Carcassonne to Porto via Ryanair

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There are two ways to read this post:

A:  “I don’t care about airports and airlines and I just want to get there.”

We took a pleasant Ryanair flight from our little Carcassonne airport to Porto, without problems.

(If this is you, you are done; no need to read further. I’ll post about something else shortly, hopefully more interesting, and with pictures! On the other hand…)

B:  “I am fascinated about every detail of airports, airplanes, and airlines.”

There are a number of Ryanair flights in and out of Carcassonne (airport code CCF), most connected to the UK, but also a twice-a-week flight nonstop to Porto, Portugal. Our goal is to get to Lisbon for Mike’s niece Sophia’s wedding. Flying non-stop to Porto, even though Porto is a three hour drive from Lisbon, is a less expensive and more pleasant option compared to the multi-flight alternatives. And we get the opportunity to explore Porto, home to — wait for it — port wine; and some drives through the Portuguese countryside.

So, first time with Ryanair. Ryanair is the biggest low-cost no-frills airline in Europe. We were a bit wary of flying with them, having vaguely recalled news stories about their charging for every little thing, extremely cramped planes, and bad customer service. But the flight to Porto is short, only about 90 minutes, the cost good, and the schedule convenient.

Buying the tickets online was easy, not at all different from other airlines. Mike found and shrewdly purchased a “priority” upgrade that included checked bags, seats with more leg room, and priority boarding. During the week before the flight, we received emails instructing us to check in online to avoid the 49 euro charge to check in at the airport. We wondered if the nickel and diming was starting.

The Carcassonne airport is only about 7 minutes away from our house. We regularly see the Ryanair planes on their approach to the runway. So we called a taxi, which came promptly at the requested time (we hadn’t been sure what the French small-town attitude toward punctuality and reliability would be). A few minutes later, we’re at the little airport. This is quite lovely, almost just strolling over to the airport to catch a little flight.

Simple bag-drop, since we had dutifully checked in online. The agent at the bag-drop desk was a tired looking woman who spoke barely above a whisper. I kept having to ask her to repeat herself over the noise of the airport. She assumed that I couldn’t understand French, so switched to equally silent English. The line for security wound around a potted plant and a kiosk with examples of all the things we can’t take on board the plane. It was rather charming: a few casually dressed hometown folks checking boarding passes and passports, friendly, relaxed (which also meant not in a hurry), and in good spirits. Even the passengers were relatively calm and patient.

After the usual wait in the gate area — the gate is a glass door to the tarmac — the same quiet woman, this time benefitting from the PA system, called us priority passengers. We were led out of the gate door, turning left along the side of the building, again to the left parallel to the aircraft blast screen wall, turning right along the same wall, finally to emerge behind the parked jet. It was fortunately a pleasant sunny cool day out there on the tarmac. We are used to walking to the plane; that is the way Kona airport operates. This, however, seemed like someone built a little airport building, and then later had to figure out how to get the passengers to the planes. Some striping on the asphalt, a barrier or two, and problem solved. Admittedly, the view across the tarmac to the distant hills is pleasant.

The flight was unremarkable, fortunately. The flight attendants were good natured and personable. As expected, we were charged for the snacks we wanted. Our credit card didn’t work in their machine; we are so used to airlines not allowing cash payments, that we were taken aback when the flight attendant said that of course cash is just fine. We selected two ham and cheese sandwiches (wondering how many weeks ago they had been sealed in their plastic packages). The flight attendant quickly took them from us, said they would be ready in about 10 minutes, and disappeared into the front of the plane. A few minutes later, the sandwiches returned, nicely heated with the cheese melting. No-frills airline? Not bad! I guess when you start with low expectations….

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