Tag Archives: flying

Ryan Air and Tribulations

Since leaving Bruges, our travels have been a whirlwind, leaving me little time to write. Even though our time until now has felt like a prequel to the main thrust of our trip, I’ll try to hit a few of the high points in the next post or two since coming back to France and setting out on our hike. Visiting Anne-Claire’s friends was, as always, a pleasure.

Flying into Marseille with Ryan Air was easy, though seeing how a cattle call boarding system flushes away people’s consideration and manners is demoralizing (and more than a bit humbling when you yourself get caught up in the pushing and shoving). It’s a bit like the Southwest Airlines system used to be in the States, except that you can only bump yourself up to the priority line by paying more, not by checking in earlier. I’m convinced Ryan Air’s staff deliberately make the path wide enough for four or five people, and that they snicker when the real elbowing begins as you approach the jetway and hand over your ticket.

Anne-Claire carried her bag on, so as soon as she saw people begin to queue up to board, she politely went around the barriers and would’ve been third or fourth in line had a few fellow passengers not slipped under the lines. It’s an interesting psychological experiment: the barriers for the line are set up well before a flight takes off. I suppose if the boarding time does approach, Ryan Air’s ticket takers would call for everyone to get in line, but I doubt this has ever happened.

It’s sort of like game theory, in that each passenger is balancing their comfort waiting for the flight with their desire to have a good seat and overhead space for their bags. But as soon as someone decides the latter is more important and grabs the first place, his/her fellow passengers cascade into line. It might be interesting some time to pick an arbitrary Ryan Air flight, wait until there’s a critical mass of people and then jump into line at a ridiculous time just to watch the line form quickly.

But as I said, we arrived safely in Marseille, just like everyone else, whether they were first or last in line.

Acts of Bird

I think it was Paul Theroux who said that the worst thing that can happen to a travel writer is that nothing on a journey goes wrong. If that’s the case, then based on what happened before we even left the ground in San Francisco, we’re in for a fruitful trip, at least as far as this blog is concerned.

Anne-Claire graduated from her master’s program on May 19th, and after a few days with friends and family, we launched into moving mode, shoving just about everything we owned, save the few items in our backpacks for this trip, into a storage container that was picked up on Thursday afternoon. We said our last goodbyes, swiped a dust rag over a few final spots in our (now former) apartment and headed up to San Francisco to spend the night with a friend.


The whole week felt like one long slog of nonstop goodbyes and preparations to finish the last few pages in this chapter of our lives. Sleep wasn’t a priority, especially Thursday night, as I wrote a final few emails to shore up business before we left the States. Still, I suppose my body felt differently, as I woke up at 2:30 in the morning with my head planted in the crook of my laptop and a few hundred repetitions of the letter “y” on my screen thanks to my nose. Whatever I was trying to communicate would have to wait until the morning.

Getting to the airport was easy, and we boarded our first flight to Newark more or less on time. As we waited on the tarmac to take off, a few shrieks came from far in the front of the plane. A wave of cries followed, reaching an uncomfortable volume when the high school girls’ soccer team just in front of us caught sight of the stowaway:

Flapping vigorously, the pigeon looked out of breath passing over the aisle with its beak held partly open. It did a few laps back and forth with the flight attendants making a few half-hearted attempts to snag it before it would take off again. Finally, a passenger managed to capture the bird, to which we all applauded. But apparently, it’s not OK to take a bird across the country, so we had to pull out of the queue for takeoff and head back to the gate, presumably to toss the bird to a befuddled gate agent. That meant we needed more fuel and another round of safety checks, and I watched as our Newark arrival time on the flight map in front of me ticked closer to our departure time for Paris. Two hours behind schedule, we were finally in the air.

When we landed in Newark, Anne-Claire and I snuck off the plane with a raft of fellow passengers trying to make an even closer connection to Delhi; the flight attendants had asked that they be given way by everyone else and we figured we were in the same predicament.

I’d been preparing a rebuttal to the defense that our errant pigeon fell under the “acts of God” section of our passenger agreement, should United try to use that defense, absolving themselves of responsibility for our tardiness. Alas, my zeal turned out to be unnecessary, as we sat in the waiting area, succumbing to another delay of about an hour, though this time, I doubt a feathered frequent flier was to blame.