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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

PASSAGE TO AFRICA Chapter 7: Ryan Air

Chapter 7... Ryan Air!

I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air.

Oh yeah, did I mention that


I start this blog entry in the airport in Karlsrhue Germany. Xavier, a heroic figure, not only booked my flight from here to Malaga, but used his credit card to pay for it. (Yeah, I paid him back), He also got up at 3AM to take me to Germany to catch a plane. Aw, he shouldn't have... you bet your family jewels he shouldn't have.

I'd heard stories about Ryan Air before I left. Worst airline in the world. They charge you to use the toilet on the plane. Evil. Evil. Evil.

Xaviar didn't know. He thought he was helping me. He found a cheap flight and the quickest way to get close to (sort of) Gibraltar... my next port of call. The flight was only 60€, cheaper than the train... and way faster. You have to leave at 6AM, Xavier'll drive me. And what the fuck if it saves a bundle, right? Wrong.

Text from Xavier: Mykel I need to print out your ticket, I need your passport number.

I text it to him.

Text from Xavier: Mykel, I need the expiration date. And your date of birth.

I text them to him.

Text from Xavier: Mykel, I need to know how much baggage you have. They only allow 15 kilos on board.

Text from Mykel to Xavier: I don't know the weight, but it's pretty close to that. Just a backpack and a computer bag.

Text from Xavier to Mykel: I made a mistake you only get 10 kilos on the plane. You'll have to check one bag. Let's hope it's less than 15 kilos.

Back at the house, I take out some books and pack them to mail home. Then weigh my bags. They're almost equal weight.... about 9 kilos each. I'll have to check one... there goes another 15€. Price of the flight just rose from 60€ to 75€.

While at work, Xavier prints out about 10 pages of information and ticketing stuff. I look through it. Geez! Check-in starts 2 hours before departure, and closes 40 minutes before departure. That doesn't leave much of a window. Get there between 4 AM and 5:20 AM or your stuck! Normal airlines allow you to check in anytime before... up to 20 minutes. This is not a normal airline.

Since Xavier is the one going out of his way, I tell him I'll do whatever is convenient for him. He wants to go at 11PM, dump me and then go home and get some sleep. Fine with me, I only ask him to check to make sure the airport's open at night. Even LaGuardia closes for a few hours.

“Mykel,” he tells me, “the plane leaves at 6. You check in at 4. Do you think they'll close for only two or three hours?”

“Call and check,” his mother tells him, in French. He looks up the number on the internet. He calls, and checks... in English. The airport is closed from 11PM to 4AM. So the airport opens and check-in begins the same time. I can imagine people locked out-- then the rush. I wonder if you can even drive in front of the terminals before they open. Security. Security. Security. God do I hate security.

Well there's nothing to do but time it to arrive at 4. Earlier and we can't get in. Later and I risk missing the tiny Ryan Air window-of-check-in. No choice.

The doorbell rings at 3AM. There's Xavier, not exactly bright-eyed or bushy tailed... but ready to serve me. (He has to work today, but he's taking me just the same... an hour there and then he has to come back. I tell you, he's a Superman!)

We arrive at the airport at 3:45, pretty good timing. No blockades on the outer roads. He pulls up to the terminal. I pull on the door to the waiting room. It opens. Xavier opens the trunk. We take out my bags... do that French kissy here... kissy there thing. He takes off and I walk inside.

The place is empty... abandoned. I take a seat... reserved for handicapped... but it's only me... in the whole airport, I don't feel guilty. At 3:55 I get up to check the ticket counter, look around. That does it for the seat. Mom, kid, and baggage... the whole row... monopolized by a hausfrau and kind. I move my bags to be first in line for the Ryan Air check in. It's not long before there's a line behind me.

The counter is scheduled to open at 4:05AM. At 4:07AM comes the click click click of professional women's shoes. The counter opens. The woman behind the counter calls me to her. He's young, pretty in a professional way, decked out in a blue uniform. I hand her my passport and the sheaf of paper Xavier printed out. She checks my bag and sends it through the x-ray on the conveyer belt to the back. Then she shuffles the pages. Then she shuffles them again.

“Did you print out your boarding pass?” she asks me in English.

“That's everything I have,” I tell her. “My friend printed it out.”

“After the check in,” she says. “We sent you an email with a boarding pass. You have to print that out.”

“I have no printer,” I tell her. “My friend printed out what was available. He has no printer. He had to do it at work.”

“We can print a boarding pass for you,” she continues. “But you'll have to pay sixty euros.”

“SIXTY EUROS,” I say, loudly enough to turn heads. “That's how much the whole ticket cost. A normal airline prints out a boarding pass for free! How can printing a boarding pass cost the same as the entire fare?”

