Fun Boarding Planes

05:37 Tue 01 Sep 2009
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I travelled from Dublin to Timişoara and back recently, and had a great time at and around Kev and Oana’s wedding. I’m not going to write about the good times, though—I’m going to write about some of the maddening little things that can make travel so vexing.

My trip from Dublin to Timişoara had three stages:

  • Booterstown to Dublin Airport (ideally by Aircoach).
  • Dublin Airport to Budapest Airport (by plane).
  • Budapest to Timişoara (by minibus).

The return trip was the same route in reverse. The flights were on the dreaded Ryanair, while the minibus service were provided by a company called Recreation. It was mostly very smooth going, but there always have to be glitches to complain about, right?

The very first stage involved my Aircoach either never showing or being ridiculously early so as to mimic not showing up, a tour bus deciding to park in the bus lane in front of what I thought was my Aircoach, and this Aircoach eventually getting around the parked bus and revealing the crucial previously-hidden detail of “As Seirbhís” on the front of the bus. Followed by my getting a taxi.

That’s the first time I’ve ever had trouble with the Aircoach service, and I wonder if it was punishment for finding so amusing a video about Irish transit that Helen posted recently…

The rest of the trip out was fine, except for an hour-long game of hotel roulette played in a taxi at about 01:00 on the other end.

On the way back, I was quite impressed with Budapest airport, mainly because they had a newsagent and restaurant/bar right next to the gate even though our gate was for some reason inside a passport-controlled area.

Because we (myself and two other veterans of KevFest 2009, Garret and Anthony) were on a Ryanair flight, and because Ryanair doesn’t do assigned seating, we had to get in line at the gate even earlier than one usually does for flights—before the ground staff have even started preparing the gate area. Whereas for assigned-seating flights the impetus for getting aboard early is mainly a desire to get that part over with, and possibly to secure adequate luggage space, with Ryanair it’s critical to secure a decent seat (and the luggage space aspect is even more important).

More or less everyone knows this, too, so everyone gets in line earlier—so you have to as well. In essence, the effect of removing assigned seating means that Ryanair’s process is theoretically more efficient for Ryanair (theoretically faster boarding times plus fewer staff interactions) while less efficient for passengers (because the system encourages more time in line). This is precisely the kind of efficiency transfer Ryanair specializes in, although my experiences have not borne out the theory that they’re faster at getting people on or off planes than other airlines.

So, we were in line early, and stood there for quite a while before the gate actually opened. Moving through the line was fine, with one coincidence (bumping into a friend of my brother’s who was waiting for a Budapest–London flight, having just been to a wedding in Budapest) and one classic occurrence of a clearly completely drunk young Irish guy (waving a bottle of Jameson and clad in an amazingly pink T-shirt) approaching us, asking if we were in the line for the Dublin flight, asking where we were from, and then whether we were Northside or Southside Dubliners—a very annoying question when asked as he asked it—while finishing every question with “boyzzzz”. He evidently wanted to ingratiate himself so that he could jump into our spot in line, but we weren’t cooperative despite his evident charm and grace.

For some reason this gate had a revolving door after the gate staff, which seemed annoying at the time but which probably makes a great deal of sense in a city that gets rather cold in the winter. Once through the revolving door, we encountered a bus—the bus would drive us to our plane. The bus was almost full, but we squeezed onto it.

About one hundred meters beyond the bus, slightly to our left, was a Ryanair plane: walking directly forwards would have brought us to the bottom of the boarding stairs for it. We waited for the bus to be full enough to leave, which seemed to be when it had about a third of the plane’s passengers on it, and it left.

It didn’t go straight to the plane nearby, so we assumed we were getting another plane… but then it turned, and that was indeed our plane, and the bus for some reason had to take the long way around it. It’s difficult to relate how ludicrous this was: the bus itself was clearly utterly superfluous, and to have it take the long way around, and to quite blatantly take significantly more time than it would have taken passengers to walk to the plane, was quite hard to believe.

The bus was one of those with doors on both sides. When it arrived at its destination by the plane, none of those doors opened. Instead, there was some communication between the driver and staff outside, who seemed to be telling the driver that he had to move the bus into the correct position before he could stop and open the doors. The driver moved the bus forward an almost imperceptible six inches or so, and that was deemed okay. It was time for the doors to be opened.

The driver only opened one door on the bus (out of I think six). Furthermore, this door was on the side of the bus farthest from the plane.

So we shuffled slowly off the bus to wait in line. There were two sets of stairs, one at the front and one at the back. Staff prevented anyone from using the back stairs, thus halving the rate at which we could board. This process therefore took quite some time, but at a given moment the staff told us to also board using the back stairs. It appeared that they chose the moment at which there were few enough passengers left so that the reduction in total boarding time would be as small as possible while still technically using both stairs to board.

When the next bus arrived to let people off, it opened all its doors at once.

The flight left about fifteen minutes late, even though the gate opened more or less on time, and the time lost seemed to be almost entirely in their experiments with inefficient boarding strategies—that is, there were no technical delays, and once the passengers were all on we didn’t wait long to take off. Despite Mr. Pink T-shirt being relieved of the bottle of Jameson, which he had apparently intended to drink on the flight.

My suspicion is that the appalling passenger loading process on display was an unholy mixture of security theater idiocy (“people might think it’s not safe if they just walk to the plane—let’s make them take a bus!”) and fumbling attempts by Ryanair to make it seem as if their priority seating fee were worth paying.

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