“Passengers are taking the piss,” says Ryanair’s chief financial officer, Neil Sorahan, commenting on their propensity for dragging more and more luggage on to the plane to avoid charges for checking in bags. Presumably he’s still in recovery after an operation to repair the self-parody bypass that is a precondition for Ryanair executives. What did he expect? Of course they are taking the piss. That’s the point, isn’t it? Flying Ryanair can only be understood as one long regulation-gaming opportunity. It’s the only thing included in the 50p you paid for the ticket.
But wait, there is more! “We are victims of our own niceness,” he sighs. Mr Sorahan, you know that’s not true. Ryanair is not about being nice. That cutesy harp on your logo does not mean free Guinness with every boarding pass. You are a business; we are your customers. You offer crazy-price flights, we rush to book, you whack on the below-the-line charges, we work out how to pay as few of them as we can. We are locked together in a loveless tango of mutual exploitation. This latest spat is simply a sign that the passengers have nosed ahead on one very narrow front in the battle, and good on them. It’s very simple, the Ryanair offer: they want families to fly with them, they offer family bargains, including a tempting on-board luggage allowance for the kids, and obviously parents sign up and then stuff those little suitcases with 10kg-worth of stuff that is indispensable to toddler happiness, or at least their parents’, for who knows what will be available on a campsite in Spain.
Now, if Sorahan had let rip at the trip hazard posed to other passengers by kids aimlessly trailing their ride-on suitcases, I’d have been with him. If he’d had a go at the crazy amount of stuff people take into the cabin, I’d have cheered. But Ryanair likes people to put stuff in the overhead lockers because that way the passengers do the work the company would otherwise have to pay baggage handlers to do. In the Ryanair business model passengers pay anything up to £60 for a checked 20kg bag. No wonder five in six prefer to load their kids’ suitcases with the overflow. If you travel enough, it would practically make parenthood financially viable.
You have to be tough to travel. Maybe, if you are the kind of club class traveller that’s dropped at the airport entrance by a chauffeured limo and swept off to a private lounge, it’s a joy. For the rest of us, it can only be full of existential fears about personal loss and worrying whether the dog will be happy with the neighbours (and vice versa).
Travelling with a bargain airline, a category that now includes British Airways, merely magnifies the apprehension. I long ago decided I’d rather not travel at all than be exposed to the emotional jeopardy of weighing and measuring a bag, of lugging it about, and enduring the constant worry of not leaving it in WH Smiths or Costa in the long hours of waiting for the flight. As a new study reports today, money can buy happiness, if happiness is having someone else do the chores. Top of my list is employing the services of a baggage handler.
But long before Ryanair had dreamed up ways of incentivising travelling light, I had a great aunt who so feared losing her luggage that she’d wear all the clothes necessary for a stay while travelling to her destination. Really, that is a very practical option, although a bit hot for some destinations. I think she may never have gone further than Rhyl.
The comments below the Guardian report on Ryanair’s pathetic lament provide all the evidence necessary to understand the complex nature of the relationship between the airline and its passengers, and between passengers and the psychological allure of the cheap flight. As Fascinating Aïda sings, there is no such fecking thing as a fecking flight for 50p. That’s the point.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010