LONDON —The news that low-cost carriers (LCC) Ryanair and Norwegian are nearing agreement for the Irish carrier to feed its Scandinavian opposite number with passengers for long-haul services marks another step in Ryanair moving towards becoming a ‘normal’ airline. It was not so many years ago that Ryanair actually warned potential passengers on its website not to use its services to connect even with another of its own flights, far less those of another company.
The Irish carrier was at pains to point out that it operated purely as a point-to-point airline. It did not have interline agreements with other companies, so if a Ryanair flight was late and you missed your connection with another carrier, tough. It was all part of the Dublin-based airline’s spiky approach to customer relations, something it is now keen to bury.
Ryanair now says it is keen to use its extensive network of European routes to deliver passengers to the hubs of other carriers, to connect with their long-haul services.
Ryanair spokesman Robin Kiely said that any arrangement with Norwegian would probably involve feeding the latter’s base at London Gatwick, from which it operates a series of long-haul services on its expanding fleet of Boeing 787s.
A Norwegian spokesperson confirmed that “We have talked to several players at London Gatwick, including Ryanair and easyJet, about co-operating on smooth and affordable transfers from one airline to another, and we welcome any initiatives or partnerships that gives customers a greater choice. “We continue to have good discussions with Ryanair but nothing is agreed at this stage and it is too early to speculate further.”
However, Ryanair has gone further. Kiely said it had also held talks with Virgin Atlantic, another Gatwick resident; with TAP Air Portugal to feed passengers into the latter’s Lisbon hub, from which it has an extensive network to South America; and with IAG, parent company of British Airways and Iberia, over connections at London Stansted, Ryanair’s busiest base and is essentially used by LCCs and charter operators. It currently has no long-haul scheduled services.
Finally, the Irish LCC is in talks with Aer Lingus to deliver passengers to the latter’s Dublin hub, where there is a US immigration pre-clearance facility. “We have 12 million passengers [a year] going through there and Aer Lingus has a good-quality transatlantic operation,” noted Kiely.
Ryanair’s dense network of European services means that hooking up with long-haul carriers “is quite a logical next step, given that many of the flag-carriers are cutting back on short-haul,” he added. “That’s where [these] carriers see their future, in long-haul.” However, he made it clear that any links with long-haul carriers would not be standard interline agreements, in which responsibilities tend to be split evenly between the parties: “In terms of how it would work, we wouldn’t take the responsibility for things like baggage or delays. We’re not going to move our schedules or hold our flights.”
Furthermore, he said, if a passenger flying, for example, New York – Dublin – Glasgow was delayed on the transatlantic leg, Ryanair operated with sufficient frequency on routes such as Dublin – Glasgow for passengers to reach their destination without too much delay.
Even if the discussions with long-haul carriers all came to fruition, feeding connecting passengers to other carriers would make up “quite a small element” of Ryanair’s business, he said. The LCC estimates it will carry around 104 million passengers this year.