centre holiday. I’ll cover our visit to Treviso old town in a separate blog post.

Cancellation after cancellation

We showed up at the airport around 4-ish, ready to check in for the 6pm flight. It was evident that a load of people had slept rough at the airport. We started to chat to some of the other passengers sharing our predicament. Someone mentioned you could get a cancellation certificate for insurance purposes. I duly showed up at the ticketing desk and asked for one. It took a while to get my certificate as, in the middle of processing it, the woman behind the counter started to look sullen and in due course ashen. It turns out she was getting a message that our 18:00 flight had in turn been cancelled, again citing mechanical failure. It was as this was announced formally that the human tragedy started to unfold, as people who had had a miserable night, tedious day, coping with tetchy kids, hungry, thirsty and tired, hanging on to the thought of an impending flight home, realised their nightmare was far from over … and lost it.

I thought I had been lucky because, happening to be at the front of the queue, I was first to book on that night’s (i.e. Tuesday’s) 22:35 flight. We were surprised though that they then proceeded to book lots of other people onto that flight. But that was the regular flight – would it not already be pretty much booked up?

To be cautious we started to look at alternatives in earnest. I tried to call the travel insurance service provided by my firm. I get annual cover for myself and family, but the number I had was out of date. I got through to a secretary back at the office and she called back with the right number. After several calls I established I was covered for alternative transport.

Meantime a rumour started to go around that the 22:35 flight would not be running. The staff at Treviso were denying it but the flight was apparently showing up as cancelled on the Stansted website, or so people were being told by relatives and friends in England. We checked with Jonathan who confirmed the rumour.

Ryanair loses No Confidence vote

We were not going to take any chances. I rang the BA Executive Club who could only offer two Club Class seats on that evening’s Marco Polo to Gatwick flight for around €800 each. I was not sure the insurance would cover Club Class but booked it anyway. We got on the phone to Jonathan who booked us car hire at Gatwick.

I managed to get hold of a taxi and we shed no tears on leaving Treviso airport for Marco Polo. The latter was not, at first, any more endearing. Where Treviso had been small and starved of people actually travelling anywhere, Marco Polo was much larger and a bubbling mass of humanity. Queues everywhere.

We found our way to BA’s local agents, S.A.V.E., to pay for our tickets. The woman at the desk told us we could get tickets cheaper than the rate quoted by the Executive Club. She did something opaque and arcane on her computer then issued us return tickets to Gatwick for a total of a little under €1,100. Not sure what we’ll do with the return flights back to Venice on 15 August.

There followed a long wait at the crowded airport, mainly sat in the cafeteria trying to do work. No laptops so it all had to be done on our PDAs. Thank heavens for Microsoft Word Mobile and PDAs with usable keyboards.

By 8.30pm a long queue had formed for check-in, even before the desk number had been listed on the departures screens. The ticketing paperwork suggested we were on Club Class so I jumped the queue to the priority Club Class desk. The check-in clerk was confused because the system was showing two separate bookings for us – the original one booked by the Executive Club in London and the more creative one booked locally when we paid. It turns out we were actually on economy but were not required to go to the back of the queue.

Executive Lounge leaves sour taste

My Executive Club silver membership number was on the boarding cards so we were allowed into the executive lounge. Naomi wanted a white wine spritzer. The bar staff had no sensible lemonade so came up with a local concoction involving Campari. It tasted like petrol. Campari had been my late father’s (b’shalom) favourite drink – he’d given Naomi a taste once. She’d found it repulsive then and her opinion has not changed. It was my first taste of the stuff and I concurred. We took a walk on the viewing balcony, found a waste bin and emptied our glasses.

The last leg

Our flight got in to Gatwick at around 11.30. A long walk later we found Hertz and picked up a Ford Focus for the one-way to Stansted. We were contemplating satnav hire (including extortionate £30 charge for one-way hire) when Naomi reminded me she had GPS on her PDA and Co-Pilot installed. No windscreen bracket so she held it on her knee. To be honest the signposting on the motorway was clear enough anyway.

It was less obvious at Stansted where to return the keys. The Hertz rental return car park was deserted. Naomi found the desk in the terminal building and then couldn’t resist checking the arrivals board for evidence of the Ryanair flight from Treviso. There was none. Yes! Vindication!

