The European airline famous for its bargain-basement fares, brusque customer service, and fondness for airports far from major cities has been spreading a decidedly different message in recent weeks. Ryanair (RYAAY) has combined its new appeal for business travelers with a request from Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary for customers to send him suggestions on how to improve the airline’s notorious service.
Today, the Ireland-based airline introduced a slew of new customer-service initiatives, the most stunning of which is a 50 percent cut in the price of checking a bag at the airport luggage drop, to 30 euros ($41) or 30 pounds ($48.50) beginning on Jan. 5. Ryanair likewise cut its checked-bag fee at the gate by 10 euros, to 50 euros ($69) or 50 pounds ($81). The airline said it would eliminate a security code from its website booking process, a time-consuming hindrance that irritated many shoppers. Customers will also be granted a 24-hour “grace period” to correct errors in a booking, such as misspelled names or an erroneous destination. U.S. regulators, meanwhile, recently imposed this provision for tickets sold domestically, drawing complaints from some carriers.
Another customer-friendly change starting next month will see Ryanair eliminate crew announcements on flights before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m., save for the mandatory safety pronouncements. (A personal plea from a sleep-deprived traveler: U.S. airlines, please take heed of this initiative.) “Ryanair will also dim the lights during these quiet flights so that any customers who wish to snooze, can comfortably do so,” the company said. The carrier also said it will allow passengers to carry a second hand satchel onboard, starting Dec. 1, “which will allow a bottle of wine or equivalent to be carried.”
Of course, these kinds of efforts are not solely the creation of a marketing team alarmed by unpleasant press—Ryanair has managed that for years—it’s mainly about bottom-line business. The airline has gotten to 80 million annual passengers and wants to boost that to 110 million by 2019. What worked to get this far, the airline has likely concluded, will not attract another 30 million customers on a continent where low-cost airlines have proliferated like rabbits. Especially for a company that ordered 175 new Boeing (BA) airplanes this summer that it must fill. Those 737s will take the airline’s fleet to more than 400 airplanes.
In September, the British magazine Which published a survey that found Ryanair had the worst customer service of 100 British corporate brands. The company also was heavily criticized after it charged a Dublin neurosurgeon 188 euros ($259) last month to switch his flight to England after learning that an arson fire had killed his wife and three children. The airline later apologized.