Ryan Air ---well, it's Cheap
Ryan Air is the Unemployment Office of Airlines, the Welfare Line of Air Travel, the Department of Motor Vehicles of Passenger Inconvenience.
Buying a ticket, as well as the On-line Check-in service, are surreal shopping opportunities. All clicks, and there are many, lead you to purchase-able products, services, ads for new films, records, tv shows and other entertainment opportunities, hotels and guided tours of the city to which you may or may not be traveling, flight and medical coverage, bicycle and automobile rentals and cases of freeze-dried potato chips.
Often, you can't figure out what they are asking you to do. If you go back, or take too long, you get brand new ads. ("Didn't want freeze-dried potato chips? We also offer Nuclear Hello Kitty!")
It's cheap, by far the cheapest option, but it doesn't end up as cheap as you think. Our ticket from Bologna to Palermo, Sicily, a distance of approximately San Francisco to San Diego, starts out at only 36 euros, maybe a fifth of the major airlines like Alitalia. But you pay to check in on line, you pay to choose a seat, you pay to check a bag. You pay for water! (But this was also true on Aer Lingus --€2.50 for a little bottle of water.)
A stewardess walks down the aisle and slugs you in the face for only €5. ( Credit cards only.)
The boarding process -- they don't announce the gate. At some indefinite hour, people start lining up at an empty gate. They post the flight and open the gates at the same second. So you have a hundred Italians, to whom 'standing in line' is as unfamiliar a concept as telling cheetahs to walk and eat more fruit, pushing forward through one little opening, beyond which stands a uniformed hostess checking passports. But the line is too disorganized, so the hostess begins making announcement after announcement, in Italian, each one more frustrated than the last, probably starting with "People, Please!" and then "People! Holy Shit!" and finally "God, I HATE this job!" It's a little like getting on a freeway at an exit ramp.
Finally, you get through and are herded down a concrete stairway into a basement, where you stand for fifteen minutes, no announcement, no reason given. After ten minutes all the Italians are getting hot. The two Americani, Ducki and Plotti, are wondering where they will hide when the fight breaks out.
Then, they bang open the door and everyone starts for the air stair on the plane which is parked out on the tarmac. Another chaotic mass of people now try to elbow their way up one stairway.
What makes it a little more problematic is that we are, remember, heading for Sicily. Everywhere we look, we see Vito, Sonny, Fredo and Michael Corleone, Virgil Sollozzo, Fat Clemenza and Skinny Tessio, the baker who baked the cake at Vito's funeral, Al Martino, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Marlon Brando and Fabrizio, who shot Michael's wife. Look, is that Diane Keaton?
No, you idiot, that was a movie, this is an airplane. Still, the dark glasses, the skinny shirts and scarves around the neck, the looks of supreme annoyance mixed with arrogant disdain, the bit of fear that engenders --- I won't lie to you. It's all there.
We get on the plane. We are flying on a 737 but it's like a cartoon 737. The seats are ridiculously small, like when you try to sit at a nursery school desk. There are no net bags or containers of any kind behind the seats, so there is nowhere to store anything or toss away trash. So people have stuffed candy wrappers or pastry bags into all the available crevices, or just left them on the floor. Apparently Ryan only flies the planes, they don't clean them, so when we board my chair is covered with cracker crumbs, which I can brush onto the floor, but Duck's seat is covered with water. She can't sit down and they won't stop to bring over a paper towel.
Eventually a passenger brings a few kleenexes. Ducknik sits. Is she seeing red? Guess.
But finally, with a smooth little bump, we detach from the earth, as the Italians put it. We're off, and on time, too. Below, I can see white clouds and far off to the right, the Ionian Sea. In fifteen minutes or so I expect to see beautiful Sicily below our Toon Plane, maybe even catch a glimpse of Mt. Etna or the ancient Greek temples that dot the southern shore.
"Attenzione! Staring out window? Two Euros." (We accept alla major-a credit cards-a.")