I’ve just returned from ten days in Poland and I think I need a new liver.
I had a fantastic time and I’ve really fallen in love with the country so much that I’m going to live there for the next eight months.
But I’m not going to tell you about that now, because I want to talk about Ryanair.
Now, you’re probably thinking this is going to be one of his rants about how terrible Ryanair are and how they have brought more disgrace to Ireland than when its inhabitants took up cudgels against Cromwell’s new Model Army in 1649, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
You see, I’ve never had a problem with Mr O’Leary’s outfit. I happen
to agree with him that people who forget to check-in online are stupid. Heck, you don’t even need to print your boarding pass; you can download the app, store all your details, check-in and have your boarding pass on your key-chain within two minutes. Even I can do it.
But then, according to a recent Guardian article: when Ryanair recorded a record quarterly loss at the end of 2013, ‘… O’Leary introduced a radical new corporate philosophy – being nicer [to customers] – which has helped the airline kick on to further success.’
And I have to say that the staff on my recent flights from Malaga to Warsaw and from Wroclaw to Malaga could not have been nicer, more helpful and professional.
Let me tell you about my flight to Warsaw first.
Malaga airport Saturday before last, crack of sparrow fart, and I’m waiting to board a 737-800 bound for Warsaw. There’s a bit of a scrum getting up the front steps so I utilize the time by running my expert eye over the fuselage.
To my horror, my eye rests on a gaping hole just below the wing, above which is a white line. And to my untrained eye, that shouldn’t be there: definitely a puncture in the sub frame and a probable stress fracture leading up from it.
So when I board the plane, I have a word with the senior trolley-dolly who actually takes my prognosis of the 737’s ability to remain airborne seriously and gets the captain.
By now this has attracted quite a bit of interest and this is ratcheted up when el supremo asks me if I could show him where the ‘problem’ is.
So we scramble down the steps against the flow of punters, underneath the roped off area and suddenly I’m beneath the wing with the pilot, about to show him how his plane will disintegrate and fall out of the sky the moment he floors the fast peddle.
‘Ah…,’ he goes, ‘this is one of the air conditioning deflector doors which will retract once the APU has been switched off; this happens well before pushback, a very long time before takeoff.’
‘Auxiliary Power Unit. There’s one of these doors on the other side as well, want to see it?’ We walk beneath the plane. ‘Aft of the access panels are the ram air exit louvers, these will give you a nice warm blast of air on your legs as you stand in the wheel well. Feel it?’
Not only do I feel the warm air but I’m also feeling a bit of a dickhead now. But I’m not totally done yet. We go back to the port (that’s the left side, amigos) gash/deflector door.
‘So… what about that white line above the… err… deflector door? Isn’t that some sort of… I don’t know the technical term… like crack?’
‘No,’ he goes, ‘internal recesses don’t get painted in the livery colour. There wouldn’t really be any point, as you can’t normally see them.’
‘So it’s structurally sound?’
‘Totally,’ he goes, and we womble back up the steps. He turns left into the driving bit and I go to sit down in 6C, but before I do I’m besieged by anxious fellow passengers wanting to know what the problem is.
‘Absolutely nothing to worry about,’ I say. ‘I’m actually a Boeing structural engineer,’ I lie, ‘and it’s my job to conduct spot checks.’ You can feel the relief, but I’m on a bit of a roll now. ‘Just needed to check that the the air conditioning deflector doors will retract once the APU has been switched off, and it’s fine… absolutely fine… totally retracting when asked to do so.
‘APU?’ goes someone with a Polish accent.
‘Yes, Auxiliary Power Unit.’ Sorted.
Now the reason that the pilot took my… I don’t know — shall we call it query, so seriously is that Mr O’Leary is not stupid. He knows that safety is the single most important thing in most passengers’ minds so he makes sure he gets that right. Charging €2450.00 for a Panini or half a month’s salary for a beer will not detract from his airline’s popularity, but planes that fall out of the sky certainly will.
So… Monday and I’m on the plane back from Wroclaw to Malaga wedged between this Polish family who’ve brought the entire contents of their fridge to snack on. Respect though, they certainly know how to beat Mr O’Leary at his game.
I look around and although the plane’s pretty full, I clock a couple of free seats in the ‘extra legroom/emergency exit’ spot over the wing.
Now a few years ago Mr O’L would have made me shell out around €30 for the privilege of moving to this sanctuary, but the trolley-dolly tells me I’m good to go after takeoff and it won’t cost me a thing.
So there’s a spare seat between this Ryanair flyboy in the window seat and me and I’m one happy bunny.
I even manage to sleep for a couple of hours then crack a bottle of vino and see if the uniformed chap wants to chat. He does.
Misiek (not his real name) lives in Wroclaw and is flying to
Malaga as he is rostered to fly to somewhere in Germany tomorrow. He’s been with Ryanair for over four years, three of them as a ‘Commander’ (ie. Captain) which pays him a salary sufficient to put him in the top ten percent of earners in Poland. He’s a happy bunny too, although he’d rather be based in Krakow and not have to fly unpaid to his departure destination on his day off.
He’s a jovial fellow and quite happy to talk about Ryanair.
‘Is it true,’ I ask him, ‘that pilots have to buy their own water?’
‘Not entirely,’ he replies, ‘we have to bring an empty bottle… but we get the water for free.’
‘And what about the rumour — when Mr O’Leary reputedly charged for use of the toilet — that pilots were encouraged to fly through turbulence in order to create more use of the toilet and push up sales of alcohol?’
‘Interesting theory.’ He laughs; one of those engaging Polish belly laughs that I’ve come to know and love. ‘But we cannot just swing around the sky like Tom Cruise looking for turbulence. We have a flight plan and cannot deviate unless told to do so by air traffic control.’
We chat on about pubs in Wroclaw, the hideousness of Polish
food and the magnificence of Polish beer. I can tell he’d love one of my miniature wines but there’s absolutely no chance of that.
So, we’re coming in to land, wheels are down and it’s a bit bumpy.
‘Are you a bit of a back seat driver when we get to this bit?’ I
‘No, not at all,’ he goes.
Now I’d say we’re coming in a bit too fast and we’re well over the runway by now, so I’m thinking this could be a go-around, when suddenly we hit the tarmac. Hard.
‘Fucking hell!’ He goes, which contradicts his last answer.
‘Well’ I say, ‘they say any landing you can walk away from is a good one.’
So I’m back in Marbella for a week, amigos.
After that, I’m on the road back to Poland, but you’ll have to wait for the next unexciting installment to find out why.
But I’ll sign off by saying this to Ryanair: I actually think you provide a great service, and don’t worry — there’ll be hundreds of Monarch pilots knocking at Mr O’Leary’s door soon, so all will be back to normal.
Hasta pronto, Chicos!