easyJet vs Ryanair: the battle to be the stingiest airline on planet earth

Ryanair Boeing 737 sky interior

Is there anything more hilariously awesome for an American airline blogger like me to write about than easyJet vs Ryanair? This is a comparison that I’ve been wanting to write for years, and I’m happy to report that today is the day. Strap on, buckle in, and hang on. It’s about to get weird.

As a reminder, I had the opportunity to fly both easyJet and Ryanair last year (Amsterdam to London on easyJet and London to Dublin on Ryanair). Both were decently pleasant experiences, but I did notice some interesting differences along the way.

easyJet vs Ryanair: a high-level overview of all the similarities, differences, and strategies that make them the stingiest airlines on earth

As an American, I tend to view Ryanair and easyJet as the same. Just the same as a I see Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines here in the United States. Those two are usually the butt of all airline related jokes in this country, and it’s always loads of fun to get a nice hearty belly laugh going at the expense of one of them.

From my very American-centric perspective, both easyJet and Ryanair do the same thing: they move people around Europe (via air) as cheaply as humanly possible. But it goes a lot deeper than that…

How are they similar?

  • Both easyJet and Ryanair operate one type of aircraft type / family each
  • The size of both fleets are roughly 300 aircraft each
  • Both have highly restrictive (and peculiar) check in procedures. For example, on easyJet, you are NOT allowed to check in at the airport if you’ve checked in online. Seriously. They will charge you a hefty fee for doing so, as they are aggressively trying to minimize their staff levels at the airport. My Ryanair experience was equally weird. Even though I checked in and printed my boarding pass at home, I was REQUIRED to check in at the airport to verify my visa to enter Ireland (which, as a US citizen, I didn’t need).
  • Both fly to secondary airports as a way to save costs
  • It’s important to note that “secondary airports” means “airports without jet bridges”. This means that your chances of having to go outside and deal with whatever the current weather is to board the plane is a harsh reality.
  • Both offer an extensive menu of food options, but none of it is free
  • Both offer premium and regular seating options. It’s a little complicated, but don’t worry – I’ll dig more into those details in the seating section down below.

How are they different?

  • Even though they are similar in the sense that they only fly one aircraft type / family each, they go about it differently from one another. For easyJet, it’s the Airbus A320 series of airplanes (A319, A320, and A321). For Ryanair, it’s even simpler: they operate the Boeing 737-800 and nothing else.
  • Ryanair is an Irish airline (based in Dublin), while easyJet is British (based in London).
  • Ryanair serves more destinations than easyJet. At the time of this writing (September 2020) Ryanair flies to 255 destinations, while easyJet serves 136.
  • Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Ryanair had 17,000 employees. EasyJet had 15,000.
SANspotter EasyJet vs Ryanair
Yours truly taking detailed notes in order to bring you the best airline content on the internet! Either that or I’ve just received another cease-and-desist email from an airline telling me I’m stupid and that I’m never allowed to fly with them again…

An excessively brief history of both airlines

Because I suspect that you’ve clicked on this article so see pics of the seats and the food, I’ll gloss over this “history” section as quickly as possible. I’m only including it to emphasize how “normal” these two airlines are and (despite what you may have heard), they weren’t created by the devil himself.

The origins of easyjet

Founded in 1995 by Stelios Haji-Ioannou, easyJet started life as a 70-person operation at Luton Airport in London. Oddly enough, Luton airport gave them gate space (and access to other facilities) for free, which says a lot about how desperate the Luton Airport authority was for airline service at the time.

EasyJet started operations to Glasgow and Edinburgh with two leased 737-200s. They bought their first company-owned aircraft in 1996 and started service to Amsterdam.

The origins of Ryanair

Ryanair begin service in 1984 by flying from Waterford to London (Gatwick). It’s original name was “Danren Enterprises” and was renamed to Ryanair by 1985. Success came relatively quickly – they were competing directly with British Airways and Aer Lingus on the Dublin to Luton route by 1986. Growth was very strong in those first two years!

It’s interesting to note that Ryanair didn’t start out as a low-cost carrier. It wasn’t until 1990 that they switched over to a low-fare business model (similar to that of Southwest Airlines).

