No flying in 2006... Then some
Let me first write some words about the context of this trip. The enterprise I work for has placed 2006 under the sign of its tenth anniversary. Among other corporate celebrations, we were offered a week-end for two, the flights and hotel being paid by our enterprise, while we had to cater for our personal expenses during the stay (restaurants, visits, ...). As our enterprise is based in the Charleroi area, the HR dept found logical to make us fly from our local Charleroi (Brussels South) airport, virtually forcing us to fly... Ryanair. The destination had to be chosen between Barcelona in Spain, Venice or Rome in Italy. With my wife, we chose the latter, as it was the only place we had never visited among the proposals. My boss made the booking on September 13th. For me, it was an unexpected opportunity to fly in 2006, as we had decided not to travel during the year, because we thought our little son (born in January) was too young to accompany us. As time passed, my wife became concerned that she could not stand leaving our baby during our three days long vacation. We thus decided to take the baby with us, after all, 0 year is a good age to start flying...
I went to the Ryanair ticketing office at Charleroi airport, had to pay a fixed price of 10 euros per segment for the baby, meaning to represent taxes, and so was little baby included in the Rome adventure.
Ryanair, the low-fares airline...
It's all in the motto I guess... Some figures :
Booking mid-September for a December 15th departure (Friday).
CRL-CIA-CRL for 2 adults = 199,96 EUR.
Taxes and charges = 107,10 EUR.
Travel insurance for 2 adults (okay, optional) = 28 EUR.
Total paid by the enterprise = 335,06 EUR.
Fixed taxes for the baby = 20 EUR.
As we were to discover later :
Overweight luggage at CRL = 10 EUR.
Overweight luggage at CIA = 24 EUR.
Total paid by myself = 54 EUR.
Total cost of the flights = 389,06 EUR.
This of course does NOT include any kind of food on board, and the smile of the flight attendants also comes at a cost. Oh, and since this December, only 15 kg of luggage per person (might become a problem for the minority of us who travel with a baby). I confess I did not check, but I could have swore I would have found the same flights on SN or AZ for less. Well who can complain when you're actually paid to fly ?
Charleroi (Brussels South) - Rome (Ciampino)
Date : Friday, December 15th, 2006
Departure (scheduled / actual) : 06.30 / 06.44
Arrival (scheduled / actual) : 08.30 / 08.39
Aircraft : Boeing 737-8AS, EI-DHO, CN 33578 / LN 1792
Seats : 15 D-E-F
We were dropped at the airport at 5:05. The terminal was a bit crowded because of the 3 early morning Ryanair departures (to CIA, GRO and BGY), anyway, there was only a small wait at check-in. Actually all Ryanair check-in desks could be used indifferently for any FR flight, which smoothed the process in some way. I soon discovered that the new Ryanair policies make you pay for each piece of checked luggage (which cannot exceed 15 kg each), 10 EUR if paid at the airport, slightly less if paid when booking. As we discovered, my boss had paid for one piece of luggage, but the baby food, milk and cooking material had brought our case to an impressing 24 kg. The check-in agent (quite friendly by the way) explained us that the best (and cheapest) solution for us would be to pay for another piece of checked baggage. She also said that as the booking had been made before November, we would have no problems for the return flight, as we were allowed 20 kg instead of 15 (well at least, the baby would have to eat 4 kg in order for us to be within limits). So instead of lightening our luggage, I lightened my wallet in exchange for our three boarding passes. Well not really, because the Ryanair desk at the airport, where you have to pay (judging by the line, they made quite some money this way), does not accept cash (bank cards, or Visa only, please, no exceptions).
Fifteen minutes or so to pass security. With the liquid ban and some milk and water for the baby in our handbag, 15 minutes seem reasonable. Security officers were neither friendly nor rude, just correct. Alright. They let me through with one bottle of water, by mistake, an interesting indication on how thoroughly the ban is enforced. Some waiting at gate 3, no shops or bars after security (at least for this 'gate'), and boarding began at 6:00. Funny how they call a 'gate' this small all-white room with a sleeping baggage reclaim belt as only attraction. The new terminal on the other side of the runway will be a more than welcome addition. The glass building is due to open in 2007 and should bring the airport in par with its international competitors (runway lengthening from 2500 to 3200 meters should follow soon).
