The Ryanair Experience - Frankfurt Hahn to Pisa

Earlier this year Ryanair ran a special from Frankfurt Hahn to many of their destinations in Europe, with fares only 7 each way including taxes and check-in fees (normally tripling the cost of a ticket). My brother was on his way into town and had expressed interest in returning to Italy, so I booked a couple 14 trips (plus another 7€ or so to use my credit card) and our tickets were quickly confirmed at a fraction of the cost of what Lufty was offering them for.

Ryanair flights depart from Frankfurt Hahn rather than Frankfurt am Main but using "Frankfurt" in Frankfurt Hahn is actually very misleading. The airport is well outside the Frankfurt city limits--reachable only by car or a 2.5hr bus ride. Buses depart from the south side of Frankfurt's central railway station every few hours, though that means if you do not want to cut it too close, you may find yourself leaving for the airport 5-6 hours before your scheduled flight. At a cost of 24€ r/t for the bus, be sure to factor that into your ticket cost--it's not quite as easy as taking the ten minute ride on the S-Bahn to Frankfurt am Main from the central railway station.

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The bus is not all that comfortable, but time passed rather quickly and we soon pulled up the dilapidated Frankfurt Hahn Airport, on the grounds of an abandoned NATO Air Base. The facilities are quite spartan--in fact, I cannot think a drabber airport than Frankfurt Hahn, though I was not expecting Incheon or Chep Lak Kok at a facility that features exclusively low-cost carriers.

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Check-in lines were long, as people lined up to check their baggage. Some were not aware that they would be charged extra to check bags and were frantically trying to consolidate or argue with the Ryanair staff. A few shops and a dozen or so plastic chairs dotted the terminal. On the other side of security (lines were quite long, but moved fast) a large warehouse-like room sat with fluorescent lights overhead and more plastic chairs. Passengers were lined up to board a number of flights departing at the same time.

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My 1.5hr flight to Pisa was on time, and boarding began about 30 minutes prior to takeoff. All previous accounts of Ryanair that I had read indicated they were sticklers when it came to carry-on weight and size limits, but no one was checking carry-on bags and many were taking advantage--one guy dragged on four carry-on bags and no one said anything.

At Frankfurt Hahn, boarding passes are scanned, then passengers are directed outside and down a driveway where aircraft are parked on either side. On the way to the plane, I spied an Aeroflot MD-11 cargo aircraft, which I thought was odd to see at Hahn.

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My brother and I did not rush to board and feared that by the time we climbed the stairs and onto the plane there would only be middle seats in the back that remained. To the contrary, we scored some of the best seats on the 737-800 aircraft--row one (and even had an empty middle between us on a flight that was nearly full). There is only one cabin on Ryanair, of course, 30" seat pitch, and no recline, but row one is an exit row and has abundant legroom--even it if we did have to stare at two of the flight attendants during takeoff and landing.

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In the air, the sales pitch began almost immediately. Duty free catalogs and food menus were promptly distributed and lotto scratchers and electronic cigarettes were specially hawked ("feel free to smoke onboard with these smokeless cigarettes...").

It was nearing noontime and I was hungry, so I ordered beef chili off the menu. For 9€ it was hardly a steal, but it turned out to be tasty and I always enjoy a hot meal onboard an aircraft.

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The flight was smooth, seats were comfortable, and service fairly friendly. All in all, I was very pleased with the flight. The problem, of course, was all the maneuvering it took to get on the flight. In fact, the thought of enduring another 2.5hr ride in the bus (and potentially a 3hr additional wait if we arrived back to Hahn just after a bus departed) led me to book one-way tickets on Lufthansa for the flight back to Frankfurt. Ryanair will be cheaper in most cases, but if you value your time and appreciate perks like earning mileage and lounge access, just stick to the legacy carriers.

The Ryanair onboard product was not only satisfactory, but impressive. Nevertheless, I cannot recommend them from Frankfurt Hahn--the whole process was just too much of a hassle to justify the money saved, even on the very cheap fare I was traveling on.


Darren September 13, 2011 at 11:25 am

Wow, you scored the first row?! I was (no-longer-so-secretly) hoping you'd be further back in the cabin & would have a pic of the seat pitch with aghast comments. I guess I shouldn't be surprised they're selling e-cigs... those aren't cheap! Give Burbank another 15 years of deterioration and it might look like Hahn.

Nice report, Matthew... thanks for posting as so few of us Yanks will ever fly with them.

msp2anywhere September 14, 2011 at 12:31 am

Your TR brought back memories! We flew Ryanair out of Hahn from just after they started... back then the terminal was smaller (it grew in the time we were stationed at Ramstein as they added destinations), the parking was a free-for-all across the base, and all the buildings still had the USAF decor- I think the tower even still had the fighter wing patch painted on it.

Yeah, it's essentially a city bus with wings, but when you're young and frugal and want to travel around Europe on 4-day weekends (thank God for Training Holidays/Commander's Holiday/Wing Stand-Down), it's great.

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