מאת לירון מילשטיין

Nie wieder Ryanair

It was 5:05 in the morning, shortly before sunrise, when we finally settled in our seats. These weren't going to be our in-flight home away from home; we sat on the bus that came to pick us up from Hanover. It has been five hours since we landed, seven hours after the time we were supposed to land in Berlin.

I should've known better. Actually, I did: Back in August, when we booked a flight from Berlin to Rome, I shared with my partner a few horror stories I've read online where people described Ryanair’s flights that were scheduled to land in Berlin but instead ended up in Hanover. Why? Allegedly because Berlin’s airport closes at midnight sharp. We considered spending another night in Rome, but we dislike the city and would never have gone there if it weren’t for a family trip---so this option was off the table quicker than an espresso. Departing a day earlier meant a day less with them, and since we live on different continents and visit roughly once a year (even less since Covid-19), this alternative was also off the table.

So we booked the flight and forgot about the potential agony. What's the point of learning from someone else's excruciating stories when we could have one of our own?

Last flight with Ryanair

Our plane embarked from Rome around the time it was supposed to land in Berlin, so for me, at least, it was clear that we wouldn’t make it on time. I also read stories that ended with a happy landing in Berlin after the crew rushed passengers to board. But our aircrew lacked that optimistic spirit. They seemed defeated, letting people slowly store their luggage and take their seats as if we had the whole night ahead of us. Spoiler alert: We did.

As we approached Hanover’s airport, the pilot apologized and said something about a chain of events which led to this moment: The plane left Majorca later than planned, the flight from Berlin was delayed, and there were some issues in Rome. Whatever.

Before we parted ways, an apologetic flight attendant advised an inquisitive passenger never to book flights on this slot, and the pilot informed us that buses would be waiting in front of the Maritim hotel.

One bus was there when we arrived, but it was already full. Meanwhile, all of us received a friendly text message from Ryanair, saying:

“Hi All, The Buses for the Transfer to Berlin (BER) will be arriving in Hanover (HAJ) between 02.30 and 03.00 local.”

This was around midnight.

Before pulling away, the bus driver told us that his colleagues were on their way, so we waited outside: More than 200 stranded passengers, including a very old lady sitting in a supportive chair, mothers with babies, and others who had nothing but summer clothes--suited for the 30+ degrees in Rome and Lisbon--to keep them warm in the crisp, 10-degrees Hanover night.

Wait, hold on, Lisbon? Well, I only realized later that night that there were two too-late-to-land flights, and the lucky people on the bus came from Lisbon.

Waiting for Godot

We weren't the only ones waiting outside the airport; a bunch of lively taxi drivers were also there. All too familiar with this scenario, they were ready to pick up those who’d be willing to pay €700 to get to Berlin. I think that a connecting flight via Tokyo would cost less.

But between the bus driver's encouraging promise, Ryanair’s laconic text, and the outrageous price of a taxi, most of the passengers waited. We covered ourselves with everything we could find in our luggage, jumped, hugged if we had someone to hug, and waited. Someone who returned from the information desk inside the airport said it would take an hour or so, and since it started raining, we entered the 24/7-open airport to warm up and buy something to eat.

At 4:30, we went outside for a smoke, which prompted others to think that something was happening --- a group of people rushed out of the airport, making their way to the bus stop. I asked people if they 1) had heard some news or 2) followed us because they thought we did. When they said 2, we realized we were all beyond the point of being able to think straight.

The weather app indicated that it was now 6 degrees, and we thought about taking a taxi and submitting the invoice to Ryanair. Responsible adults like we are, we first skimmed the company's compensation policy online and then carefully analyzed the automated pseudo-apologetic email:

“We are committed to providing on-time services for all passengers, but exceptionally there are situations outside of our control that affect our flight operations”.

By then, we felt even more exhausted from imagining the futile battle ahead. So we waited.

Round and round

At 5:05, a bus arrived, and we ran toward it as if we were Lassie on her last mile. In many ways, we were. Our limbs were stiff, our muscles ached, and we were worn out. So we pushed our way in and collapsed on the seats. It took another 20 minutes to depart because the driver waited for the other busses to arrive so we could all go on the field trip together. At 5:25, we hit the road. By 5:31, everyone had fallen asleep.

Three and a half hours later, I woke up all sweaty, as if I had never left Rome. Like my fellow friends on this hellish ride, I fell asleep with my coat while the heating was fully on. I was boiling, my seat was burning, and there was nowhere to escape. Berlin was still almost an hour away.

The bus drivers decided to do a toilet break at a McDonald’s 34 km from the airport. Most of the passengers hurried in to visit the coin-only-never-gives-back-change toilets. The line was long enough for me to enjoy two cigarettes.

It was after 9:00 when we finally arrived at our original destination, Berlin airport. Almost 11 hours later than planned, we dragged ourselves to the train station, making our way to pick up our dog from dear friends.

If only they gave a fuck

There could have been so many alternative scenarios - even with the landing in Hanover - that would have made this nightmare less horrible. If only Ryanair had

But the real IF is if they only gave a fuck about their passengers and crew. While the latter (supposedly) went straight back to Berlin by taxi, they still had a three-hour drive, which meant three hours less sleep before their next flight.

Mission possible?

It’s not easy to commit to never again flying with Ryanair, especially when living in Berlin, one of the least connected cities in Germany. If I want to visit my family and friends in Tel Aviv, I now have no choice but to fly with EasyJet; the other direct flight is operated by El-Al, whose been on my blacklist since I developed a conscience.

Traveling around Europe isn’t much better: There are no direct flights from Berlin to Italy with other airlines. The same goes for every city in France besides Paris, not to mention more exotic destinations like Corfu.

Will I be able to keep my word? Will I ever get over the trauma and visit Hanover? Will I dare not pack a warm winter coat when going on a summer holiday? Hopefully yes.