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Ryanair, the largest low cost carrier in Europe, is a machine. It serves over 100 million customers annually and was the original model for a multitude of other budget airline. In the past, that machine has been known for vigorously strict policies as a means of cutting costs…all in the name of providing a cheaper plane ticket, of course.

I’d heard horror stories of being charged oodles of money because you did one thing slightly wrong, or because your bag was the tiniest bit overweight or oversized, totally negating any value of the cheap ticket. When I brought up my fears to my Irish friend a few weeks ago, she assured me that since the airline has gotten bad press as of late they’ve lightened up somewhat to improve their public image.

Until about a week ago I had never flown Ryanair, so while I don’t have anything to compare to, I can say my last few experiences haven’t been nearly as bad as the tales I’ve been told. I picked up a few handy pointers I’ll share with you today that hopefully can save you some confusion/frustration/time/money.

First, let’s go over the basic policies.

Ryanair Policies

  • Ryanair does not offer connecting flights. That means that if you need to take two Ryanair flights to get where you’re going, they won’t be on the same ticket, you might have to pick up your luggage from baggage claim and check it in again to get on the next flight, and if the first flight causes you to miss second, they won’t claim responsibility.
  • Check in online. Checking in at the airport will cost you a little under $50. Print your boarding pass beforehand too unless you want to pay $16 for it.
  • You get to bring two bags in the cabin total for free, one can weigh up to 22 pounds with maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm, and the other can have maximum dimensions of 35cm x 20cm x 20 cm. If your carry ons are too big, you will either not be allowed to board or, if there’s room, they will store under the plane for cost of $53
  • This table explains what it will cost you to check luggage beyond your free carry ons

Ryanair baggage fees

  • If you miss your flight for whatever reason, you can get re-booked on the next one for a little over $100 if it’s within 40 minutes before departure or one hour after.
  • You have to pay to choose your own seat. Prices range from $9 to $16 depending on what kind of seat you want to reserve.

You can find the policies of all major European low cost carriers listed in  Guide to Low Cost Carrier Travel in Europe.

Now, on to some less obvious but just as valuable bits of advice…

3 Things to Know Before Flying Ryanair

  1. Non-EU citizens HAVE to get their passports checked and boarding passes stamped before going through security. 
  2. Ryanair customers like to line up. Early. There’s really no need to line up with them unless you require that all your baggage be in the cabin with you.
  3. Ear plugs!!

Ryanair customers like to line up. Early. There’s really no need to line up with them unless you have to have your bag with you the entire flight.

I’m not sure why people line up so far ahead of time way ahead of time–I assume it’s because automatic seat assignments (that happen when you check in) are a relatively new Ryanair feature. There’s also only so much space in the overhead compartments for larger carry ons, but they’ll gate check your carry on bag for no charge whatsoever if you’re at the end of the boarding line.

As long as you don’t care about your larger carry on being put under the plane, then I don’t see any need to line up.

You can keep your personal item that fits under the seat with you, and gate check your roller bag or whatever other carry on you might have totally free of charge (as long as it fits the carry on restrictions) and not have to worry about stuffing it into the overhead bins awkwardly while other travelers are waiting on you to move. I purposefully waited to line up on every Ryanair flight I took over the last week (three) to take advantage of what I consider a convenience.

I never had any trouble gate checking my small roller bag. It’s actually a few centimeters oversize, in multiple dimensions, and weighs a bit over the maximum weight. Yet no one weighed or measured my bag nor made any remarks about its size on any of my last three flights. You can pick up your bag on the luggage carousel after your flight just as you would pick up any other checked baggage.

Non-EU citizens HAVE to get their passports checked before going through security.

Even if you check in online before (which you SHOULD do to save $50, see above), you’ll need to go to the Ryanair counter before security to get your passport checked when flying between countries with passport control.You’ll know if you need to if your boarding pass says Visa Check on it.

Don’t do this and you might end up missing your flight, since the next person to check it will be the gate agent, not security.

Every time I had my passport checked it was at a separate customer service counter near the check-in desk and not the actual check-in desk, thankfully. Ask a Ryanair employee where to go to do this as opposed to waiting unnecessarily in the line to check luggage.

Ear plugs!!

This may seem obvious as most seasoned travelers bring earplugs with them wherever they go. I think earplugs especially important on Ryanair flights unless you desire to hear intermittent screeching advertisements about travel sized perfume (so much cheaper when you buy it through Ryanair!!)

Bottom Line

If you book far enough ahead of time, Ryanair flights can be DIRT cheap. Sometimes even cheaper than taking a train. The key is making sure you’re equipped with the proper knowledge before you fly to avoid ancillary fees and ensure the smoothest experience possible.

I don’t think Ryanair is half as bad as it’s cracked up to be. Sure, the pitch of the seats is narrow and they don’t recline–but what do you expect when you’re paying $25 for your ticket?

Of course, the tips in this post are gathered from my experience flying between Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. Perhaps (things) differ depending on what country you’re flying out of/into, but I’d bet they more or less apply everywhere Ryanair flies.

What do you think of Ryanair?

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