MIAMI — Polarizing European ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC) Ryanair is taking some steps to make itself more customer friendly. In 2014, Ryanair plans to roll out several different technology and customer-facing changes, including a new website, mobile boarding passes and much more. The moves are aimed at softening negative customer perception in an increasingly competitive European market.
Earlier this month, Ryanair rolled out a “brilliant” (according to CEO Michael O’Leary) new website, which we have displayed via screenshot below.
The new website is certainly sleek, and extremely easy to use based on limited testing on our part. By comparison, here is the most recent iteration of the website. It certainly was not awful, but the new setup is a lot more intuitive and somewhat less cluttered.
Certainly one of the triggers that pushed Ryanair to redesign its website was the redesigned website of rival EasyJet. EasyJet’s new website is also sleek, though it is more cluttered than that of Ryanair.
Ryanair’s technological investment also extends to allow mobile boarding passes beginning in June, which could improve operational performance for Ryanair as mobile boarding passes can be more efficient than paper ones after an initial period of adjustment. In Ryanair’s case, the shift to allow mobile boarding passes is extremely passenger friendly, especially since it could cost them some ancillary revenue (Ryanair charges a fee for boarding passes printed at the airport).
The carrier already has ios and android cell phone apps which are free for passengers since October 2013, though it is unclear how these will integrate with mobile boarding passes if at all.
But the new policies extend beyond mere technologoical investments. Since February 1st, Ryanair has allowed fully allocated seating under the following guidelines:
Passengers will still be able to choose our popular reserved seating service (select front row or over-wing seats), or alternatively select seats elsewhere on the aircraft, as long as they check-in more than 24 hours prior to the date of departure. All passengers who don’t wish to pay a small fee (€5) to select their preferred seats will be allocated seats during the 24 hours prior to the date of scheduled departure.
The fee for choice over-wing and bulkhead seats remains €10, and Ryanair still will not guarantee co-located seats for families traveling together.
Ryanair also has rolled out a second free carry on bag, alongside a reduction in the boarding pass reprinting fee from €70 to €15 and other fee reductions and generally customer friendly policy changes. The maximum dimensions of this second carry on bag will be 13.78 in. by 7.87 in by 7.87 in.
Here is a video featuring Mr. O’Leary outlining these moves. Given his outspoken and sometimes belligerent public persona, his demeanor in this video seems almost cuddly in comparison.
The most interesting part of that video came when Mr. O’Leary mentioned, “new products for families and business passengers.” A major driver behind Ryanair’s charm offensive is in fact Ryanair’s desire to make itself more attractive to business customers. Contrary to popular opinion, business travelers, especially independent ones flying short haul in Europe, are heavy users of low cost carriers (LCCs) as a way to keep travel costs low.
That being said, business travelers also do prefer productivity and ease of the travel experience, which is why ULCCs with completely a-la-carte business models such as Spirit Airlines and Ryanair have lagged behind low cost peers with more integrated travel experiences such as JetBlue and easyJet. Even still, nearly 22% of Ryanair’s existing traffic base is business passengers according to Kenny Jacobs, Ryanair’s Chief Marketing Officer
At a time when its profits are sagging thanks to weakening leisure travel demand as a result of the poor European economy, it makes sense for Ryanair to turn to more resilient business traffic to shore up margins. Part of that is improving customer perception, though another major portion is simply allowing passengers to book Ryanair flights via a global distribution system, through which the majority of business travel is booked.
For the first time in more than a decade, Ryanair is selling tickets through a GDS thanks to a deal it inked with Travelport. The first stages of that deal rolled out on March 19th, and further enhancements will continue into the summer.
The interesting question is whether the “charm offensive” has been successful. The answer is most likely yes, though there is still a long way to go. According to media consulting firm Brand Index’s social media analysis tool:
In Britain, Denmark, Finland and Sweden the [Ryanair] brand continues to improve in the eyes of consumers. But in France, Germany and Norway people are still not convinced it has truly changed. Furthermore, arch-rival EasyJet enjoys a brand advantage over Ryanair that ranges from considerable to massive in every market where we track the pair. While Ryanair is still light-years away from being one of Britain’s best loved – or indeed, even liked – brands, the relatively modest steps it has taken since the end of September have led to a 17 per cent increase in its overall perception score in the UK.
The full article includes a good accompanying chart. So it appears that Ryanair’s actions are paying dividends for now. Only time will tell whether Ryanair has truly turned over a new leaf, or if this newer, friendlier version of Ryanair is simply a mirage.