Travel Disaster: Ryanair Dumped My Family at the Wrong Airport

 In Europe

I’d heard the stories; everyone had a horrific tale to tell about a flight taken on Ryanair. The problem was that the flights were so cheap. How could I resist? I needed to get my family of 4 from Bologna, Italy to Palermo, Sicily. The train was too expensive and would take away too much time from our already overbooked 5-week trip visiting friends across Europe. Ryanair offered a non-stop flight; we were going to be on it.

Little did I know that Ryanair had a different idea when it came to what constituted a “direct” flight.

Ryanair starts off strong

Check-in was a breeze. Our bags were a few kilos over weight; the agent waved it off and said it was fine. I’d sprung for reserved seats when I booked our tickets. Something about being herded like cattle with a tired infant and toddler was not appealing. I could sacrifice the extra few bucks for a relaxed boarding process.

Our flight took off on time. We settled in for the 2-hour hop over the water to Palermo. We hit a bit of turbulence as we passed through a storm, but nothing extreme. I saw a bit of lightning outside, but it was far enough away that I didn’t think twice about it.

The plane started its decent, the captain made an announcement, the flight attendants told us all to stow our bags; it was time to land. I was already mentally anticipating everything we would need to do when we got off the plane- grab the carry-ons, get our checked bags, head to the rental car counter, call my friend to tell her we were on our way, pray the boys fell asleep in the car, and hit the road leading to Sciacca on the southern side of Sicily.


In for a big surprise

We touched ground, the passengers seemed happy. We got up to leave and the flight attendant complimented our boys on being such great fliers. She then asked me if we understood the announcement the captain had made.

Did I mention he only spoke Italian and no one had bothered to translate it?

Apparently we were not in Palermo. We were in Trapani, an hour and a half southwest of Palermo. The storm had been so bad over Palermo they had to divert our plane. The flight attendant told us there would be attendants as we exited the gate to tell us what to do. There were no attendants. We headed to baggage claim. Still no Ryanair reps. I didn’t even know where Trapani was located. I had to look it up on the map I had thankfully thought to pack.

No information, no alternatives

After exiting baggage we still didn’t see any representatives from Ryanair. Passengers were lined up at the bus ticket counter. Others from our flight were crowded outside on the curb. I saw our rental car company counter in arrivals. I figured as long as they had our reservation maybe they could just give us a car here and we could drive down to Sciacca, saving ourselves a bit of time driving since we were already south of Palermo.

No luck. Although they did have car seats and cars, they didn’t have any automatic cars. Darn my lack of manual transition driving abilities!

At another counter I found an alternate airline’s ticket agent. I mustered up my courage to ask if she spoke English, which with a huge sigh of relief she did. I asked her what the heck was going on and how we were supposed to get to Palermo. She informed me that buses would be meeting us at the curb. We just had to wait for them.


Past the point of polite

By now my kids were beyond exhausted. Bedtime had come and gone. We were all hungry, tired, and miserable. We just wanted to be warm in bed at my friend’s house. Instead we waited on the curb with the 100+ other passengers from our plane in the rain.

Buses pulled up. There was a mad dash for a seat. If you have ever been to Italy you know there is no such thing as queuing. It’s every man and woman for himself or herself, no matter what children you have to trample to get there.

An older gentleman cut me off as I tried to board. He then started yelling at me to let his wife on. No one noticed poor, tired little Dek clinging to my arm. I had his baby brother Ty strapped to my front. Dek had to walk onto the bus because I couldn’t carry them both. I was so afraid for Dek that I finally yelled, “hey, bambini, bambini!” Finally the other passengers noticed my load and gave us a little space to get on. Of course there were no seats and no one would offer one up to us. I had to back down the aisle, get off the bus and find a seat on another bus further down. Through all of this Mike was trying to load our bags below the bus. He pulled them and moved on with us.

United in motherhood

I finally found one seat on another bus. I made Dek climb up and sit down. I would stand if necessary just to get us to Palermo. The woman behind us yelled at the man sitting in the seat next to Dek so I could sit down. He was her husband; he sat next to his wife and put his son on his lap. I smiled gratefully at this foreign mother who knew my pain and helped me out. Mike was able to hold Dek on his lap, while I cradled Ty, trying to keep him asleep, but ultimately having to adjust backpacks in a very tiny space so I could nurse him. We were not at our finest by this point.

