Most people have travelled with Europe’s number one low-cost airline Ryanair, and most also have some bad words to say about them, but without their service, most people in Slovakia would also be lost and unable to travel to their desired destination or, at the very least, unable to afford it.
Now, Ryanair has adopted a whole new global philosophy when it comes to customer care, remolding its tarnished image and eliminating the things that would systematically get passengers’ blood to boil. The new features include the free option to take on a second piece of hand luggage, allocated seat numbers, a simplified online booking system with fewer clicks, special family deals, and no harassment of passengers about excess baggage weight.
To see if the new approach is of substance and not just another bit of PR, we went to the new trendy Dublin headquarters of Ryanair to find out for ourselves to what extent things have changed and if the new image runs deeper and is not just some cosmetic facelift.
Despite a slight delay in takeoff from Bratislava, the flight still arrived in Dublin ahead of schedule, just like around 94% of the company’s astonishing 500,000 plus flights a year. Going through the gate in Bratislava, I was more shocked than surprised that nobody even checked the weight or size of my carry-on luggage. We spoke about this and other new features with Ryanair head of sales and marketing Peter Bellew.
“The main thrust of it has been to fix things that people didn’t like. People were very unhappy over the years with our baggage policy, so we fixed that and now have one of the most generous policies of any airline with two carry-on bags” Bellew said, underlining especially how the second carry-on bag was particularly well-received. When queried about the lack of bag checks, something that would cause travelers a lot of stress before, Bellew explained that “there would be none of that now. We are just not harassing people at the gate anymore, unless you have an outlandishly large bag”.
Another area that required attention was families with children, with the airline now offering a host of special conditions for those travelling with little ones via its Ryanair Family Extra programme launched just last week. Families can now get discounted seating, baggage and insurance for children, a reduced infant fee and 5kg infant bag allowance. There are also bottle warming and changing facilities on board, with the option also of two free pieces of infant equipment, while even a car seat can be brought on board when they book a seat.
To back up the new customer service approach, the airline brought in all its front-line staff from the 180 airports it operates at, bringing them to the headquarters and retraining them to respect the philosophy to “just help people on their journey”, says Bellew. The fee for forgetting to print out your boarding pass has also been slashed and a special new app and mobile boarding pass will be available from July.
“We take delivery of 180 aircraft within the next five years, and while some of the old aircraft will retire, we will still end up with around 425-450 aircraft in four and a half years’ time, so great opportunity for expansion,” said Bellew. New routes and new bases are already in the pipeline, with the company planning to target business travelers more starting September.
Ryanair projects around 85 million passengers for this year, and with the delivery of another 20 new aircraft in September, 30 more in 2015 and a further 40 or so in 2016, the growth in passenger numbers and revenue looks set to continue. Ryanair is currently number one in Italy, Spain, Belgium, Ireland, Portugal and Poland, with plans to target the key markets of Germany and France more aggressively in the coming years.
Overall, the company is genuine in its push to fix its image and it has managed to eliminate the most annoying parts of travelling with Ryanair, with no more harassment about baggage weight or about where to sit, as everyone now has allocated seats. The changes are already impacting the company’s bookings, much faster than the company itself expected, with already 3 million more bookings this year compared to last year. The airline also plans to make more use of Bratislava Airport, with more destinations, subject to agreement with the airport.