Airport tales #2 – the myth of low-cost – Ryanair “experience”

Low-cost they say… as much as I love the popularity that my country recently acquired, it’s cheaper to fly to Seul from London on a normal flight, than flying “low-cost” to Lisbon.

My latest low-cost flight was as painful as funny. There isn’t a great deal of difference between the service amongst low-costs. More cattle, less cattle, we are all packed together in an “outstanding service” to fulfill boarding and landing timetable metrics.


Ryanair portal allowed me to book my flight ticket and the Luton airport car parking space together. When you change the plane ticket, it doesn’t change the car… or so I realized when I arrived at the airport. Only a painful contact service to Ryaniar could save me from paying twice. Of course with the strike, this contact was impossible! Lucky me to not get hit by the pilot strike by Ryanair.

It seems to be that now the policy is you need to pay extra 7€ if you want to have your trolley bag with you on the plane, otherwise they will take it away. This meant that I wasn’t able to pull off my ninja trick of disposing relentlessly of the yellow tag (they check your ticket 2 times for this), and had to carry my laptop in hand. Other than that, despite boarding a plane full of drunken guys and gals on their way to stag parties, the outbound flight was pretty smooth.

Cattle service strikes again…

Kipper Williams cartoon 31 July 2012

To avoid carrying my laptop in hand again, on my return I did paid the 7€ for “priority”. This has granted me to be in the 1st line to offload the waiting room (1 of 3 lines) and have the luxury of not being separated from my belongings. Of course, the staff was missing the morning coffee, an still try to yellow tag my bag from me. I was proudly flashing my priority ticket… not this time lady!

20 minutes pass standing in that line. There is movement, and mislead by the boarding time assumption, my priority lane starts yawning its way into a second line outside.  It is 6am, still warm from the aircon inside, the groups stays first outside pretty spread out. 10 minutes after and the staff, always proactive, asks us to “squeeze” to give way to another portion of the herd to fit in the little square. The squeezing was not too bad, as the 17Cº had set in, and the cold shakes away all summer vibes. Unbelievably, they made us wait outside for 40 minutes before boarding the plane. Priority lane… lucky me!

Priority lane… 40 minutes in the cold at 6 am!

Sales, sales, sales…

Inside the plane, the easiness of the Portuguese staff was quite amusing. I do love that about my people. It suits perfectly with the new on-boarding sales strategy.

There were at least 5 purchasing opportunities during the flight. First it starts with food and drinks… twice. In between there is a watch sales. Afterwards, comes the electronics, where they advertise heavily universal adaptors to the UK, because “no need to worry, Ryanair has the solution”. Perfumes follow quickly after, with Versace perfume sale that is now only 18€, “I have no idea how much it costs in the UK, but in Portugal is usually 80€ with discount, and is only 50ml, so you can even pass by security with it, it is a great opportunity” the staff said (I am pretty sure it was the pilot!).


Perfume cannot go without an eyeliner and mascara “baratuxos” (slang word for bargain) for the ladies in the plane. And finally, to close this big flight auction, how could we ever resist the urge to buy some “raspadinhas” that are 50% off “only on this flight” and enables you to win 1 car… oh and it counts for charity! Thinking this strategy in the 80’s would have been a killer! I’m personally hoping they start selling Bolas de Berlim! (Common beach pastry sold during the summer by street walking vendors).


Sales campaign is over, and we are now ready to land. The poor guy sitting on my right was in deep sleep, surely the sales jingles felt like a luluby, only to be unmercifully woken up by a “jornalada” to close his tray (yes, the flight attendant hit him softly with a rolled newspaper on the head… ) I was in awe!! Maybe we are dogs and not cows!

On my way out of the plane, I finally recognize the food smell coming from one of the 3 bags belonging to the lady sitting on my left. I bet it has something to do with the Versace perfume promotion. There is clearly some cooked “bacalhau” (cod fish) in her bag. How she passed by security with that I have no idea.

In the end, all I could think during this flight was… lucky bastard!! I bet he wasn’t priority lane.


