It’s hard to believe I’d never flown Europe’s favorite (or most infamous) budget carrier, Ryanair, until just a few weeks ago. After flying into London on a saver award ticket, I needed to make my way over to Stockholm – and I figured Ryanair could reliably get me there for cheap.
I wasn’t wrong. Ryanair had several flights to both Stockholm and Gothenburg in the $20-45 dollar range, and I happily booked a flight from London’s Stansted airport to Gothenburg for something like £19, which at the time floated around $30. (It’s now $25, RIP £££.)
And considering myself a semi-savvy traveler, I made sure to print my boarding pass at the Hilton London Paddington and restrict myself to one carry-on to avoid any additional fees. All set, right?
Well, not exactly. Turns out flying Ryanair can be a bit more complicated than stuffing all your luggage into a small carry-on.
Here’s what I wish I knew – and what you definitely should know – before taking your first Ryanair flight:
1. Factor in extra travel time (and $) for out-of-the-way airports.
Low-cost carriers (LCCs) save money by operating out of peripheral (read: really fucking far away from where you actually want to be) airports. But I sadly underestimated just how far away these airports actually were.
For example, London Stansted is twice as far from London’s city center as Heathrow, and flying Ryanair to “Stockholm” will actually land you at least 100km away from the city center regardless of whether you fly into Skavta or Västerås. If you want to take public transportation to save a few bucks (and you probably do if you’re flying Ryanair), it can take an additional three hours or more (!) after you land just to get to your final destination.
Even if you have all the time in the world, getting to these faraway airports can quickly negate what you saved by enduring Ryanair in the first place. For example, waiting to buy my Stansted Express ticket at the railstation cost me a whopping £31 or nearly $50 for a one-way transfer to the airport!
So don’t be like me, and plan ground transportation ahead of time to figure out the cheapest way to get to/from whichever godfarsaken airport Ryanair takes you. I wanted to kick myself when I found out that booking my Stansted Express ticket online would’ve cost me a fraction of what I paid at the station.
Don’t be surprised to find that it might actually be worth paying a little extra to fly a legacy carrier out of a more central airport. In other words, never assume Ryanair will be your cheapest option, regardless of what the sticker price might be.
2. Review Ryanair’s entire schedule of fees.
This probably goes without saying, but you should always check the full schedule of fees (however “optional” the airline makes it seem) whenever you fly a new airline. I should also note that you should check this on the airline’s site. Not some random blog (even mine) or forum post from five years ago. The airline’s site, and only the airline’s site.
Don’t worry, I’ll wait. Peruse at your leisure.
3. Pack light. A carry-on and personal item are now free, but expect baggage restrictions to be tightly enforced.
Thankfully, a few years ago Ryanair decided to allow for two free carry-ons – the same “personal item” + larger carry-on deal as with domestic flights. This is great, because you can now fly Ryanair without spending a penny more than what you paid for your flight.
However, expect baggage restrictions to be rigorously enforced:
You can carry one cabin bag weighing up to 10 kg (that’s 22 pounds) with maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm (just a hair smaller than what is allowed on domestic flights), plus 1 small bag up to 35 x 20 x 20 onboard the aircraft (or whatever can comfortably fit in the seat in front of you).
You can be as sneaky as you’d like, but a gate agent just might ask you to fit your carry-on inside those metal sizing stands … and charge you to check your bag if it doesn’t fit. In practice, Ryanair isn’t as militant about enforcing these size requirements as let’s say, WOW Air, but don’t expect any special favors if you’re caught heavy-handed (hee hee).
4. Print paper boarding passes before getting to the airport. Non-EU citizens CANNOT use a mobile boarding pass.
If you read through Ryanair’s fees (and I know you did), you might be surprised to find that it’ll cost you €15/£15 for the honor of printing your boarding pass at the airport, and even more (€45/£45) to check-in at the airport. This is nothing but a nefarious attempt to prey on and exploit unsuspecting passengers. Don’t let them.
Make sure to check-in and print a physical copy of your boarding pass before you head for the airport.
Why not use Ryanair’s nifty app to check-in? Because non-EU citizens (i.e. probably you) cannot waltz through security with a boarding pass on your phone. So make sure to print one out just in case, and avoid spending £15 for a penny’s worth of paper and ink.
