Ryanair’s business class could lead to prices falling across Europe

Makeover is translating into more passengers, but who is paying?

A year ago, Michael O’Leary admitted the airline he did so much to shape over two decades was a little on the abrupt side. He promised his charges would stop doing things to “unnecessarily piss people off”. He has been as good as his word. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

A year ago, Michael O’Leary admitted the airline he did so much to shape over two decades was a little on the abrupt side. He promised his charges would stop doing things to “unnecessarily piss people off”. He has been as good as his word. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Thu, Aug 28, 2014, 01:04

It seems a leopard might be able to change its spots after all. A year ago Michael O’Leary admitted the airline he did so much to shape over two decades was a little on the abrupt side. He promised his charges would stop doing things to “unnecessarily piss people off”.

He has been as good as his word and over the past 12 months the airline has introduced “frills” that once would have made the boss man fly into a furious rage.

The “Recaptcha” security code, which many users found impossible to decipher, was removed from its website and the site underwent a major revamp, which made it a whole lot more user-friendly.

Customers were also given a 24-hour grace period from the time of their original booking to correct any minor errors, such as spelling, names and routings , which stripped another layer of petty aggravation off the Ryanair experience.

The on-time jingle – beloved of the airline’s executives and hated by every one else – was silenced. Allocated seating and a free second carry-on bag were introduced and fees were cut. The boarding card reissue fee fell from €70 to €15 for customers who had already checked in online and standard airport bag fees were cut from €60 to €30 at the bag drop desk and from €60 to €50 at the boarding gate, bringing them into line with competitors’ fees. Most recently, a new app with mobile boarding passes was introduced.

So who is paying for the airline’s largesse? According to WhichAirline.com, the average cost of a one-way ticket is €65.67, up from €58.45 last year, a rise of about 12 per cent. Ryanair has rubbished the research, insisting its fares are falling.

Passenger numbers have grown strongly in recent months as people once wary of flying with an airline with the most belligerent of reputations were coaxed by always competitive fares .

Its latest move aimed at luring more of the business classes is likely to yield dividends. The airline has rightly gauged that frequent flyers across Europe want a hassle-free journey. The ability to change tickets at no cost will be a big draw, as will the fast-tracking through security.

Starting at just €70, the business-class experience promised by the airline looks enticing. Flag-carrying airlines will have to respond and the Ryanair move could lead to prices for business class travel falling across Europe and airlines rushing to introduce more convenience.

Within hours of Ryanair’s announcement, British Airways announced that it would allow people to hold flights for up to 72 hours for as little as £5 through ba.com. If within that period they want to pay for their flights, the hold deposit is refunded and the ticket can be bought.

It it a measure that won’t cost the airline much, but might make life for passengers that little bit easier. Expect more of the same notions in the months ahead.