Lukanyo Mnyanda.
Lukanyo Mnyanda.
Image: Freddy Mavundla

Perhaps the month in which the rand slid to more than R20 against the British pound isn’t the most opportune time to be warning against low-cost airlines, especially if one’s planning to travel to countries with much harder currencies. After all, isn’t the whole Ryanair model based on the idea that people will tolerate a certain amount of misery if the price is low enough? For many people in Britain, talking about the indignities suffered when using that airline is a great way to keep a conversation flowing and avoid uncomfortable silences — a bit like the weather.

The company’s reputation for atrocious customer service didn’t stop its growth — at one point, Ryanair was Europe’s largest airline by passenger numbers.

This past northern hemisphere summer, travel with the airline seems to have been particularly bad, exacerbated by strikes in some of its European markets, leading to flight cancellations and horrifying tales of people being left stranded in the middle of the night.

My own experience — a rather short delay, fortunately, not a cancellation — was nowhere near as bad. But it wasn’t ideal either.

One girl, either traumatised by the physical conditions or the potential fight, was in tears.

British Airways will normally send you an SMS before you even get to the airport to warn about potential delays, but on the day of my flight there was not a peep from Ryanair. When the staff eventually arrived, they started serving those who had paid extra for priority boarding. When they got to the rest of us, I was relieved to not have paid for this privilege, as it seemed all they got for their money was the opportunity to spend extra minutes out in the hot sun, while the rest of us at least had the comfort of air conditioning inside the airport building. It was 32°C in Valencia, Spain, at that moment.

Things didn’t exactly go smoothly once we were finally inside the plane. Not only did we have to endure another delay, but we were also told the air conditioning system wasn’t working. When we asked for some water, we were told the “bar” was unfortunately closed. In other words, the only way you were getting water was once you were in the air and you paid for it. Not surprisingly, they quickly sold out, meaning the airline profited from its customers’ discomfort.

Again, not surprisingly, there was some drama before take-off. One of my fellow passengers lost his temper and got into an argument with one of the cabin crew, and, at some point, it looked like it could escalate into violence, which probably would have entailed anti-terror police and further delays. Luckily, another passenger intervened. And then one girl, either traumatised by the physical conditions or the potential fight, was in tears. Not a great way to finish her family holiday.

I did find myself thinking never again. But seeing where the rand is, like many other people, I’ll probably just have to get over it.

- From the October edition of Wanted magazine.

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