Monday, 26 November 2012

My Complicated Relationship with Ryanair

Published in The Irish Times online September 12th 2012

After three years living abroad, Leah Quinn has yet to perfect the art of packing light. She writes from London about her experiences flying with Ryanair to and from her home in Clare and how it has impacted heavily on both her wallet and blood pressure.

Leah Quinn: "My pre-flight time is spent filling my pockets with as many of my worldly possessions as I can fit." Photograph: Marcus Culloty
Having lived abroad several times, and now holding an address in London, Ryanair has become my most common mode of transport to and from my home in Clare. Over the past few years, I have contributed generously to the company’s profits, due to the copious amounts of money they have taken off me for my overweight bags.
I would have been of the opinion that my bags were never really overweight, just rather big-boned, but my flying experiences have recently resembled scenes from the Bourne Identity.
Gone are the days when I sat in the lounge calmly flicking through a magazine and chewing fruit gums. Now my pre-flight time is spent filling my pockets with as many of my worldly possessions as I can fit whilst trying to get my carry-on bag to suck in its tummy.
I can honestly say that I have never committed a crime in my life, except for stealing Barbie clothes from my cousin’s collection as a six-year-old; I believe my conscience to be pretty clear. But when I am walking the green mile towards the departures door I may as well have the original copy of the Mona Lisa in my back pocket, given my rapid heart rate.
This intense game of good versus evil all begins when I book my ticket, as I try to purchase my flight without being tricked into ticking a box which might add on charges for golf clubs, kiddie’s meals or oxygen.
The preparation for the actual journey begins the night before, or whenever I decide to pack, but I find when tackling Ryanair, preparation is key. My bag is packed, unpacked, and re-packed, I then weigh it on the bathroom scales and decide to change bags.
This process alone is exhausting and often leaves me considering the ferry, though the prospect of sea sickness always quickly dismisses that thought from my anxious mind.
Then comes the check-in desk. I sometimes think more eye contact the better, but it really seems to depend who you get on the day. I try to elicit some empathy, to get them to understand my need for a GHD or collection of heavy bangles.
As he/she asks me to put my bags on the conveyor, I give an over-enthusiastic “Oh yes no problem”…my last attempt at becoming their long lost best friend. When the numbers begin to tot up I continue to hold their stare with a perhaps creepily intense smile, hoping they might forget that my bag is being weighed.
Then, more often than not, comes the news that my bag is too fat to travel, and that if I wish it to accompany me on my voyage I must pay the piper. On handing over this money my smile mutates into gritted teeth.
I imagine Michael O’Leary throwing his head back with laughter at Leopardstown and shouting “Another €50 on Terms and Conditions to win, Leah’s bag is overweight again!”
I shuffle away ashamedly pulling my wheelie carry-on behind me like a scolded child, often looking back at the stewardess bitterly as I climb the escalator.
Then the real fun begins.
I join the queue of nervous travellers and subsequently start to lose my sense of self pride as I stuff my iPod, purse, UK and Irish mobiles, make-up bag, book, sunglasses and random items of clothing into my coat pockets. As we get closer to the departure door, that enthusiastic smile begins to creep back onto my face.
I quickly hand over my passport and boarding card as I try to make the swiftest of exits whilst also attempting to conceal my carry-on behind my bulging pockets. I am usually spotted and asked to lift my second bag onto the scales.
Then comes the real moment of shame as the rest of the queue are forced to wait for the result which ends in another fee payment or a scramble on the airport floor to rearrange my bag, as under-garments and high heels are flung about the place in desperation.
All that is left then is to try and doze off in my plane seat and forget the whole ordeal, but the staff are eager to keep me alert with their offers of food, drinks, ring tones and smokeless cigarettes.
Even though these experiences continue to punctuate my life, I will hold my tongue for now and continue to suffer for the sake of that extra pair of heels or my winter coat.

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