5. Don’t forget to get a visa stamp before heading through security, even if you’re not checking any bags.
This was a new one, and I’m not sure if it’s exclusive to Ryanair. When I got to the airport, I’d already printed my boarding pass and didn’t need to check any bags. So I skipped the long lines at the check-in desk and went straight for security.
Well apparently, this was all wrong. When I got to the gate, the gate agent informed me that I was missing a “visa stamp” that I should’ve gotten at the Visa/Document Check desk before security.
Ultimately it wasn’t an issue since she was nice and jotted a little note saying my US passport was OK to visit Sweden on my boarding pass. But she did let me know that Ryanair has the right to deny boarding if you don’t get the appropriate stamps before security. This is especially important if you’re holding a passport from a country with more complicated immigration/visa restrictions than the US.
So don’t forget to skip this extra step, and factor in airport wait times accordingly. Because the wait times … oh the wait times …
6. Allow extra time for extremely long lines at security, the gate, and everywhere else.
When I first learned that London-Stansted was an “alternate” airport to the madhouse that is Heathrow, I imagined a quaint little terminal with a small 5-minute security line – kind of like at my hometown airport in Burbank.
Boy, was I wrong.
I got to the airport three hours before my flight, hoping to check-out the Escape Lounge at Stansted, and I just barely made my flight. Security was an absolute shit show, and I had to wait in a line that took nearly just as long at the gate.
Expect delays. Bring a book. Practice meditation. Do whatever you need to do, because you’ll be doing a lot of standing around.
7. Remove liquids from bag, and make sure they fit in the tiny Ziploc provided.
You know how we’re supposed to fit all our carry-on liquids in a clear, quart-size Ziploc bag and separate them from our luggage … but never do? That’s because the TSA doesn’t seem to give a shit where we stick our mini-shampoos so long as they’re not much bigger than 3.4 ounces.
Well, in the UK they do care. A little too much, in my opinion. I should’ve gotten the hint when I saw everyone else bagging up their liquids in tiny Ziplocs provided before security, but I didn’t and had to re-pack everything at the screening area.
And yes, they will enforce the “everything must fit” rule. I requested a second Ziploc exclusively for “medication” like contact solution and the like, but the British-TSA man gave me the stinkeye as I claimed double the liquid capacity as my fellow passengers. Americans, amirite?
8. Consider buying optional upgrades, especially priority boarding.
I know this flies in the face of bare-bones budget travel, but you might want to consider purchasing a few travel upgrades to keep you sane throughout your journey.
For me, that meant paying an extra $5 or so for priority boarding. I got to jump to the front of the line at the gate, which as you saw in the earlier picture, was crazy long. I was also essentially guaranteed overhead bin space.
Feel free to purchase these extras right after you have booked your flight, and not during the reservation process. You’ll probably receive an email advertising said extras after your payment is processed, and you’re more likely to get better package deals on these optional upgrades then. But don’t wait until it’s time to check-in!
9. Skip in-flight purchases. Eat something before your flight or suck it up until you land.
You shouldn’t waste your money on any in-flight purchases. Especially the dry mystery meat slapped between cardboard that passes as a “sandwich” on Ryanair.
It’s your prerogative if you’d like to spend $4 on toilet coffee, but I think your stomach will thank you if you just wait the few hours until you land.
10. It won’t be comfortable, but remember, you’re almost there.
Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard all the Ryanair horror stories. Seats that don’t recline. Ads plastered everywhere. One bathroom for the entire plane.
Honestly, it’s not that bad. I’m just under 5’10”, and I had just enough legroom to be moderately comfortable.
I can see how anyone taller might feel a bit cramped though. On the bright side, Ryanair currently only flies to Europe and Northern Africa. So your final destination will never be more than a few hours a way – at the very most. So channel your inner Kimmy Schmidt and keep it together for 10 seconds … and then another … and another.
Do that 360 to 1080 times, and you’ll be there before you know it. 😉
More posts from this trip report series:
Introduction: Race to finish in Stockholm
Review: Wingtips Lounge New York JFK
Review: Hilton London Paddington
10 things to know before flying RyanAir
Review: Escape Lounge London Stansted
Review: Malmö Aviation + Menzies Business Lounges Gothenburg
Review: Hotel Quality Globe Stockholm
Review: Hilton Stockholm Slussen
Review: Menzies Business Lounge Stockholm, Terminal 5