October 25, 2013 6:44 pm

Ryanair tries to gain altitude in passenger treatment

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A man sits waiting by a Ryanair Advert at an airport©AFP

Flying Ryanair has long been considered a pursuit for masochists.

Famous for chaotic queueing, abrasive staff and a relentless barrage of loud advertising, the company has a reputation for poor customer service that its combative boss Michael O’Leary appears to revel in. There have been no apologies for those with the audacity to complain.

But following a series of public relations disasters and investor concern that Ryanair’s policies were deterring customers, the company has taken the first steps to cast off its image as the nasty airline. On Friday, Europe’s largest low-cost carrier unveiled an effort to improve its customer service and tempt business travellers in a shift that apes some of the changes made by rival easyJet.

The company is to relax the aggressive baggage checks that force stressed passengers to squeeze duty-free purchases and handbags into their carry-on cases, instead allowing passengers to bring a second small bag on board.

Customers will be able to amend booking errors during a 24-hour grace period while the charge for reissuing boarding passes is to be slashed from £70 to £15. The standard fee for checking in a bag will be halved to £30.

The airline is also introducing “quiet flights” on early morning and late flights; before 8am in the morning and after 9pm at night there will be no PA announcements advertising scratch card or smokeless cigarettes. It is decommissioning the high-pitched “bugle” that is played when a flight lands on time.

Ryanair’s focus on customer service represents a big shift in strategy for the airline, which has achieved rapid growth by providing flights with zero frills at low cost. It follows a profit warning issued by Ryanair last month and relentless media coverage about its poor customer service.

In a twitter chat on Friday, Mr O’Leary showed he had not lost his sense of humour despite the airline’s attempt to change its image. When asked what Ryanair would look like in 10 years' time, he responded: “Twice the size (200m customers), half the prices, all the customers bust, [and] me retired in the funny farm.”

The U-turn follows concerns from investors, which were addressed by Mr O’Leary at the annual general meeting last month. “We should try and eliminate things that unnecessarily piss people off,” he said at the time.

“The moves by Ryanair stem from a realisation that in order to fill Europe’s largest fleet, customer service will be of growing importance for the airline,” said David Holohan, analyst with Dublin-based Merrion Stockbrokers. “As EasyJet has done well targeting a wider variety of passengers, Ryanair needed to adapt its offering to compete more successfully and this is a good start.”

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Letter in response to this article:

A pint of Guinness without the frills / From Mr William Maunder Taylor

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