Irish budget airline Ryanair is famed for serving out-of-town airports. It recognises that flying to smaller airports might be less convenient for passengers but the trade off is being able to provide the lowest fares in the business.
But in a major change of tack, CEO Michael O’Leary has announced that Ryanair will now consider flying to any large European airport with the exception of London Heathrow, Paris CDG and Frankfurt.
What is means is that Ryanair could become as viable an option for business travellers as Easyjet, British Airways, Lufthansa or any other major carrier.
In an interview with news agency Bloomberg, O’Leary says, “Almost any airport that we don’t fly to is talking to us across Europe. Increasingly [across our network] there is going to be a spread of bigger airports as well as secondary ones.”
Until recently Ryanair shunned almost every major airport (London Gatwick, Barcelona and Edinburgh being three exceptions) in favour of serving facilities which were often between 30 and 60 miles away from city centres. Instead of flying to Amsterdam’s main Schiphol airport, Ryanair would instead touch down at Eindhoven. Or rather than land in Hamburg, your Ryanair service would arrive in Lubeck.
But as Ryanair’s expansion slows (last year’s 11 per cent passenger growth is likely to slow to 5 per cent in the near future) the carrier says it has decided to switch to a “value and service” proposition rather than simply offering only rock-bottom fares. According to O’Leary the carrier’s new policy would take more account of quality and customer satisfaction.
Ryanair believes it can afford to operate at busier airports with higher fees. That is because it can reduce its use of check-in machines and baggage handling facilities seeing as more and more of its passengers are checking-in online and carrying hand baggage.
London Heathrow, Paris CDG and Frankfurt are only excluded because Ryanair will be unable to turn around its planes quickly at these big hubs.
But it will be some time before we see Ryanair becoming a regular site at airports such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf and Munich. Says O’Leary, “It’ll be an evolutionary process. When fares aren’t being reduced every year in 2013, 2014 and 2015 there will be more of a focus on quality, service, customer satisfaction and all that because the prices will be rising.”
O’Leary denies fares will be substantially hiked to pay for the improvements, “Are we going to go from an average fare of 34 Euros to 100 Euros? No!” he tells Bloomberg.
If Ryanair’s plans come to fruition then executives of budget and major carriers using Europe’s prime airports are going to have some sleepless nights.
Report by Alex McWhirter