What is the food like on easyJet compared to Ryanair?

I don’t mean to be mean or anything, but that’s not the question you want to be asking when comparing these two airlines side-by-side. That’s like asking how bubbly the hot tub is at the hottest five-star restaurant in town IMHO. In other words, you don’t fly either of these two airlines for the food.

easyJet food

The food you’re going to find on any easyJet flight is going to be the same kind of food that you would find at the concession stand at your local sporting venue. It’s low quality, unappealing, and horrifically expensive.

easyJet food
Good news: you won’t die of starvation on easyJet. You will, however, find yourself one step closer to having to declare bankruptcy. Tread carefully before whipping out the plastic to stuff your face with potato chips!

Don’t let the pictures in the menu fool you. Even though the photographer did a magnificent job of making this “sports arena” food look somewhat appealing, the truth of the matter is that you’re going to be ripped off (in a way that really hurts) by purchasing any of it.

Even though I didn’t purchase anything on my flight from Amsterdam to London, several people around me did. I can assure you – I wasn’t jealous at all once I saw what they got for their money.

Ryanair food

The major difference with Ryanair is that they are even cheaper than easyJet (if such a thing is possible). The food that they serve likely comes from the exact same factory. The difference is that they deemed it to be far too expensive to print actual menus.

That’s right. If you want to eat on Ryanair, you have to have the Ryanair app on your phone in order to see the menu. Without it, you are going to end up on the flight attendants s*** list by asking him or her what’s available.

ryanair food menu
Here’s a sample of the food Ryanair is slingin’. I’d say they’re kicking easyJet’s butt – at least in terms of the variety of options. Curious to know what’s going to be served on your particular flight? Check out the latest menu (bonus points if you can do it without gasping for air once you see the prices).

Come to think of it, I’d assume that this happens all the time. Speaking for myself (as an American who flies Ryanair so infrequently), there’s no way that I’m going to download an app just so I can spend $15 on a bag of chips and a cookie.

The seats. What about the freaking seats?

This is probably the part of this entire Ryanair vs easyJet comparison where things will be the most similar. Both offer ridiculously hideous seating options, and neither airline will get you to your destination without lower back pain and leg cramps. Really. Would you expect anything else?

EasyJet seating options

Just like most major airlines, easyJet offers several different seating options. No, There are no differences in the actual seats themselves, but you will get a few extra perks for paying a little more. Here’s the difference:

EasyJet standard seating

These are the most basic seats available. It’s the option that I chose on my flight from Amsterdam to London, and it was fine for such a short segment. Yes, the seats were small, tight, and relatively hard. On the flipside, I personally thought the the gray and orange materials looked great.

gray and orange EasyJet seats
Wait. I thought all ultra-low-cost airline interiors were supposed to be ugly? These easyJet seats kick the snot out of the Ryanair seats (which you are about to see…)

EasyJet premium seating

Technically, premium seating doesn’t exist on easyJet since all of the seats are the same. However, by paying a little extra, you’ll get perks such as getting more leg room (in rows 2-6) and being the first board.

Ryanair seating options

The seating configuration on Ryanair is very similar to what it’s like on easyJet. However, the primary difference is that the seats themselves are far uglier. To the point of almost being repulsive.

Ryanair standard seating

This is the option you choose when you’re cheap as f*** and you think that spending a penny more than $19 for a flight is flat out robbery. It’s about as basic as it gets for air travel.

Ryanair seats with yellow headrests
Ryanair seats. So ugly I can’t even think of a clever caption for this.

Ryanair premium seating

This is an option for cheap ****s like me who want to board first. Even though you’ll pay a bit more to have the privilege of being the first on the plane (with the added benefit of being able to bring on a carry-on at no extra charge), the seats are still exactly the same as the standard option. Right down to the puke-yellow accents and the safety card printed directly on the head rest in front of you.

For the record, “premium seats” on Ryanair 737-800s are rows 1-5, 16, 17, and 32.

