Ryanair. The very word is enough to instill terror. Why did we do it? We knew. We all know. They lost our luggage flying back from Rome six years ago. We vowed never again. But here we are, somehow, at Stanstead airport at 6.35 am. It was originally the best flight available, at mid-day, which was why we booked it and the cheapest, which makes it even more ironic that they changed the flight to 7.00 am after we’d paid so we had to check in to an expensive hotel the night before.
We’ve just dashed up to the boarding gate, trailing Youngest, moaning that he is very tired and very hungry, but mostly very tired. We’re all tired. “Is this the priority boarding line?” I ask girl-with-scraped-back-hair-and-too-much-make-up. We thought it was worth paying the extra to make sure we could sit together.
“It was.” She doesn’t look up. There’s an awkward pause. We loiter. She ignores us. They are beginning to let passengers through to stand on the tarmac, passengers who are not in the priority boarding line. This makes me feel anxious. I think girl-with-scraped-back-hair knows this is making me feel anxious. I think this is why she is making me wait. I decide to ignore her remark, we might be a few minutes late but we still paid the money.
“Boarding cards,” she eventually barks, still not looking up. “Pardon?” I say, even though I heard her well enough. She repeats and I hand over the boarding cards. She does whatever they have to do to boarding cards and then slowly hands them back, one by one.
“Passports, “ she barks again, “photo page.” Blimey, she really is extraordinarily rude. I hand her the five open passports and then, just as she is handing them back, with tarmac almost in reach, another Ryanair girl appears. More scraped back hair, more heavily applied make-up: “That case looks too big to be hand luggage.” She is pointing at Youngest’s beloved little Penguin case on wheels, the one his grandmother bought him for Christmas, he takes it everywhere.
“Yes,” I say, “ we were worried it might be, which is why we asked at check in just now, thankfully they said it’s fine.”
“Well it’s not,” says luggage girl, “you have to see if it fits in there.” She is pointing at a tiny wire frame, intending for measuring luggage, there was one just the same at check in, which we were told we didn’t have to use. I am going to refuse to do this, it’s outrageous, but before I can say anything Husband begins cramming the poor penguin case into it at high speed, very roughly. Immediately it starts to crack and groan under the pressure.
“Look,” I say, turning to appeal to luggage girl as the remaining passengers push past to the plane. “It might go in there eventually, with a crush, but it will break the case and we already asked about this at check in, we were told…”
“If it won’t fit, you can’t take it,” she barks and Youngest bursts into tears.
“You’re upsetting him,” I say, my voice rising in tone and intensity despite myself, “we were prepared to pay for it to go in the hold but we were told it was ok. We are here now. We can’t leave it behind, it’s full and it belongs to our little boy.”
As if to prove the point Youngest cries even harder and buries his head in my legs just as Husband gives the precious case one final, violent, whack, pushing it down into the frame. There is an enormous cracking sound and it looks stuck. Very stuck. Youngest wails. The two flight attendants or whatever they are look on, arms crossed, impassive, and now I am cross. Very cross. I open my mouth to let rip just as Husband, incredibly, manages to pull it free. The penguin’s face is scratched but otherwise it looks okay.
We can go! This is it. As a parting shot I need to say something brilliant, something cutting, something really clever and totally to the point. “Well I think you are … horrible!” I manage. Which sounds pathetic. “Both of you.” And I turn to the one at the boarding desk. “You were incredibly rude just now,” and I turn back to suitcase girl, “and you have just completely unnecessarily made our little boy cry.”
Scraped-back-hair girl says nothing, she is a machine. “I’m just doing my job,” says suitcase girl, holding my eye, without a twinge of emotion. Now where have I heard that before?
There is a happy ending to this story. This is it...