There followed a bus ride out to the right zone of the car park. The funniest part was the conversation on the driver’s radio which was broadcast to the whole vehicle. “Fred wants to know if you can find a torch to take to zone Q …” “Tell him I think I know someone who carries a torch for me …”

Car was still there. We took turns to drive through the night. Home at 6am, a very brief bit of kip then up for work …

Never again will we fly anywhere with Ryanair, last minute or otherwise.

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13 Responses

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  1. Dennis Wright said, on June 26, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    The lengths to which Ryanair will go to try to tempt me to use them again.

    That Michael O’Leary, to say he’s the CEO of a major airline he can be a total Ratner.

  2. Honeymoon Bound said, on May 28, 2008 at 3:21 am

    Wow, it’s really crazy. We’re actually planning to go back to Venice where we had OUR honeymoon 25 years ago! I’m actually even going to buy a real honeymoon package for my wife (very excited). I was actually going to book a ryan air flight until I read this. Thanks for the heads up! Crazy about the same honeymoons and such!

  3. Dennis Wright said, on May 10, 2008 at 10:42 am

    Helena – I really can’t remember how much we paid for that taxi ride but I don’t think it was a huge amount. Maybe something like €25-€30. And it didn’t take as long as I imagined it would. Maybe 20-25 mins.

  4. Helena said, on May 9, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    Hi,sorry to bug you byt I am trying to find a bit of info and you might be just the person to know the answer. Do you still remember how much did you pay for the taxi between Treviso and Marco Polo and how long did the journey take? Thanks

  5. […] Hasta la vista, Vista! Vista is on trial and my XP install disk is within easy reach « The majority of Vista PCs being sold right now aren’t powerful enough to run Vista Dalian » Flights of Despair with Ryanair July 2nd, 2007 This post has been moved here. […]

  6. Giorgio said, on July 4, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    HaHaHa! Very British style! Not in bad way, but for underline a difference of culture between your country and mine.
    In Italy the rules in everything is “is cheaper because there are a cheat”, so Italians look the offer and find the cheat, if this is not so bad, Ok we go on, otherwise bye bye. In all my years of work all my contacts with British contracts I’ve find another culture of rules, there are rules well written and don’t hidden in a second or third page.
    Ryanair for travel is fitted better on Italian’s style than British’s style, it’s not fair, I admit it but that’s now. Good luck for other better trips…

  7. Dennis Wright said, on July 4, 2007 at 11:39 am

    I came across this analysis of why flying Ryanair is not as attractive as it sounds, even if you don’t get left stranded by a cancellation like I did.

  8. Dalian « Hasta la vista, Vista! said, on July 3, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    […] la vista, Vista! Vista is on trial and my XP install disk is within easy reach « Flights of Despair with Ryanair Dalian July 3rd, 2007 Our last port of call in China was Dalian. I had never heard of it […]

  9. Giorgio said, on July 3, 2007 at 9:38 am

    The terrible thing about LowCost company is that insurance expenses do not exist so, when things like yours happens, you are just alone! Usually in a middle-of-nothing airport with no assistance from company and airport staff.
    This is the reason because I’ve advised to you regard notebook end GSM connection! 😉
    About Treviso, you have reason, It’s a very pretty-tiny town fulled of local traditions not written on guides or spoken to tourists. 😉
    We aren’t only the people of Bennetton’s Land or Prosecco wine.
    Bye bye.

  10. Dennis Wright said, on July 3, 2007 at 8:19 am

    Thanks, Giorgio. Maybe I was just unlucky. However, from searching on the Internet it does look like Ryanair have a bit of a reputation for doing this, but obviously it does not happen every day or they would have no business.
    By the way my wife and I loved Treviso. In a funny way I’m glad things went wrong or I would never have discovered it.

  11. Giorgio said, on July 3, 2007 at 8:12 am

    Oh.. What a mess!
    I’ve flied often with Ryanair and just from my birthplace, Treviso! I flied with RyanAir since 1998 from Treviso to all europe and I never miss a fly!
    So what I can say… I’m a very lucky boy? I don’t think.
    Probably you has a terrible coincidence of misfortune.
    I advise you for the next trip, do not trust in logistics structures of airports or air companies, take a notebook with you ad a GSM connection (just in case), is the better choice for hazards and If you planning a low cost company prevent misfortune with a car rent or a train trip (low cost bus are often loan from a third part terribles companies!!).
    Prevent is better to cure it!
    Bye Bye.

  12. Dennis Wright said, on July 2, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    Yes, Ryanair leave me all but speechless too.

    😉

  13. Anonymous said, on July 2, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    a


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