New Low for Flying? Standing-Room-Only Flights Possible

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The term jet-setter is still applied to travelers heading to chic, exciting places. But by now, after years of enduring countless fees, painfully long airport waits and humiliation by way of clothing removal and body scans, travelers should know that the era when flying equated to glamour is long gone.

But if you’re not thoroughly disillusioned with the modern-day flying experience, Michael O’Leary, the blunt-speaking CEO of cheapo European carrier Ryanair, would like to have a word. O’Leary is known for saying and doing outrageous things — calling his customers “idiots,” for instance, and considering the introduction of pay toilets on planes and in-flight porn as moneymakers for the airline.

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He is also known for speaking the truth boldly, sometimes harshly, in situations when prudent businessmen would hold their tongues. O’Leary’s latest truth-telling is quoted in the Telegraph:

“The problem with aviation is that for 50 years it’s been populated by people who think it’s this wondrous sexual experience; that it’s like James Bond and wonderful and we’ll all be flying first class when really it’s just a bloody bus with wings.

“Most people just want to get from A to B. You don’t want to pay £500 for a flight.

“You want to spend that money on a nice hotel, apartment or restaurant … You don’t want to piss it all away at the airport or on the airline.”

Here’s one more thing that you probably never expected an airline executive to say:

“If there ever was a crash on an aircraft, God forbid, a seatbelt won’t save you.”

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Because O’Leary believes “seatbelts don’t matter,” and because airline passengers seem to be proving O’Leary’s point by choosing the cheapest form of transportation possible regardless of service or comfort, Ryanair is currently trying to launch a standing-room-only section on its airplanes, where fares on short-haul flights within Europe would start at £1, around $1.50.

Does this idea have, well, a leg to stand on? O’Leary certainly thinks so, guaranteeing that cheap standing-room-only tickets would sell out long before seats that cost, say, $40 on the same plane.

He may be right. At the same time, travelers should know that it’s impossible to actually pay £1 and get anywhere with Ryanair. In early November, reported the Guardian, the airline announced that as of Dec. 1, all passengers must pay a £6 ($9.50) administrative fee on each one-way ticket purchase. In the past, customers could avoid the fee by using a Ryanair-affiliated credit card.

That’s hardly the only fee Ryanair passengers are likely to encounter. If you don’t print out your boarding pass before arriving at the airport, you can expect to pay as much as $75. It was the complaint of an angry mom who was forced to pay five such fees for her family of five that prompted O’Leary’s “idiots” comment. More likely, Ryanair customers will be confronted with any number of mysterious baggage charges — for checked luggage, certainly, and also for carry-on luggage and perhaps what’s known as hand luggage.

Ryanair allows one piece of hand luggage (purse, laptop bag, small backpack) per passenger. And what happens if you go over the allowance? One woman in Spain recently found out. After boarding a Ryanair flight with a book and a scroll that didn’t fit in her bag, the woman was escorted off the plane by police when she couldn’t pay the airline’s fee, reportedly because her credit card was not working. Glamorous jet-setting this is not.

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In a video of the incident, passengers are heard yelling “Shameful, shameful” over and over, and groups are calling for a boycott of the airline. (Perhaps, if O’Leary were on board at the time, he might have tried to counter by starting up an “Idiot, idiot” chant.)

Will anyone really stand up to O’Leary? Or will many of us soon be standing on airplanes? Thus far, Ryanair’s fee-crazed business model has proved to be wildly profitable, and the truth of the matter is that the airline would be failing if consumers didn’t like what it was selling.