After two hours of driving in the rain we made it to Palermo. No apology from Ryanair (at least none that we could understand), no friendly representative to greet us. We simply got off the bus and headed to the rental car shuttle. About three hours after our intended arrive in Palermo we were finally headed south to Sciacca. Never had a bed looked so good when we arrived.


Lesson learned with Ryanair

Did we actually learn anything from this experience? Yes. Always be prepared for any situation when flying a budget airline to avoid a travel disaster. Thankfully our flight from Palermo to London was a traditional “direct” flight and was much less exciting. The crew also translated all messages into English and Italian since we were hopping countries. Anytime I am on an inter-country flight in a foreign land I will remember to ask the flight attendants, who did speak fabulous English by the way, to clarify what was said. I can’t assume they know we don’t speak Italian. As always it’s my job to look out for my family when we fly. The airline certainly wasn’t going to do it.


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Showing 12 comments
  • Jessica

    That’s just terrible! I’m glad you weren’t alone at least!

    • © Keryn Means/ walkingon travels

      Jessica let’s just say you would have heard me losing it all the way in Texas if I had been alone. Just getting to Switzerland by myself was fun enough. I didn’t need anymore excitement as a solo traveling mom on that trip 😉

  • EverywhereAmy

    While it isn’t uncommon to divert due to weather even in the US, it wasn’t cool for them to not make things clear to you on how to get to your destination. Glad you got there, sorry it was so crazy of a trip!

  • Reply

    Oh my godness…. this sounded like a nightmare!! I was feeling stressed for you just reading it! I have flown with Ryan (took the risk – lured by the same attractive prices) and fortunately it was relatively boring and uneventful but I’ll certainly re-think my next potential Ryan air trip! Lucky you were in Italy – that would cheer anyone up 🙂

  • Corinne

    What a story! Glad you survived. You’ll be talking about this one for awhile. I haven’t braved Ryanair this time around in Europe…maybe I won’t.

  • Reply

    Oh the adventures of traveling! I’m not sure any airline is better than another. I’ve been told countless times there would be an airline rep to help (United comes to mind) and there was no one around! These types of things do make us question our wisdom of traveling, don’t they? But only for a little while 🙂

  • Lisa Wood

    what a flight!! At least you got there in the end – will be a great story for the grandkids one day!!!
    We have travelled with “Tiger” before (they are the cheapest in Australia) and it was a scary experience.
    I suppose you could say “at least the plane landed safely” 🙂

  • Ken Badziak

    Although it certainly sucked, I’m not sure how much sympathy I can offer for your choice of RyanAir- this is the airline after all that wants to charge you for using the lav (toilet), the airline that wants to remove the seats and install “standing seats” (picture a tall bar stool with an angled seat; you’re standing, but your butt is still resting. Sort of. But you’re still standing. In an airplane.) and the CEO wants to get rid of te co-pilot and just train the flight attendants to land the airplane on case anything happens to the pilot in flight.

    The guy is nuts. But the company is making money apparently, so I guess something’s working.

    What I AM truly surprised about is your inability to drive stick. Keryn, with as much time as you spend in 3rd world countries, knowing how to drive a stick is a critical skill!

    You ought to take some lessons- it’s not hard (as evidenced by the rest of the world doing it!) and next time you get dumped hours away from your destination by Cheapo-Air you won’t have to worry about whether or not the local Wrent-A-Wreck has an automatic.

  • Danielle@Bubs on the Move

    This sounds dreadful and is a good warning to folk with children why not to book with a budget airline. I’m glad you eventually arrived safely. I can also commiserate on the push and shove encountered in Italy. We found the same thing at train stations when I traveled there with my 3 month old son. Terrifying.

  • Jade Johnston -

    That happened to me with Ryan Air as well. We were diverted to Birmingham when we were supposed to land in London due to a terrorism scare or something. We had buses as well, but since we were in the UK everything was much much more orderly.

  • Reply

    Yikes!!!! What a nightmare.

  • Kate @30Traveler

    This is officially the strangest budget airline experience I have heard first hnad. So far I’ve managed to avoid flying Ryan Air but I have regular battles with the Jetstar website. I hate the feeling of being overtired in a new place after a flight. It’s scary to me and must be extra scary with kidlets to look after.

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