Passengers having checked-in through Ryanair.com, the low-fares website, are normally allowed priority boarding, along with early check-in-ers, although this priority seems to be more or less respected. More respect (and priority) rewards those who disrespect elementary living-together rules and make it to the start of the queue first (whatever the means, although guns and other arms are supposed to be filtered by security). Oh, and a baby buggy does NOT give you any priority at all. Leaving the buggy at the bottom of the stairs, we boarded EI-DHO at the front and found row 15 free. Fortunately for us, we had seats 15 D-E-F for us three (babies are supposed to travel on the knees of their parents, but it's not a Ryanair particularity). When doors were closed, I estimated the load factor to be in the 90-95% range, while the cabin crew were quickly completing their cabin checks. We pushed back at 6:44, and took off at 6:50 (from runway 25), having lost the race between the three early morning flights.
The cabin was clean. Two main colors are used to give an overall cheap look to the cabin (cheap is my judgement, my wife finds it okay). Dark blue is used by the leather-like seats, the floor and the Ryanair inscription on front and rear bulkheads. Yellow is for the aforementioned bulkheads, the top of the back of the seats (where the safety instructions are stickered), and the yellow-to-white gradient used on the overhead bins (this is where the cheap look comes from). The Ryanair cabin service (or lack thereof) consists of an inflight sale of everything from perfume to hot-dogs, from red bull to tombola tickets. Not much fresh cash today, as most of the cabin was asleep (so was our baby on 15E).
Mother and son walking down the aisle. Note the color of the overhead bins
Baby's got his own seat, and is trying to figure how to fasten the seat belt.
Full service airline for the baby (who brought his own food).
Not much to see out of the window during the flight. Too cloudy and too dark. First exception : Belgium. One can wonder if all those lit, empty highways and secondary roads are worth the expense, anyway, they make for a great show when seen from above. Second : the Alps. Always impressive to watch all those snow covered mountains trying to stop the clouds. And best of all, a few moments before landing, the approach path made us fly over history : central Rome and its most famous landmarks, all lit by a charming italian morning sun.
The Alps. Sun is slowly rising.
737-800 wing at sunrise.
Leaving the Alps behind, entering Italy.
Sea of clouds below.
Approaching Rome. Crowded highway.
Final runway 15. Over central Rome.
We landed almost on time on runway 15, firm braking, applause and short taxi to a remote stand. On the apron, a company 738 with winglets and a Norwegian 737 preparing for departure, along with two Italian Air Force A319s and, on the other side of the single runway, Canadairs used for fire-fighting. A short bus ride led us to a small baggage reclaim hall, and less than ten minutes after landing, we were at the exit door (no formalities for this intra-Schengen flight). The arrivals part of Ciampino airport is somewhat small and a bit outdated, but construction works suggest that the place is about to expand (and modernize). There is a coach service (Terravision) to Rome central station (Termini) whose schedules are linked to flights arrivals, but we opted for a cheaper (while less comfortable) solution to reach the city : there is a local bus (1 EUR / person or baggage) operated by Cotral / Schiaffini company to the 'Anagnina' subway station. From there, a frequent subway train leads to central Rome in half an hour or so.
Rome (Ciampino) - Charleroi (Brussels South)
Date : Sunday, December 17th, 2006
Departure (scheduled / actual) : 20.55 / 21.03
Arrival (scheduled / actual) : 22.55 / 22.53
Aircraft : Boeing 737-8AS (winglets), EI-DCT, CN 33813 / LN 1617
Seats : 32D and 33 B-C
Our way to Ciampino airport included a ride on (almost) the whole subway line A (from Cornelia to Anagnina, we just missed station Battistini). Arrival at Anagnina at 19.05 (the place is, well, just like suburban subway end stations are...). Bus at 19.20 and arrival at the airport around 19.35. On the way to the terminal, we passed in front of the military part of the airport, where an old military transport aircraft is on display (but I couldn't figure which type it was from the bus).
The check-in area was quite crowded, with lots of LCC flights departing that evening (a new check-in zone is in construction). Ryanair and EasyJet seem to be the dominant carriers, but some other airlines operate frequent flights from CIA, among them Norwegian and Sterling. The queue for FR6108 to Charleroi wasn't too long, but once again, we discovered thaht our case was overweight. This time, 19 kg instead of 15 kg. Wait, didn't the agent at CRL tell me that we were allowed 20 kg because of our pre-November booking ?
