Thursday, 23 July 2009

“Ruinair”, Paul Kilduff

I bought this a few months ago, while idly shopping in my local bookshop, cheerfully forgot about it, then rediscovered it in one my periodic study tidy-outs – and happily was just in the sort of humour for a work like this. What sort of work is it however? “Ruinair” is the sort of book that challenges conventional categorisation, and probably should give librarians, booksellers, and others who obsess about locating books on shelves something of a headache. The dayglo cover and branding locate this as humour, and clearly Kilduff sets out to entertain, but there is undoubtedly a serious element to this, also representing a serious travelogue and interesting insight into Ryanair's business model.

While throughout the narrative is told with an eye on being funny, and certainly it has the power to make you smile, this isn't quite the laugh-out-loud-read-bits-to-strangers sort of book that sticks in your mind as being one of the funniest things you've read all year. Inherently, while Kilduff can write, I'm not entirely sure he's completely comfortable writing humorously and at times his slightly chippy attitude grated a little. At times too, one suspects that a degree of padding went on, as though late in the editing process there was a realisation that they really wanted to get the page count up thus the press clippings file related to Ryanair should be raided. This does not however detract from the fact that this is an enjoyable workthat kept me absorbed and is well worth a read.

To anyone living in Europe over the last 10 years or so, the low cost airline phenomenon has been unavoidable. Among the many positives is the extent to which it has enabled travel to be much more feasible, helped us keep in contact with more distantly located friends and relatives, and helped make the concept of an integrated Europe much more real. At the same time we've become accustomed to the sort of folklore that has grown up around such airlines, looking at the shortcomings in customer services, headline grabbing tales of having to pay to use toilets or seats being replaced by stools, and of course, the issue that the airports they fly to can often be nowhere near the cities they claim to serve, all contextualised by the larger than life persona of Michael O'Leary, Ryanair's chief executive. The true strength of “Ruinair” is that it cuts to the heart of these conceptions we have about low budget airline travel, and in the main shows them to be firmly grounded in reality, from the reality of where they fly to, how they go about getting you there, and in accumulating the public pronouncements of O'Leary, along with correspondence (accurately described as 'bolloxology') from Ryanair customer services showing the disregard towards the flying public.

At the outset (on page 2) the truism that it that people will fly from somewhere to nowhere is offered, and this sets the tone for the book as a whole. Kilduff's account of his time in Ryanair's many destinations around Europe show that often there's little there. If Ryanair challenges the proverb that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive by overtly stripping the romance out of the journey, then the onus is undeniably on the destination. Kilduff's experience shows that traveling to these places for the sake of going, adhering to the maxim that the flights are so cheap that it's almost more expensive to stay at home, probably isn't enough. Kilduff's odyssey, trying to fly to all 15 countries in Western Europe by budget airline, is a tale noticeably lacking in enjoyment. This is no holiday, and as he recounts bleak evenings in some of the more obscure parts of Europe you realise this, more perhaps than other travelogues of journeys to more difficult parts of the world, is something to be endured rather than enjoyed.

Ryanair, along with other budget airlines, make it possible to travel widely, but the key question really should be whether you want to go there in the first place.

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