August 3, 2009

A GIRLS' WEEKEND


PART ONE - THE DELIGHTS OF RYANAIR
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It seemed rather indulgent to be going back to Le Grand Pressigny the weekend after we had just come home but that's the way it worked out and it was great.




We nearly missed the plane, though. According to Google it's 2 hrs 45 mins from home to Stansted Airport so we left at 7 am on the dot for an 11 am flight. Oodles of time we thought, on a Saturday morning. WRONG. The A14 was closed eastbound meaning we had to take a huge diversion. We arrived at the airport carpark just about in time. Unfortunately most of the parking zones were closed off (even though they weren't full) and, rushing and not concentrating, I missed the sign for the one that was open. ("More haste, less speed" is what my mother used to say.) We had to do another lap of the carpark to find it, wasting precious time. Then we discovered that although the bus shuttle service runs every few minutes, it takes absolutely ages, as it stops at every carpark on the way.


We dashed into the airport and headed straight for security, armed with our online check-in details, as the TV screens said our flight was at last call status. Confused by the mayhem in the crowded hall, I asked a young man wearing a Ryanair badge if I was going the right way as we were running late. I received a very curt reply and he pointed us, without a smile or even eye contact, in the right direction. We were told to empty any loose coins out of our pockets into the tray. All I had was one euro for a supermarket trolley and when I got to the other end of the scanner it had disappeared. I was in too much of a hurry to enquire where it had gone.


Then we both got frisked at security. The clock was ticking and time was running out. I was convinced we would miss the flight. We fought our way as fast as possible through the dawdling crowds to the gate - all the Ryanair gates are as far away as possible from the airport entrance.



I heard the gate staff shout "here they are" as we arrived, all in a complete lather, and we were then shooed down the ramp, across the tarmac and up the steps and into the aircraft. I have used Ryanair before but this plane looked more than ever like an old Chesterfield bus with wings.

The plane was pretty full. Except of course for the couple of rows of seats we were instructed not to use and which remained empty throughout the flight. We didn't get seats together but managed to cram ourselves between other passengers who would grudgingly let us in.



We were not the last to board the plane. Two minutes later, four more latecomers arrived and were shoe-horned in somehow. Incredibly, the plane took off on time.



Thankfully the flight to Tours is only an hour. I read my book and Jackie, three rows in front, fell asleep. She woke up just as the plane hit the tarmac. Tours aiport is about the size of Chesterfield bus station and just about as busy.



We landed ahead of time, something Ryanair boast about. However, they had one more treat in store for us. Having survived the massive scrum to leave the aircraft, we then spent what seemed like hours but was probably only about ten minutes, standing on the tarmac, waiting for someone to notice that a plane full of people had arrived and needed to be let in. What's the point of arriving at the airport on time or even early if you then spend ten minutes standing around on the wrong side of passport control? (Someone suggested the staff were probably at lunch. They could be right.)



Having only hand luggage, we were at the front of the queue to collect our hire car, one that had been scratched previously. There was only one girl doing the paperwork, very slowly, and by the time we left the portacabin with our car key the queue looked to me to be about one miserable hour long. "Les pauvres." Definitely a good reason not to have baggage to wait for.



Our journey so far had been stressful and frantic, but with that behind us, we could now relax and head for Le Grand Pressigny. All I needed to do first was make sure I sat on the right side of the car - no - the left side - and get to grips with changing gear with the gear stick in the wrong hand, not with the window winder. This is not easy. However, the most difficult part is working out how close we are to other cars parked on the side of the road as we're going along. Each time I get into a left-hand-drive car, I really have to think about this for a day or two. I gave everything a wide berth and we made our way steadily.


