LONDON — It would have seemed impossible to contemplate just three years ago, but Ryanair is becoming a ‘normal’ airline.

For years, the Ireland-based ultra-low cost carrier reveled in not only its disruptive effect (in the commercial sense) in the marketplace, but also in what could politely be described as its abrasive approach to customers.

Passengers who forgot or had been unable to print off boarding passes before turning up at the airport and then complained at the steep charges levied for having them printed at check-in were publicly labelled as ‘idiots’ by the carrier’s combative CEO, Michael O’Leary. Remarkably, repeatedly insulting his customers had no apparent effect on Ryanair’s ever-growing profit figures. The company’s rock-bottom fares pulled in an ever-increasing number of replacements.

Michael O’leary, Ryanair’s CEO (Credits: Ryanair)
Michael O’leary, Ryanair’s CEO (Credits: Ryanair)

However, around two years ago O’Leary launched Ryanair’s ‘Always Getting Better’ campaign, in which he promised – to general astonishment – to get rid of aspects of its service about which customers complained.

Out went the draconian charges for re-issuing boarding passes. Out went the equally draconian charges on passengers who actually had the temerity to bring luggage on board one of its aircraft. Out went its traditionally prickly response to customers’ complaints. And the new approach is working. Both passenger numbers and profits – already high – are climbing higher yet.

Now, the latest step in assuming airline normality has been announced, in the form of negotiations for interline agreements with other carriers. Ryanair has previously shunned such arrangements, preferring to remain a strictly point-to-point carrier. Indeed, it explicitly warns prospective passengers against using even two of its own flights as connecting services.

Talks are currently underway with Aer Lingus regarding connections at the latter’s Dublin hub. Other negotiations are also taking place with TAP Portugal, Norwegian, Virgin Atlantic and IAG, parent of British Airways, Iberia and Vueling.

Even if these talks come to fruition, Ryanair believes any interline traffic will make up only “A very small element” of its future business, said a spokesman. Nevertheless, sucking in additional passenger traffic is something at which Ryanair will never turn up its nose.

For legacy carriers, being able to tap in to Ryanair’s huge volumes of traffic – it broke the 10 million passengers in a single month barrier in July – and get even a small percentage of those on board their long-haul services could be a very worthwhile enterprise.

And, with Ryanair increasingly marketing itself to US tourists heading to Europe, an interline agreement in the opposite direction – a transatlantic service on a legacy carrier decanting its passengers on to Ryanair’s vast European network – would also benefit the Irish LCC. “In commercial terms, I’m not sure of the specifics,” admitted a Ryanair spokesman, “but we wouldn’t do something unless it was beneficial for us.”

There would be limits to any new co-operation with a long-haul carrier whose inbound flight was late to connect with an onward Ryanair service, he admitted: the Ryanair flight would not be held. But with many of Ryanair’s European services now having multiple daily frequencies, it would be happy to book delayed passengers on to the next available flight, he said.

Additionally, O’Leary told Reuters earlier this month, “We could be doing contract flying for high-fare carriers and feeding high-fare carrier hubs, but I would see that operating on the basis that the high-fare, long-haul carrier would simply want access to our low-cost seats.”
Under the proposed arrangement, the long-haul carrier would be responsible for check-in, luggage transfer and handling any missed connections.

“The advantage for them is they would get much cheaper short-haul feed than they would from anybody else, but what they have to get themselves mentally over is that they would have to take responsibility for missed connections,” O’Leary added.

Despite these conditions, he believed that the first interlining arrangements would be in place sometime this winter.