For the first time in its history, Ryanair is going to cut its fees in the name of “service improvements”. It’s not April 1, so it would appear we’re not being fooled. It would be a rare day that anyone puts the words ‘Ryanair’ and ‘service’ in the same sentence. It is, seemingly without parallel, Europe’s most hated airline. Which? magazine named it Britain’s worst brand for 2013. There is even a website dedicated to hating it.
I’m not a fan. It has charged passengers just to print tickets, flown on minimum permitted fuel levels leaving no room for contingencies, kicked people off flights for having the wrong hand luggage, and considered charging for the use of its toilets. At the same time, it has remained profitable because it’s cheap. People remain drawn by the price. But I’m getting the sense these Irish penny-pinchers know they’ve reached their ceiling.
Without a buoyant economy, passenger growth industry wide is stalling. Airlines can only cannibalise each other’s base and the budget travel market is cramped. There is a decent chunk of civilised patrons who refuse to ever fly with Ryanair again.
The only way to win these consumers back is to address the cause. So Ryanair says they have listened to passengers, and responded. Staff have been given more discretion to relax stringent timing and baggage rules. They’ve improved their website and made their smartphone app free. Even chief executive Michael O’Leary, who has revelled in being a self-described publicity hound, admits Ryanair needs to be more sophisticated in its communication. It’s a pragmatic response and the right one. Aiming for respect is the first step. To be loved will take a lot more work yet.