An Irishman's Diary
I YIELD to no-one in my admiration of Ryanair. The benefits it has brought to this country cannot be counted. But that does not mean Ryanair is perfect; and I would rather have settled for Michael O'Leary's admission that this was so than have the proof provided to me as it was on the flight to Stansted last weekend.
I asked the trolley service hostess about the price of two baby bottles of champagne for myself and two for a friend. £21 sterling, she replied.
Gulping bravely, I pushed out the boat. She gave us the bottles, I waved a credit card at her, but she said she would come back later. Could I pay for our connecting train journey to London at the same time? Of course, she said.
Another hostess came back much later, after the champagne was finished, and presented me with my slip. It should have read, including train-fare, about £43. Instead it read £50. I pointed this out. 'Ah yes, that's because the hostess undercharged you. It should have been £28 for the four champagnes."
Fond of bubbles
No, no no, this will not do, I replied. I was told the champagne would cost £21. Now it was all gone, and I was being told the price was £28. The stated price, £21 sterling for four baby bottles, was anyway very high; I simply would not have gone ahead with the purchase at £28 sterling - which is about £36.I am fond of my bubbles - but not that fond. I declined to pay the extra £7 sterling.
The hostess went away and was replaced by another. She told me I should pay the extra money. I again refused. It was not my error, I insisted. She was then joined by the first hostess, and the actual hostess who had made the error. I had three hostesses haranguing and browbeating me and seething with righteous indignation over £7 sterling. I refused to relent.
"Thanks very much," said the hostess who had made the mistake. "You're going to cost me the £7, you realise that. I hope that makes you feel good. And I was trying to do you a favour. Thanks very much indeed."
Ah. That old familiar: moral blackmail - apparently on the grounds that it was all right for me to pay the £7 sterling her mistake had cost, but not for her. Indeed, at this point I might have relented had two passengers - complete strangers, who had been listening in utter incredulity - not joined in on my side, urging me to stand firm.
Then yet another hostess, apparently the one in charge, took up the battle. It was a genuine mistake, she insisted: it was up to me to pay for it. Again I refused. Four members of Ryanair had now joined battle over the £7 sterling. Of course, if they had felt so very strongly about the injustice being done to one of their number, they might have borne the cost between them: £1.75 each. But they chose not to. They preferred to pick on me.
Finally, the nail-varnished ones dispersed, but every time one went past me there was an angry glare and a meaningful stamp of feet. Finally, I was given a corrected credit card slip for the lesser sum, which I signed, but then both the slip and my card were taken from me. It was still not all over.
My card was not returned to me before landing, so that I was forced to remain on the aircraft until everyone else had alighted. The nail varnish, mob-handed, was waiting for me at the exit, now joined by the emollient presence of someone from Ryanair management who happened to have been on the flight and who addressed me by name.
I was presented with a fresh credit card slip. I insisted I was not paying the extra £7. "You've got to understand," he said. "They're very busy." (But not too busy to turn four to one against a passenger.) I told him the only reason he was intervening so amiably was because he knew who I was.
"Who are you?" asked one of the hostesses. "Yes, who are you?" said another. Then having been told my name, the young woman whom I took to be the boss sneered: "Never heard of you."
Well, she has now.
I don't expect diamond class service when I fly Ryanair; but nor do I expect the entire cabin staff to attempt to bully and cajole me out of a few quid because of an error made by one of their number. The incident was no accident. It says a great deal about company culture, and its forceful attitude to in-flight sales - from the commission on which the cabin crew make a sizeable chunk of their income - that I was not regarded as a paying passenger worthy of respect, but rather as a source of money that was not yielding it up as obediently as they wanted.
And as for "costing" the hostess £7, she probably did not have to reimburse the airline, but merely lost the commission on the four bottles of champagne. But never mind figures: the real issue here was the greed, discourtesy and aggression to which I had been treated. Cheap flights are not cheap flights if that is the price you have to pay for them. It was an utterly poisonous start to my weekend in London; but thank God, I consoled myself as I left Stansted: I still had a long overdue victory against England at Twickenham to look forward to.