Barrtalk: The truth about Ryanair

Irish airline gets an unfair press because of its success


The Ryanair trumpet, played moments after each of its aeroplanes touches down on the runway on time, is a deeply satisfying sound – particularly for someone, like me, who strongly favours landings over take-offs.

In more than twenty Ryanair flights dating back to August 2009, I have not yet once failed to hear the infamous jingle, landing either in Liverpool or at City of Derry airport on or before the planned arrival time.

I have paid an average of around £50 each time, a price I consider to be a very fair one for what is a 450-mile round trip overseas. I have always found members of the Ryanair cabin crew to be remarkably professional and pleasant, even when dealing with dreaded hen and stag party revellers.

Always declining the smokeless cigarettes, dubious lottery tickets and unappealing, dull looking cheese and ham paninis, I have never had to pay for extra luggage, finding the 10kg cabin baggage limit to be more than adequate. The fee of £60 for the privilege of bringing a case in the aircraft hold is steep but avoidable [by at least 99 out of every hundred travellers].

Similarly I have never had to pay for check-in fees or extra to board the plane as a priority. Sure these charges exist but they have never been forced upon me. I am happy just to pay the ticket price, take my seat and wait for the trumpet at the end.
In short, Ryanair has always brought me safely, and inexpensively, to my destination and back on time – every time.

The low-cost airline, founded in 1985, is often criticised for its perceived poor customer service record and in a list of the 100 top brands in Britain, ‘Which’ magazine recently ranked Ryanair dead last for customer service.

But how can there be any greater service to passengers than to fly them safely, cheaply and consistently on time to their chosen destination? Surely that must be the very essence of great customer service?

I was travelling to London last weekend with a friend. We took our seats on the early morning Ryanair flight from Derry to Stansted. I had barely buckled my seatbelt when my companion had delivered a typical line, one I’ve heard a thousand times or more – ‘I hate flying with Ryanair’ – he said strongly.

I wondered – why?

‘They’re out to rip people off, their customer service record is shocking’ – he answered.

Despite the fact that we were travelling to one of the world’s capitals on a return ticket for £55, and from our backyard to boot, the perception that Ryanair rips people off remains a common one.

This same friend had earlier told me that he had bought flights to Cologne for Ireland’s football game against Germany this weekend. Again on Ryanair, and for even less, just £42 there and back.

I wondered how he could knock an airline that is saving him a fortune; particularly since I can remember the dark old days when British Airways used to service the Derry to Manchester route for around £150 return, more than double the price for the current route to nearby Liverpool. That was before BA decided to quit Derry altogether of course. In fact, without Ryanair City of Derry would be little more than a regional airstrip like Carrickfinn.

The airline is currently the most successful and biggest in the world, carrying around 9 million passengers every month. Success though brings with it the begrudgers or haters, to use the current annoying American parlance. As my friend Michael Doherty, from Moville, used to say of Manchester band Oasis – ‘their success is their failure’.

At the launch of the new Donegal Atlas, by Beattie and MacLaughlin, last month, someone from the audience quipped that you wouldn’t be able to take the book on a Ryanair flight, due to its enormous bulk and weight. Predictably everyone laughed but in fact a passenger could carry two such books [5kgs each] as free cabin baggage.

I frequently witness other passengers stuffing enormous bags into overhead lockers, cases crammed with everything but the kitchen sink, all at no extra cost – but that didn’t stop the gathered book launch audience from laughing at the joke.

Largely because of its seemingly unending growth, Ryanair is frequently probed for cracks and held up to a higher standard than other less successful airlines.

The company, named for original owner Tony Ryan, won a libel action against the Daily Mail last month and is currently suing Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches’ after a recent ‘expose’ – ‘Secrets From The Cockpit’ – questioned the airline’s safety record – which [touch wood] remains unimpeachable. The thrust of the slanted documentary was clear; flying Ryanair is risky.

Ryanair was wholly wrong to charge Dr. Muhammad Al Sattar €188 to change flights following the death of his wife and three children in a house fire in Leicester last month – something for which O’Leary has apologised. He has since promised that Ryanair will be ‘more responsive’ in future such instances of ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Chief executive O’Leary, the arch controversy courter, remains one of the chief reasons why the airline is detested. He is cocky and confident while some of his supposed suggestions [more designed to gain press than to ever actually be implemented], including €1 to use the toilet and standing sections at the back of the plane, have sent shivers down millions of spines.

Showman O’Leary has his critics but you can’t argue with the man’s achievements, turning a start-up business into the world’s top airline. [Also anyone who comes out with the refreshingly honest line – ‘the customer is almost always wrong’ – live on the Late, Late Show is more than okay in my book!].

The model of cheap flights comes with expensive added extras and heavy penalties for booking mistakes made by members of the public.

Chief Ryanair supporter that I am, I have made a few online errors in my time too. I once booked a flight for my wife under her new married surname [Barr] but her passport still carried her maiden name.

The fee to change it was £100 but I was able to buy her another flight for less than £50. The mistake was a frustrating one but I consider it a small enough price to pay for years of cheap travel.

Returning from a flight in Portugal last year, my uncle couldn’t find his boarding pass printout and incurred an additional €40 charge for a new one. He subsequently wrote a letter to Ryanair, despite being advised that it was a waste of time. Three weeks went by before he received a cheque in the post for the same €40 amount.

O’Leary and Ryanair are currently making another play to takeover Aer Lingus in order to break into the trans-Atlantic market, something which could open up the US as a much more affordable destination for all of us in future.

Imagine flying to New York or Miami for just €250. All you need to do is pack everything into a cabin bag and bring two packed lunches and you’re set.

Of course the low cost airline isn’t perfect – far from it – and I if were a pilot I’m not sure I’d be beating down Michael O’Leary’s door for a job – but as a customer they have helped to revolutionise my life and the lives of millions of others.

Frequent flying used to be largely the preserve of rich businessmen and golfing housewives; now it is open to almost all of us.
And that’s the truth about Ryanair. Now cue the trumpet [and the 2014 cabin girls calendar].

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