Ryanair Officially Tries to Be Nicer

airplane on runway and looking...
Shutterstock / Peshkova

In this day and age of social media, it’s getting harder and harder for airlines to get away with bad behavior. Lose someone’s luggage? You’ll hear about it within minutes of them landing. Serve a bad meal? Expect that to go viral on Instagram. If your customer service isn’t spot-on, you’ll be sure to hear about it.

But one airline has consistently refused to bow to customer requests. Ryanair is known for the kind of service that elicits complaints. In fact there are entire websites dedicated to documenting how much people are frustrated with what happens aboard Ryanair planes. But despite complaints, Ryanair has managed to find its way to the top of Europe’s airlines. Those baggage fees may seem ridiculous, but the airline is profitable for a reason.

Now with the European economy going downhill however, CEO Michael O’Leary knows that the airline can’t risk to lose passengers, and he is working on making the airline, well, nicer.The man known for proposals like onboard pay toilets (you’re only flying for two hours, you should be able to hold it) is now suggesting that his airline has to transform its brand; just offering crazy low fares isn’t enough.

On the heels of last month’s news that the airline forced a man to pay nearly $260 when he had to change his flight from Dublin to Birmingham because his entire family had died in a fire, Ryanair is now turning on the charm. According to The New York Times, that includes reducing oversized baggage and boarding card reissue fees as well as allowing a small carry-on no larger than 35 x 20 x 20 centimeters to be carried aboard flights from Dec. 1 onwards. Oh, and there will be “quiet” flights, meaning that people flying before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. will avoid the loud in-flight announcements.

It’s all in the hopes that people keep choosing Ryanair wherever they fly in Europe.
“As some of these policy changes will require website changes and handling staff retraining, we will be rolling them out over the next few months as we strive to further improve Europe’s number one customer service airline,” customer service director Caroline Green said.

Will it work? Only the travel social media sphere will be able to tell us.

Ryanair’s Latest Stunt: Planes As Billboards

Courtesy Ryanair

Low-cost carrier Ryanair will charge for just about anything. The company has even announced it’ll be selling ad space on the outsides of its planes. From pay-per pee toilets to the promise of oral sex, this is far from the first ridiculous stunt Ryanair has pulled over the years. It makes us a little skeptical these billboards will get off the ground.

Let’s take a look at the company’s — and, perhaps more importantly, CEO Michael O’Leary’s — track record over the years:

2013: Ryainair sells ad space on planes
2012: Ryanair plans to increase plane door width to speed up boarding
2011: Ryanair teaches ‘mutiny’ students how to pack
2011: Ryanair jokes about “child-free” flights
2010: CEO questions need for co-pilots on flights
2009: Ryanair talks about introducing standing-room only seats
2009: Ryanair begins media storm about pay-per pee toilets
2008: CEO says business class passengers get free oral sex

That’s at least one PR stunt per year, leading us to believe the “planes as billboards” idea won’t take off. Besides, it’s a little doubtful that anyone would fork over more than $26,000 for a tiny ad that only people waiting in departure lounges can actually see (if they’re close enough, that is).

Sneaky And Insane International Air Fees To Avoid

international airSure, no one likes to pay luggage fees. But $800 for an oversize bag? That’s the international air fee from Lufthansa for a checked bag that weighs in between 73 and 100 pounds. Over 62 inches? Those jumbo bags are $800 too. Lufthansa ranks at the top of the list for fees on international flights, but they are in no way the only airline standing by with sky-high fees.

“The flying experience has definitely changed over the last few years,” says Alicia Jao, Vice President of TravelNerd, a website dedicated to saving us money. Taking another look at fees charged by airlines, TraveNerd came up with some surprising numbers.

How about €70 ($91) for printing a boarding pass at the airport? That’s the fee at RyanAir, the discount airline that allows just one small carry-on bag. Want to bring a cello, guitar, violin or viola? RyanAir travelers can do that, if a seat for it has been reserved and the appropriate fare paid.”While some international carriers are still known for great customer service, there are numerous regional budget carriers that have strongly adopted the fee model,” says Jao.

A recent TravelNerd study found that international carriers commonly have baggage fees on international flights that are even higher than those on domestic flights. While individual airline fees vary, the study found that booking online is almost always less expensive than calling an airline to make a reservation.

Here are some other fees being charged right now by airlines for international flights from the TravelNerd study.

[Photo/graphic credit - Flickr user carinasuyin/TravelNerd]

Spain Raises Airport Taxes

Spain, Barajas
The government of Spain has announced that it is raising airport taxes.

The amount of the increase depends on the airport, with the average being 18.9 percent. Taxes at the two busiest airports, however, will more than double. Madrid’s Barajas airport will increase from 6.95 euros to 14.44 ($8.64 to $17.94). Barcelona’s El Prat airport will go from 6.12 euros to 13.44 ($7.60 to $16.70).

