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The first question everyone asks is: How do they do it?

How does Ryanair, the blissfully cheap Irish airline, sell you a flight for a cost that’s the equivalent of a take-out pizza?

For the first clue, get on a flight and try to pull your tray table down from its full upright and locked position. Can’t find your tray table? That’s because it’s gone.

So is the footrest on the seat in front of you, the ability to recline your own seat, and anything even remotely resembling a television screen.

You want a soda? Buy one. Want to read an in-flight magazine? Steal one from Delta, because Ryanair is so frugal that it will cram 50 passengers on a 200-seat plane together in the 20 center rows because it saves an ounce of fuel (according to other passengers on just such a flight).

Rapid turn-arounds that keep planes in the air, cheap deals on aircraft, even shrewdly printed boarding cards — that’s how you offer people flights to Bratislava for the cost of a case of Molson.

Flying on Ryanair is an experience that, with the right mindset, can be a good way to slash travel expenses when cavorting around Europe. But it’s not without its drawbacks.

People who fly Ryanair generally know that while it’s going to be cheap, it’s going to take you to an out-of-the-way airport. And if you do anything but use it for a quick weekend trip, you’re in for potential frustration and increased costs because you have to pay for every piece of checked-in luggage you take.

The Ryanair experience begins online when a traveler goes to its Web page, www.ryanair.com, and sees the impossible: 1 pound to Alicante, Spain, from Stansted airport, north of London, or something similar.

On the day of this writing, the going deal was for flights for 10 pounds from English airports to select destinations. Booking a month in advance, the price for a Friday-night flight to Lübeck, Germany, near Hamburg, from London Stansted airport: A whopping British 1 penny ($0.02). The return flight Sunday night: 1 penny. Total cost with taxes 20 pounds ($40).

Other destinations on shorter time frames weren’t as good a deal. The flights to the destinations were 10 pounds, sure, but return flights were as much as 35 pounds or more, pushing the total near the $175 mark.

But that’s the Ryanair game. Sometimes flights are so cheap it’s hard to turn them down. I once booked a flight to Tampere, Finland, simply because it cost 40 bucks to fly there for the weekend. Was there a special reason to go to Tampere? No, but for 40 bucks, why not go to freakin’ Finland?

So it is easy to get jazzed about the price. But the purchase of your ticket is precisely where the nice things about Ryanair end.

The biggest drawback by far is that the airline doesn’t really fly where you want to go. Ryanair cuts costs by flying near big destinations, but not directly to them. Tampere, for instance, is a two-hour train ride from Helsinki. The airport listed as “Frankfurt (Hahn),” is nearly an hour’s drive from the city.

It’s an inconvenience that often adds to travel costs. And it’s just the first of several.

Ryanair travelers also generally know to pack light, because the airline charges passengers for every bag they check into the hold — a minimum of 5 pounds or 6 euros per bag, but more if you don’t pre-pay when you book your ticket. Additionally, there are weight restrictions on checked bags.

Changes to bookings are about as restricted as most discount airlines (i.e. often impossible or expensive), and online message boards generally lambaste the airline for what is frequently described as an almost complete lack of customer service.

And this is all before you board a plane with a total lack of free amenities right down to the peanuts.

But Ryanair still does a colossal amount of business based on the answer to this basic question: If you could trade in your complimentary pretzels for the chance at a $50 ticket to Portugal for a long weekend, would you do it?

Of course you would.

Other options

Ryanair isn’t the only budget airline in Europe. Here is a list of others:

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