Flying in the face of good food

We’d all agree that nothing beats getting away from it all. But these days nobody’s holiday can ever truly start until they’ve got through the familiar ordeal of flying Ryanair. Until then, the excitement of the holiday will inevitably be shot through with jagged shards of frustration and resentment. It’s like having to remove the skin and bones from your sea bass before you can really start to enjoy it.

So you found the cheapest possible flight and negotiated the cryptic set of tick boxes engineered to fool you into stumping up for the privilege of: a) standing in the (only marginally shorter) speedy boarding queue, b) sitting with your child, or c) seeing larger items of your luggage actually emerge at the other end.

At home you weighed and measured your hand luggage countless times, damned if you were going to spend even a penny more on extra bags or excess luggage fines.

And you spent the night in the draughty hall of some back-of-beyond airport waiting for the check-in desk to open for your 4am flight because you couldn’t face spending money on a hotel or taxi.

Inexplicably, though, once you’re airborne and the never-ending, spiraling assault on your instant gratification gland by the flight attendants begins – headphones for the film, charity collections, duty-free booze, scratch card sales – the wallets start to come out. Unfathomably, a group of people whose only motivation for flying Ryanair was the price and who’d all been cursing the airline only minutes beforehand are now handing over their hard-earned holiday savings to that very same company.

How do Ryanair do it? Do they pump some sort of magic potion out of the air conditioning ducts that makes you forget that you’ve spent the past few weeks boasting to colleagues about the wonderful food you’re going to eat while on holiday, and drooling over the pictures in the brochure of string bags full of local market produce? That you swished through the airport without a passing glance at the chain restaurants, tutting impatiently about how overpriced they all are? That at no time during your stint in the departure lounge did you profess a desire for a pot of Pringles? That last time you ordered something from the Ryanair on-board menu it was not only criminally underwhelming but also the same size as its picture? And that nothing on the menu has changed since then?

It must be something to do with the way the flight attendants spray a lustre of falsely glistening adjectives over the excremental food and beverage offering. That Irish lilt lulls us into blithely suspending disbelief, and before we know it we’re ordering the ‘rich and creamy cappuccino’ they rhapsodised about, or trying to choose between the ‘two very special wines’ they picked for us today. (Those wines, by the way, amount to a red wine and a white wine. Ooh, decisions decisions…) We’re wondering if it’s too early for a ‘delicious’ chicken paella, or whether we should plump for an unchallenging ham and cheese panini, which has the fabulously crap USP of being warm.

It astounds me that Ryanair staff bother to drum up business for their food at all. Faced with a cramped four-hour flight, their passengers – who, may I remind you, had all liquids confiscated by security before they boarded – are not going to quibble about accepting a can of Pepsi over Coke, or take their business elsewhere else if there’s no ice or if the price is exaggerated. It’s like it or lump it up in the sky-high sky.

Furthermore, Michael O’Leary’s business plan has been doggedly – and proudly – no-frills in all areas since the company was founded. So why has he allowed this sort of fuss to be made about the food? If Ryanair were to be as typically unapologetic about the food they offer as they are about all other aspects of the experience, the tannoy announcement would sound something like this:

‘Ladies and gentlemen, most of you will be either hungry, thirsty, bored, greedy, or just itching to start your holiday spending. We’re delighted to have food and drink on board that you would ordinarily turn your noses up at, but which we’re selling today at a substantial mark-up. In terms of drinks, our cans are never cold enough and are heart-wrenchingly miniature. Our tea is eye-wateringly bitter and served with UHT milk. Meanwhile, our cappuccino is made from powder – here at Ryanair, we don’t bother to stir it when we add the hot water, so it becomes part dirty water, part sludge. As for food, we know that most of our customers prefer to seek out English dishes while on holiday, so we’re sure you won’t notice that our paella is unworthy of the name. However, if a panini is as exotic as you like to be pushed, we sell two: both appear flavourless while you consume them, but have a synthetic, unsettling after-taste that lingers on the palate long after you’ve landed and reached your hotel. If you don’t like the sound of what we’ve got to offer, then it’s no skin off our nose. Feel free to wait until you’ve landed, collected your luggage, found your transfer bus and checked into your hotel. Be sure that you’ll be able to wait that long though, ladies and gentlemen, because we only come round with the trolley once and we’d hate you to miss the boat. 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