“An aeroplane is nothing more than a bus with wings on…we trying to blow up the notion that flying is some kind of orgasmic experience rather than a glorified bus service?
These are the words of Michael O‘Leary and although I am a big fan of Ryanair I think it has to be said that he has achieved this objective because flying is not the same as it was in the days before low cost airlines when it still felt exclusive and glamorous.
The pilots were all ex RAF and called Toby or Douglas and the air hostesses were tall and elegant, wore smart uniforms and looked like catwalk models. The seats were comfortable with generous leg space and there was a free meal thrown in. These were in the days before terrorist threats or CRB checks so children used to get to go and visit the captain and crew in the cockpit and for adults there was a drinks trolley at below UK prices (today a gin and tonic on Ryanair costs over £8) and a genuine duty free service for spirits, tobacco and perfume. Little children had colouring books and crayons and by the 1980s there was in-flight entertainment and every passenger had their own personal copy of the in-flight magazine.
As an experience flying has mostly deteriorated since the first holiday charter flights began except, that is, in one important area where there has been massive improvement. It may seem bizarre now but until relatively recently passengers that smoked were still allowed to light up a cigarette on board which meant that everyone else had to as well. To be fair the smokers did all have to sit at the back of the aircraft, a bit like Dante’s Inferno, and puff away together but after a couple of hours there was a horrible acrid odour of stale tobacco and the entire cabin smelt like an ash tray. Actually it wasn’t just cigarettes but pipes and cigars as well and even the cigarette smokers complained about this. Pipes and cigars were banned in 1979 but a ban on cigarettes had to wait for another ten years.
People used to be able to smoke pretty much anywhere and it is a bizarre fact that the Hindenburg, an airship full of highly combustible gas actually had a smoking room in the passenger compartment. OK, it was lined with asbestos, there was a guard on the door and the lighter was chained to the floor but it still sounds a bit reckless to me. On May 6th 1937, in front of thousands of spectators in New Jersey, USA, the Hindenburg caught fire, and within seconds burst into flames killing thirty-five of the ninety-seven people on board. No one really knows exactly what caused the fire. If I had been the accident inspector I know where I would have started.
Anyway the point I am getting to is just what to do on a Ryanair flight to pass the time? For me the only problem with a Ryanair flight is what to do to amuse myself for the duration. The in-flight magazine (if you can actually get one because there are only about twenty copies per flight it seems) holds my attention for about ten minutes but after that the whole event becomes rather tedious and boring. It is important to find something to do because it is essential not to get tricked into making a purchase from the overpriced drinks trolley just for something to do. Earlier this year I caught Kim with a cup of tea and a kitkat that had cost her£4.80!
To cope with this I have developed what I call the Ryanair sleep! This isn’t difficult on an early morning flight after a sleep deprived night and a drive to the airport or on a late night flight home but it can be a bit tricky for middle of the day flights at more sociable hours. I always consider that if I can lose half the monotonous journey nodding off then I have had a successful flight.
It isn’t proper sleep of course because the flight is so noisy and uncomfortable. To begin with the head Flight Attendant is forever on the cabin intercom trying to persuade passengers to spend money; the drinks and snacks service, scratch cards, duty free gifts, smokeless cigarettes and rail tickets and then they are forever walking up and down the cabin pushing the noisy trolleys about and this is because they don’t really want passengers to sleep because if they do then they won’t spend money.
The Ryanair sleep involves a lot of head rolling that wakes you up just at the moment of going over into the unconscious state (I have considered one of those blow up neck supports but they do make you look awfully stupid) and lots of weird and wonderful hallucinations and dreams. It is a bonus if just once in a while I can drop into a proper sleep but when this happens it is inevitable that someone in the next seat will either want to go to the toilet or get something from the overhead locker. Then there are children that cry and those annoying passengers in the seat behind who want to talk for the entire journey and now, horror of horrors, there are flights on which the use of mobile phones is permitted. I have flown on one of these but thankfully no one used the service because predictably it was too darned expensive!
When I can’t read the best alternative is to read a good book. Interestingly I have just finished a book about Ryanair, written by Paul Kilduff and called ‘Ruinair’. It is an entertaining book but can get rather confusing as it constantly changes direction; part travelogue in the style of Bill Bryson, part rant about Ryanair (borrowing heavily from other people’s stories and blogs) and part admiration of Michael O’Leary. For all that, it’s very funny, well worth a read and I recommend it because I like Bill Bryson, I enjoy reading people’s ridiculous Ryanair complaints and I admire Michael O’Leary.