Airport tales #1: UneasyJet

Disclosure: Angry customer ranting at a particular airline. No offense intended with any passengers, staff or random readers.

I’m writing this sitting in a table outside the gate in Terminal 2 in Lisbon, a rather small terminal for the passengers it sees daily. I’m sharing it with a lovely old lady whom I do not know the name. Both of us have experienced, it seems, several poor experiences and waits provided by Easy Jet. In a way, Easy jet is promoting social bonds with strangers, some better than others. I wonder if easyjet is inspired by a mix of Murphy’s Laws with Black Mirror.


Let’s dig in:

1. “Nothing is as easy as it looks … everything takes longer than you expect”  

Do I need to say more? Of course I do, I am in a ranting strike. This could perfectly be the airline’s slogan, that could easily stretch to other airlines. Low Cost operators seem to suffer from a syndrome of lack of consideration for the customer, some sort of customer experience autism. So far Easy Jet is painfully the worst.

Today’s delay was not warned with a push notification on the mobile app. I realized it was 1 hour delayed upon passing the security checks, 70 minutes before the original flight time. After looking a second time, it was already in 2 hours delay. Reason: A crew member late for work, so it seems, and domino effect of the South French strike… when I am flying to Luton, with an airplane that came from the UK. Seems to me that the crew member may be in trouble… or maybe was caught on a low-cost connection flight delayed if we want to stick to Murphy’s Law.

“…and at the worst possible moment” – I’m particularly annoyed with the lack of push notifications (they never come up when they should) because I could have seen my nephews this morning if I would be aware of this delay. Easy Jet – indirectly challenging family ties. Maybe again, a side effect of the privacy policies kicking in Europe. No idea. Blame Murphy!


2. “Natures sides with the hidden flaw” – The cattle treatment boarding experience

Easy jet is the perfect example of how animals humans really are. We are not godly beings, nor are we greater than any other creature of the animal kingdom, particularly the cattle we raise. Fair point! Let’s dive deeper into this, shall we?

a. The Cow Bell: It is rang, and we all rush to queue in a line that interrupts the flow of equally anxious passengers waiting to board the neighbouring gates. Then we wait for 15-20 minutes standing, reality which most of us know very well. You may say: “you will all arrive at the same time, why you queue so early?”, As this may be the reality for normal flights, us who have been trained in low cost airlines, know this is simply not true.

“On Behalf of Easyjet, we wish you a pleasant flight?!” The punctuation is not arbitrary. If you pay attention, it almost ends in a question mark, not as a statement, but as unmistakably doubt. The voice is either poorly recorded from an actual human being, or it us a poor computer system. The voice has a theatrical but unemotional tone in a strange slow motion monochord tone. Either the person or the computer clearly fought against themselves to portray such unrealistic words. Tip for EasyJet: pay 10$ online and have a professional actor / actress recording a message.


b. The Inspection: 2 servants of the airline, easily noticed by the uniform, walk the lines, inspecting the possessions of all passengers. It is usually small ladies, that can easier blend in and pass through the mass of people and bags. Very strategic. Do not get deceived by the stature. Their mission is to coldly mark luggage in a polite order (rarely a request) to voluntarily (ish) give these away to be transported on the hold, for there is not enough space to accommodate everyone and everything safely.

Furthermore, if any passenger attempts the serious offense of having a second carry-on bag bigger than a wallet hanging on their neck, they will then need to either risk damaging its goods by compressing everything in the main carry-on bag, or pay a fee for the privilege of occupying 10cm more of space, and still be disposed of the bigger bag during flight. It takes swiftly moves to escape the inspection, something some of us have learnt along the way. Unfortunately these secrets cannot be shared to not alert the inspectors :).


c. The false start: After surviving the inspection, you will see movement at what it seems to be the end of the queue. The host smiles politely at a screen (not so much at you) while taking passports and boarding passes that are barely verified. The passengers mimic the smile in a primitive hopeful social reaction, before frowning gradually into an angry state. We, passengers, have not realized the space and time still left to occupy before boarding the mighty craft. There is this square shape area (or in Lisbon case, a long line surrounded by a never ending temporary construction barrier), where we are pushed cosily together against each other, compressing bodies as much as we did the goods inside our small bags, looking into random directions like lost flamingos in an attempt to ignore the unbelievable uncomfortable strangers proximity touch. (Trying to keep a pink picture of this to not offend anyone by calling us pigs or cows).