The whole travelling experience left us feeling drained. Obviously, I don't blame Ryanair for us being late due to the road closure, nor for the thieving security staff, nor for the fact that the car park is literally miles from the aiport. Because of their pricing policy the whole place is stuffed full of people dragging huge "hand-luggage" - mini suitcases that are very difficult to negociate when in a hurry. Most people aim to avoid the extra charge for checking in a real suitcase by stuffing as much as possible into the maximum size of hand luggage allowed and wearing several layers of clothes. Ryanair even employ a small army of people to make sure that passengers are not abusing this facility - people who pounce on you and demand that you shove the bag into a metal cage to see if it fits. If it does, you're ok - if not, you have to check it in and pay. The attitude of these people is somewhat aggressive as they seem to assume most passengers will try to cheat, as I'm sure some do.


We felt we were being treated very much like the poor relations and not valued customers in the way we were processed and handled. As on previous journeys, a planeload of passengers would often be left standing for no apparent reason in an uncomfortable and confined space, waiting for something to happen, very much like a herd of animals waiting to be let out of a shed.

In all of the six journeys I have made with Ryanair, the passengers were mostly reasonable people with acceptable manners (and ok the odd few tired and niggly children). There were no drunken larger-louts or unruly teenagers - we were all people who deserved to be treated with genuine courtesy, not the false smiles that seem to hide an underlying air of contempt or indifference. True, there is a certain amount of pushing and shoving going on amongst some passengers who feel the need to bag their space or get to the front first. Maybe the feeling that you are going to be herded like animals makes some people behave like that. Or is it that because people are likely to behave like that in a first-come, first-served situation, that they are treated accordingly? I don't know the answer to that. Does the price you pay for your ticket dictate the level of respect you receive? I thought "no frills" meant there would be no seat allocation or in-flight meals, not that passengers could expect to be treated like a busful of naughty schoolchildren or a herd of cattle.

I suppose you don't get the best service when you pay the least amount of money but it leaves us with a dilemma. Do we pay a few quid more and hope to travel more comfortably, or endure the service as it is and maybe afford to take one more trip per year? In the past I have adopted a policy of not compromising on what I feel is reasonable to aspire to - doing without and saving up for something a little better rather than buying something that I might not be happy with later. But now there is this lure of our little home in France which makes me think that a ghastly journey will be worth it when I get there. (Is this something like selling your soul to the devil?)


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We stopped at Descartes for some supplies and arrived at our little cottage early afternoon. We had planned our journey so that we would arrive relaxed and it had all gone pear-shaped - but it was worth it. We settled in and enjoyed a picnic-style lunch on the terrace; fresh bread, cheese, ham, paté and a glass of wine from our stash in the cellar.

A web picture of the chateau and village. Our little cottage is in it.


The sun was shining, the birds were singing and "comme d'habitude" I felt completely relaxed and at home.

We had a great weekend and it lasted until Tuesday. We did so much there's too much for just one post. More as soon as my own computer is working and I can get at my photos.


4 comments:

  1. Bleuch! Ryan Air ... I conceived the delightful notion of a weekend trip to Carcassonne a few years ago. Ryan Air almost managed to ruin a perfectly lovely weekend. Even the International Terminal (or shed, as we saw it) at Carcassonne was superior to the dreadful airline. The plane was tatty beyond description and the seats were so knackered that our bottoms sank into the seats as if we were sitting on loo seats.
    I have travelled on EasyJet quite a bit and there is a qualitative difference in the attitude of the staff. They know that you've booked a cheap deal and they are under pressure to turn the aircraft round within a very short time but they are polite and cheery. The Ryan Air mob would have been better off on Aeroflot!

    Ok, back to your seats. Rant over.

    Mad x

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  2. Mad - glad someone agrees with me. I wondered if I was sticking my neck out and sounding like a snob. Or maybe I just expect too much of people ( a typical Sagittarian trait. )

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  3. Jean: I get the impression that Ryanair treats its staff as badly as its passengers, so it's inevitable that the staff don't see the need to behave with any consideration for the passengers. I do feel they take the expression 'cattle class' a little too literally.

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  4. Susan, many of the passengers had a "I haven't paid much for this so I have to put up with the crap" air about them, trying to keep their dignity and their tempers. Ryanair make a lot of money so they should treat their staff better if that's the solution. .

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