ITS reputation for stinging customers with hidden costs has resulted in budget airline Ryanair being heavily criticised by consumer groups and passengers.
Now it appears that the budget airline is attempting a winter charm offensive, after flamboyant boss Michael O’Leary announced plans yesterday to ease stringent travelling conditions for his passengers.
The outspoken airline chief has announced a relaxing of baggage restrictions for passengers, who will be allowed to take a second small carry-on bag.
There will also be a reduction in baggage charges as well as an easing of booking conditions. Ryanair’s standard airport bag fees will be cut from £60 to £30 at the bag drop desk, and from £60 to £50 at the boarding gate, bringing it into line with competitor airlines’ standard airport bag fees.
The measures aim to address the most frequent complaints against Europe’s largest airline, which was voted the worst of the 100 biggest brands serving the British market by readers of consumer magazine Which?
Ryanair will also let passengers correct minor booking errors within 24 hours, the company said.
And it will operate “quiet flights” prior to 8am and after 9pm. During these quiet flight periods, no announcements will be made on board other than required safety announcements. Ryanair will also dim the lights during these quiet flights so that any customers who wish to snooze can comfortably do so.
The dreaded boarding card reissue fee will also be cut from £70 to £15 for customers who have already checked in online. Customers who fail to check in online will continue to pay a £70 airport check-in fee.
These and other changes will cover the period up to the end of March 2014, although it remains to be seen if the relaxation of restrictions will carry on into the busy summer 2014 months.
Mr O’Leary said: “We are very excited at these significant improvements in what is already Europe’s No1 customer service airline. As we implement our plans to grow from 80 million to over 110m customers per annum over the next five years, we are actively listening and responding to our customers.”
However, Leigh Sparks, professor of retail studies at the University of Stirling, said the timing of the annoucement was interesting.
“Over the winter period there will be significantly less passengers than in the summer. This could be seen as a PR ploy to win over customers.”
Last month Which? asked consumers to rate companies according to staff’s knowledge, attitude and ability to deal with issues. Ryanair scored two stars (of a possible five) for each category, producing an overall rating of 54 per cent. It was comfortably the lowest of all 100 firms.
“When they say they are going to do something, they don’t do it in half measures,” said Davy Research analyst Stephen Furlong. “There are a lot of non-believers that they need to convert.”
Management have admitted Ryanair must improve to meet a goal of boosting passengers to 110 million from 80 million over the next five years after the order of 175 Boeing 737s. It is targeting customers who fly with rival low cost carriers but refuse to fly with Ryanair because of its perceived poor service.
Mr O’Leary promised a customer service revolution at the company’s annual general meeting last month and has already pledged to revamp the company’s web site, scrapping a time-consuming security code, which irritates many users.