I am sure there is a hidden Marketing strategy called “the Cattle treatment”. The purpose? I have no idea! Surely you don’t need to ride the rush-hour subway in Tokyo to experience it.

'Ugh, traffic.'

d. Stairway to heaven: After surviving these stages, you are finally at the edge of the stairs that will concede the privilege and easiness of flying. You are literally a few steps away, and look up beholding the door in awe and admiration (mostly relief), barely noticing the fierce weather. The boarding is within reach. You take the first step up, carrying your impossible heavy mini bag with you as quickly as you can, before stopping half way through. You queue in the stairs, while the wind and rain remind you once again of your own true nature. The familiar compression of bodies starts once again, now unfavoured by the steep stairs. You compressed against the backside of the person in front of you as people below try to go up as quickly as they can, in some sort of wave that freezes on the break. Upon this situation, you look to the side and contemplate the aircraft wing pretending normality. You are trapped. It is a slow march until the actual door of the plane where you work on creating as much space as possible between peoples butts and faces.

The heard starts to move slowly and you are stepping into the door. A polite smiley pony tailed face welcomes you, providing a false sense of hope to which you again mimic as the survival instinct to socialize kicks in. To be fair, it is your best choice.

e. The Throne: You finally realize what made the stairway march so slow. Inside the craft passengers are fighting for space for their bags over their heads, and trying to squeeze into the seats they have been assigned to. There is the risk of having a bag falling on your face, so never assume nothing. Once again, people squeeze against each other while targeting any remaining space available overhead before catapulting their bag up. It is a fight for resources and only the first ones survive. To the impossible tall man that waited the line to move in the boarding gate, fate has it that there is no space for the bag, and so he must place the baggage under the seat, leaving no leg or feet space, risking a severe knee injury.

Luck favors the short and the first in queue in low cost flights.


3.  “If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will go wrong, is the one that will cause the most damage”

You miraculously made it! Congrats! The wait is over… You are finally seating on your desired uncomfortable seat, which is a relief comparing to the hour you just spent queueing (please noticed that I did not included the security checks on purpose, that perhaps deserves another post).

There is a false sense of relief that makes me believe I will miraculously arrive on time for my afternoon meeting. How presumptuous of me! As I am leaning backwards almost drifting into sleep, when an (un)expected announcement comes. “there is a malfunction on the plane, we are waiting for a technician”, “We are delayed due to queueing of planes, “We are waiting for a passenger”, “We are expecting delay in take-off authorization due to the delay of the flight”… The lady in front of me is saying that sometimes they make you wait on the plane so the threshold is not met outside, and they do not have to pay any delayed flight compensation. Happened the last 4 times…

'I saved 10 minutes at the hotel with speedy  checkout, 10 minutes at the car rental with instant check in. Now I'm spending 6 hours on the runway.'

The power of contrasts in shaping customer experience here: What counts is the first and last impact. The boarding experience is surely the most consistently awful one. The booking is made quick and easy (if you learnt how to skim through all the extras they try to sell you when booking a flight and checking-in), and the time you leave the plane upon reaching the destination is surely an amazing one.

Yes, I can surely stop flying low-cost airlines, particularly when they are not so low cost anymore (300£ flight? I paid less to South Korea!), and I can’t wait for that time to come. As of now, due to sometimes cost, sometimes schedules, sometimes airport and sometimes all, I have to keep my complaining mind complaining every time I have the dreadful task of booking with Easy Jet. And please remember, especially true at low-cost flights, as Murphy has it, “If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something”.

It is what it is…