Ryanair have finally realised that their standard tactic of being aggressive could be doing them more harm than good. The airline had long ago established the idea in people’s minds that they were cheap and it is astonishing that it has taken quite so long for the penny to drop that their hostile approach was turning customers away.
The airline has two different types of routes. Those between secondary airports which are often supported by very generous deals with the airports concerned, and those on more normal routes where there is competition from other airlines.
On the first type of route, Ryanair can be as competitive as they care to be – they can charge very low fares if they need to fill the plan and reach the quota of passengers they have promised an airport in return for a subsidy, or, when they are busier, they can charge very high rates. In the end, if you want to fly from Liverpool to Vilnius, Ryanair is the only choice so they can do what they want.
It is the routes with competition that Ryanair need to look at more carefully at. They say they want to encourage more business travellers because they recognise their traditional approach has turned possibly the most lucrative clients away. Being a little nicer will certainly help but there is a fundamental problem – Ryanair is often just too expensive.
I have just looked at fares for this Friday afternoon from any London airport to Dublin departing between 17.30 and 20.15. Assuming I check in one case, pay by debit card and have one drink on board, the fares are:
£101 with Aer Lingus from Southend at 17.30 (Southend is just as easy to reach from Liverpool Street as Stansted and, arguably, an easier airport to use once you are there).
£153 or £170 (depending on flight times) with Aer Lingus from Heathrow
£204 with Ryanair from Stansted
Of course, you can save money by not taking a case or drinking on the flight but even Ryanair’s basic fare is only £20 less than Aer Lingus. Such is the bad reputation that Ryanair has created for itself, there are many people who would require at least a £30 discount on any competitor to use them.
This pattern can be seen across countless routes where Ryanair faces some form of competition.
Being nice will help a bit – and it might ease the need for a “Ryanair discount” a little – but it does not get round the basic problem which is simply that their fares are too high.