The Temptation of Cheap

I was searching for cheap flights to Morocco and Turkey to join a couple of friends who were vacationing in October. While doing so, I made the mistake of checking RyanAir, knowing fully well that RyanAir does not offer tickets as far into the future as October. I was in shopping mode, so what the heck. One of the reasons I took a job in Copenhagen was because I wanted to be in Europe for travel, so travel I must. If my wallet can afford it.

Not surprisingly, I saw a 36 DKK (6 USD) one-way ticket to Stockholm. Having never seen a flight this cheap before – well, ok, except for the 1 PHP flights that CebuPacific used to have, which did not last long enough for me to avail -, I decided to book a weekend trip from Copenhagen to Stockholm Skavsta and back. The catch? Stockholm Skavsta is not the nearest airport to Stockholm City!  Bromma Stockolm Airport and Arlanda Airport are closer. And it takes 159 SEK and 2 hours by bus – Flygbussarna Airport Coaches – to get from the airport to the city!!! But, I reasoned to myself, it was the weekend, my flight was early in the afternoon and I was not in a hurry. I can handle a 2-hour bus ride.

I have never ridden RyanAir before, and I have heard horror stories about how terrible the service is. A colleague told me that they don’t even serve water for free. Another colleague reasoned that if the flight was as cheap as this, chances were high for a rickety plane and a substandard pilot. I felt like a cold bucket of water was being poured over me, and I wanted to back out and get a refund for my 36 DKK. But then, I realized that I will never get anywhere if I let the fear of the unknown rule my life. I have not heard of RyanAir flights crashing or suddenly disappearing from tower radars. So I rallied every little drop of bravery and asked the opinion of yet another colleague. This colleague used to date a RyanAir pilot and used to frequently fly RyanAir from Copenhagen to London. According to her, RyanAir pilots are trained much better than other pilots in Europe; and because the airline is a cheap flight, no-frills airline, they follow regulations to the dot for fear of being completely shut down. This alleviated my fear of dying from a RyanAir flight a bit but also left me at a limbo. Do I still fly; and what on earth I am going to do there when I get there, if I get there?

Come March 05, I flew. I booked a cheap hotel near the city center, searched for ways to get from airport to city center, “starred” all places I wanted to visit in Stockholm, and printed my RyanAir boarding pass (I was told there was a huge fine at the airport for not printing it yourself). Come what may. This was going to be one great adventure!

So, off I went. Airport, security check, a long walk to my boarding gate, a long line to boarding, a boarding gate with hardly any seats, and then onboard a fairly nice looking plane. The RyanAir staff were all very professional; I did not bother asking for water. Everything was going great.

Until landing.

The skies were gray. The pilot tried landing the plane 3 times, the plane shook hard, and through the speakers, the pilot informed us that he could not land the plane because visual was difficult. We flew overhead the airport for an hour until the pilot decided that instead of landing at Stockholm Skavsta, we’ll land at the further Norrköping Airport instead. Crap! This was not something I foresaw. To make things worse, I did not exactly know how to get from Norrköping to Stockholm city center. My phone was also running low on batt, and there were no charging stations onboard! I toyed with the idea of making friends with fellow passengers, asking if they have portable cellphone chargers, and following them around — maybe secretly –, hoping they were going to the same place I was.

My paranoid musings of being left in the middle of nowhere without GPS access was cut short by an announcement from the flight stewardess. To make up for the inconvenience, the airline was providing everyone with a coach from Norrköpping to Skavsta. The 40-minute coach ride basically ruined my plans of a late afternoon walk at Gamla Stan and dinner at one of the quaint cafés there, but – what the hell -, it’s free and it’ll get me where I want to be without much worry. By the time I got to my hotel, the longer than expected flying time, a bus ride that totaled 3 hours, a couple of unexpected rushing and running, a migraine, and a forced withdrawal from cellphone use left me nothing but pure exhaustion. I was so tired that all I wanted to do was have a hot shower and a big mac burger from the closest McDonald’s store.

I stayed at Alexandra Hotel, one of the cheaper hotels that Expedia offered. I specifically chose it because, according to Expedia, the hotel rate included a breakfast buffet. And being the grumpy late morning riser that I am, not having to worry about my first meal of the day seemed like a good plan. Unfortunately, when I checked in, I was told that breakfast cost an additional 50 SEK. Thoroughly exhausted from my unexpected flight adventure, I decided to not make an issue of it even after the hotel staff told me that it was a fairly new hotel policy. Now, looking back, I should have argued and brought up the point that an additional payment for breakfast was not the package I signed up for. But I didn’t, I paid 50 SEK, rushed to my room for my well-deserved shower, and silently fumed.

Come morning. Breakfast was disappointing. The options at a nearby 7/11 store were so much better; so I did just that the morning after. At the very least, I learned my breakfast lesson. And more lessons: comfort comes at a price; and more often than not, you get what you paid for. True, I saved money; but I lost time — time I could have used to have more fun in Stockholm.

My flight back to Copenhagen was two days after, at 7am. It was the same far away airport.  I decided to miss it. The night before my flight back, I went online and bought a rail ticket to Copenhagen. This meant that I would not have to spend 2 hours on a bus ride to Stockholm Skavsta, which implied longer sleep hours. Yipee!!! I even got work done during the 6-hour train ride and arrived at Copenhagen feeling like I had a good vacation. The rail ticket was, of course, extremely costlier than my 6 USD flight, but I think it was money well spent.

There is a lesson here somewhere. I had a great time in Sweden’s capital and revisiting is definitely at the top of my list. But when I do revisit, I should do a better cost-benefit analysis and spend more time researching. I should also learn to resist the immediacy of a “today-only” flight sale.

Noted by self.

Until then.

August 20, 2016 | Copenhagen, Denmark