Ryanair and Vueling have already passed the extra fee onto their passengers. Other airlines have yet to decide how to respond. The tax is retrospective for those who booked before July 2, 2012, and are traveling from July 1 onwards.

Spain is one of the most troubled economies of the Eurozone. It has recently been granted up to 100 billion euros ($124 billion) in bailouts for its banks and the government is planning harsh austerity measures in order to balance the books. With summer tourist season kicking into high gear, the increased tax will bring in tens of millions in much-needed funds, assuming it doesn’t turn away too many tourists.

[Photo of Madrid's Barajas airport courtesy Andres Rueda]

Losing My Ryanair Virginity

ryanair photoRyanair, Easy Jet, German Wings and other discount airlines have changed how Europeans travel, but until last week, I’d yet to fly on a budget European airline and had no idea what to expect. After booking a ticket from Bari, Italy, to Kos in Greece several weeks ago on Ryanair, my expectations were very modest based upon a very annoying booking process and a series of warning emails I received about baggage and boarding procedures.

But my interactions with live Ryanair staff were pleasant and the flight itself was smooth sailing. Here are some observations and tips for flying on Ryanair.

Don’t use Google Chrome. After clicking through what seemed like a thousand pages offering me everything from rental cars to luggage, I clicked “purchase” but then my browser just spun fruitlessly for hours without confirming my purchase. It was unclear to me if the purchase went through, so I had to call Ryanair, which, like everything else associate with this airline, isn’t free. I was told that their site doesn’t support Google Chrome and that I should try again with Internet Explorer. I did so and the purchase went through without a hitch.Be careful how you click. Ryanair’s booking process is a mess. You need to click or unclick a lot of different options. Do you want priority boarding? Would you like to buy some new suitcases? Do you want to get a text message with flight details? How about some travel insurance or a rental car? It goes on and on and on.

Better travel light. You’ll pay dearly for your checked baggage, and you need to estimate how much your bags will weigh. For my flight, bags up to 15 kg (33 pounds) cost €20 each, and bags up to 20 kg (44 pounds) cost €30. If your bags go over the limit you paid for, you pay €20 for each kilo over your allowance.

Think you’ll just bring a ton of stuff with you on board? Think again – you can only bring one item of cabin baggage per passenger weighing up to 10kg (22 pounds) with maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm. If your carry-on is too heavy, they can refuse to allow you to bring it, or they can charge you a €50 surcharge to check it. And they don’t allow you to pool baggage weight, even if you are traveling with small children who don’t have baggage.

They kill you on the exchange rate. You have to keep clicking to figure out how much you’ll actually pay. This is how our tickets broke down for a family of four:

162.96 EUR Total Fare
8.00 EUR Passenger Fee: EU 261 Levy
1.00 EUR Passenger Fee: ETS
24.00 EUR Passenger Fee: Web Check in
60.00 EUR Passenger Fee: Checked Bag(s)
24.00 EUR Passenger Fee: Administration Fee
279.96 EUR Total Paid

The worst part is the awful exchange rate they give you. At the time I booked, the Euro was about 32 percent higher than the dollar but they gave us a ridiculous 42 percent exchange rate, bringing our €279 ticket up to $397. If we’d gotten the legit exchange rate, it would have been about $368.

No assigned seats. You’re required to print your boarding pass in advance, and can check in up to 15 days prior to your flight. I wasn’t willing to pay for a reserved seat, but our flight was only about half full, so I had no issues with the open seating policy. We boarded and the flight attendants told us we could sit anywhere beyond row 8, as the front of the plane was reserved for those who paid for priority boarding. Since we were traveling with small children, we got priority boarding, which was a nice touch.

You need some smokes? How about lottery tickets or phone cards? The first thing you might notice about Ryanair planes is that there’s no pouch on the seatback. People tend to stuff garbage in them and by eliminating these pouches it helps them turn the flights around quicker. Ryanair boasts the best on-time performance of any European carrier and they need to be efficient in order for their low cost business model to work.

Shortly after our flight took off, on time, the stewardesses started trolling the aisle with things for sale. I expected food and drinks, but the first items they trotted out were packs of cigarettes, lottery tickets and phone cards. What next, I thought, condoms? Or perhaps some Viagra? I thought about getting a chicken tikka plate for €5 but thought better of it. Soon enough, the young ladies were back again, this time with a selection of perfume and cologne. I didn’t need them but considered buying a bottle for a strongly scented gentleman behind me in the boarding line.

Verdict. I’ll fly Ryanair again without hesitation. Once you know the drill and learn how to navigate the booking process, it’s fine. Even with the dodgy exchange rate, the price we got was still better than the competition, and for me, that’s pretty much the bottom line.

[Photo by Alberto P Veiga on Flickr]