Conclusion : I don't care what they told you at CRL, it's 15 kg and I have no right to change that.
Conclusion : You have booked one piece of luggage, you can't book another one now. But I did just this at CRL. Don't care what you did at CRL.
Conclusion : I accept to make you pay only for 3 extra kilos instead of 4.
People in the line behind may become nervous. I accept. Don't know if it's a Ryanair standard form of racket, or if it's just me who needs to read the small text more carefully. You judge.
[start of copy/paste from above]
So instead of lightening our luggage, I lightened my wallet in exchange for our three boarding passes. Well not really, because the Ryanair desk at the airport, where you have to pay (judging by the line, they made quite some money this way), does not accept cash (bank cards, or Visa only, please, no exceptions).
[end of copy/paste from above]
There was almost no queue at all for security (2 or 3 stations active). My wife had 2 half-empty (or half-full) bottles of Fanta that she was prepared to throw in the bin, but as the security officer seemed fed up of the discussion he had with me about the contents of the milk bottle of the baby, he let us pass with all our belongings (including those two fanta bottles). Oh well.
The terminal after security was crowded, people were sitting on the floor. There are some shops but no real bar or restaurant (only a shop selling food). We went to the gate area which was as crowded as the previous place, but at least it offered views of the apron and runway. It seems the airport has two main gates areas, one without passport check for intra-Schengen flights, the other one with a passport check. Each gate is divided in two lines : one for priority passengers, the other for the common people. As we discovered, the notion of priority was not strictly adhered to (to say the least), because the common people tend to use both lines as if they did not notice the segregation rules. When boarding time arrived, the screen on the gate was showing two flights : one to Girona, the other one to Charleroi (both with the "now boarding" pictogram). I don't know how they manage the sorting, but we ended in the correct bus which dropped us in front of EI-DCT, operating FR6108 to Charleroi.
As we had boarded via the rear stairs, we took the first row we saw, i.e. the last row of the aircraft (row 33).Just after the doors were closed, a flight attendant came to us to tell us we couldn't sit on the last row with a baby (I think it's considered as an emergency exit row), so my wife had to move one row forward with the baby. Not a big deal. The captain announced our routing on the P/A just before taxi, while the cabin crew was executing the safety demo (a recorded audio tape is played while the crew shows the use of safety belts and life jackets). We were holding short of runway 15 when the flight attendant realized he had forgotten to give us the special safety belt for our baby. He corrected the situation by giving us the belt used for the demo.
We took the skies at 21.07 and almost immediately made a long right turn, with the cabin lights turned off, as usual with night departures (and arrivals). Two male flight attendants were in charge of the rear of the aircraft. The first one was looking somewhat tired but was doing his job as much as he could... Smiling or being friendly seemed to be beyond his possibilies, I just guess it was the end of a long day for him. The second one had no problem with smiles and friendliness, but sadly his service was a bit substandard : he forgot to bring the drink someone had paid for, forgot to lock a trolley in the rear galley, could not understand a passenger fluent in French and Italian (i.e. the languages spoken at origin and destination of the flight). Both attendants seemed to take advantage of every period of free time to argue with each other. The cabin supervisor (female) seemed to be the only one really wanting to make the job seriously, and she even had to call her two fellow colleagues to order, when she realized that bags were blocking the emergency exit row... one minute before touchdown. Oh, and she even gave the baby some smiles... free of charge.
Apart from the few minutes before arrival, the view outside was restricted to full darkness (not that we had a window seat anyway). We landed on a wet runway 25 a bit ahead of schedule, which, at the end of the day, is a good performance in itself. Collecting the luggage in a (very) crowded room took some minutes, then we left the airport without any passport control (that's how Schengen works).
Flying is a privilege
There's no glamour in Ryanair, but I just don't want to complain. Some of us on this website fly for work, some for leisure. Some fly first class, some economy. Some fly Singapore Airlines, some fly Ryanair. Some don't fly at all. The majority of people on our planet can't afford the price of an airline ticket. Some of our fellow citizens don't even have the right to travel. I love travelling so much. I love flying so much.
I make a dream come true every time I board an aircraft.
Flying is a privilege.
Thanks for reading, comments welcome.