She shrugs, which I guess means this is not a normal airline.

I throw down my Delta-Amex card. At least I can earn some miles on a normal airline.

“We don't take Amex,” she says.

The next part should be unprintable, but I manage to keep control enough to get out of there. Times like this make me glad there is gun control in Europe. Probably saved a few lives.

“Have a nice flight,” says the agent as I leave.

I do not kill her.

Then I get to SECURITY.

In a normal airport, passengers empty their pockets, take off their shoes, fill plastic trays at their leisure, take off their coats and-- when they're read-- put their hand bags and trays through the x-ray machine. This is not a normal airport.

Here, they take passengers one at a time. Give them each three trays. Then watch-- individually... one at a time... while they take off their belts, empty their pockets, pull their laptops from their computer bags. No one else can approach the x-ray until each person is watched, and disposed of... one by one.

I keep a lot of stuff in my pockets. I tie my camera and cellphone to my belt. It takes me awhile at the trays. In a normal airport, half a dozen people pass me by while I fill the trays. At least they don't make you take your shoes off here... that'll save a bit of time...t's always a struggle with my boots.

Finally, empty pockets, empty belt buckle, empty computer bag, the trays slide through the machine. I walk through the metal detector.


A tall guy, looking a lot like LURCH in the old Adams Family TV show, stops me.

“Arme hoh!” he says.

I raise my arms. He presses his e-paddle against me. It beeps as it hits the snaps on my shirt and then something in my pocket... a coin I forgot perhaps. I reach to get it.

“Nein!” he shouts, pushing my arms back to the crucifixion position they were in. He feels around the pocket... from the outside... and satisfied... motions for me to turn around.

“Deutsch, Fransozich, oder Englisch,” he commands.

“English,” I say.

GET OUT YOUR BOOTS,” he shouts.

I do not make any cracks about “Germans.”

I take my boots off. He runs them through the x-ray. Then he runs his paddle over my stocking feet. It doesn't beep. When the boots come back negative, he hands them to me.

“Enjoy your flight,” he says in English.

I do not kill him either.

It's 5:35, I'm on the plane. No seat numbers on Ryan Air... just scramble... like musical chairs... without the music... I've got a place behind an empty seat. What luck! Yeah, this is a lucky flight all right. I just want to shut down and go to sleep. I slept 3 hours last night... less. I'm also depressed about paying full fare... twice. I could use the extra two hours sleep that this flight offers... Yeah right.

First, it's bright in here. 5 AM and the cabin is lit up like the inside of a McDonalds. The decor is bright yellow, just in case you were getting drowsy. Sleep? Fuggedaboutit! Think you can get away with a hat over your eyes. Fat chance... the loud... and I mean LOUD... speaker comes on.

First, the emergency instructions... Jeezus! Is there anyone outside of a few Mongolian yak farmers who does not know that you fasten a seat belt by inserting the tab into the buckle and pulling on the belt to tighten it. To release, flip the front of the buckle. And we all need a demonstration of dropping oxygen masks. Where are we supposed to stick that thing? And how do we keep it attached?

Ok, maybe that stuff's required by law, but in normal airlines, it comes through headphones and you can unplug it. This is not a normal airline.

But wait there's more.! Non-stop. They're trying to sell you things. First, the food, Water or coffee 3€ (about $4.50)... what is this, Starbucks?, A Marsbar for 2€. Slice of pizza 5€.

Sure, I'm gonna eat on Ryan Air. If I get sick they'll probably charge me a Euro for the barf bag.

But wait... there's more! After the food commercial comes a pitch for Ryan Air's own Scratch-off Lottery... only 2€ a ticket... 8 for 14€. What a deal! Then comes the Ryan Air Phone Cards (I shit you not.) And Ryan Air Souvenirs.

The stewardess delivers each sales pitch in really bad English. She sounds Dutch, her accent is just the other side of intelligibility... her voice as pleasant as the sound of a blowing nose. And then, each pitch is repeated, first in German, then in French. Does anyone buy this crap? Maybe if they sold Ryan Air Parachutes , they'd get some customers. I'd jump. Why can't they let me sleep?

So far I've paid 135€ to be tortured. And I don't even get an attractive girl in black leather to do it! I've got to put away the computer, now. We're landing soon. I bet they lose my luggage.


This is a continuation of Mykel's travel blog for his trip to Africa. You can read the earlier entries here:

Episode 1 here

Episode 2 here

Episode 3 here

Episode 4 here.

Episode 5 here

Episode 6 here

Pictures: France

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