Comparing the boarding processes of both Ryanair and easyJet

As much fun as it is to make fun of these airlines for being so ridiculously cheap, I actually find the way that they execute the boarding process to be the most interesting. Essentially, it’ll be rare to ever get to board or deplane an easyJet or Ryanair flight via a jet bridge. As an American who rarely gets to experience such a thing in United States, I find that to be incredibly awesome.

easyJet boarding process
Yeah, it may be raining with a temperature just above freezing (and we’re all getting nauseous from jet engine exhaust) but…just think how much money easyJet saved by eliminating the jet bridge!

The only major difference between the boarding process of these two airlines is the way they can queue everyone up for it.

  • Both airlines do not offer a seating area for passengers waiting to board. You must stand in line and wait until they open the boarding door of the plane.
  • On easyJet, you’ll usually get to wait inside the terminal.
  • On Ryanair, they’ll send you outside to stand next to the airplane a good 20 minutes before boarding is scheduled to begin. Now, that’s pretty cool for an airplane nerd like me, but I can’t imagine that a lot of “normal” people would enjoy standing outside in the elements (whatever those elements may be).

The pricing models. How similar are those?

It’s amazing to me that both easyJet and Ryanair can charge so little for their flights. Starting an airline is incredibly difficult. Keeping it going is even harder, and it’s hard to fathom how $19 fares can keep either of them afloat. Whatever it is that they are doing, it’s working.

Ryanair 737-800 at STN
I don’t know about you, but I’d be willing to chip in a few extra dollars on top of what I paid for my ticket if it would help Ryanair purchase some 777s. No, I don’t think they actually need aircraft that large, but…you can’t deny that it wouldn’t be cool as hell.

Similar to how other ultra low-cost carriers in the United States work, both easyJet and Ryanair offer a “unbundled” approach to pricing.

This means that hardly anybody pays just the base fare. For example, you’re going to have to pay extra (usually an exorbitant amount) for any of these extras:

  • The privilege of checking in a bag
  • The luxury of bringing a carry-on with you inside the plane
  • Checking in at the airport (yes, both airlines actually charge for this)
  • Reserving an assigned seat
  • The ability to be seated in the first few rows of the aircraft (which gives you the ability to be the first on and first off)
  • Food

The prices that both of these airlines charge for these “extras” not insignificant. For example, on both airlines, it’ll cost you up to £50 to check in one bag. Want to bring your baby along? You’re gonna have to shell out £25 for that.

These unbundled “pay as you go” fares are brilliant actually. It’s obviously working well for them.

Which airline is actually better?

I know. It’s a loaded question. However, I write airline reviews for a living, and ending this easyJet vs Ryanair comparison without telling you which ones better would be sacrilegious of me.

The reality is that it ultimately comes down to schedule and price. Assuming that both airlines operated the same route that I was looking to fly, and the price was relatively the same, I would go with easyJet.

EasyJet wing
Let’s see if my strategy of declaring a clear winner in these airline comparisons will get me any perks from the winner in the coming weeks / months. I’ll be expecting a generous email from easyJet soon! lol

it’s hard to explain, but Ryanair just feels like a glorified bus service to me. Having to stand outside and wait to board the plane in inclement weather, having ugly advertisements in my face for the entire flight, and then having to deal with all those puke-yellow accent colors can be overwhelming. For me anyway.

On the other hand, easyJet feels like a more refined airline. The interior of their airplanes are quite well designed IMHO, to the point where I think they arguably have the best looking economy class interiors in the business. That, combined with a healthy network of flights and slightly better timings, makes me think that easyJet is the budget European airline for me.

Finally, a recommendation:

To anyone reading this who is about to fly their very first segment on either of these airlines, I offer you this small bit of advice:

Lower your expectations, and you’ll be just fine

It won’t be as smooth of an experience as flying a flagship European airline such as British Airways or Austrian Airlines. However, if you approach it with the right state of mind, it has the possibility to be an entertaining experience and an incredibly good value for your money.

Go for it! And of course, tell them that SANspotter sent you…

Comments (4)

  1. Norman Blackburn

    October 25, 2020
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      October 25, 2020
  2. Patrick McCann

    October 25, 2020
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      October 25, 2020

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