Thursday, February 8, 2007


Malcolm, in rather better mood this morning, sips coffee and watches wet snow falling on North London. Inside double-glazing, beside a warm radiator, with no immediate need to venture forth, he can contemplate the world with equanimity.

News that flights into London airports are disrupted by the weather reminds him of a previous grief: the flying hell that is Ryanair. Despite upsets with other low-cost airlines (for example, why does Frontier Air not accept credit or debit cards from the UK?), Malcolm's limited (and twice-is-enough) experience convinces him that Ryanair is uniquely awful. A sticky and uncooperative website leads to a grim and repetitive booking ritual. That is mere prologue to the actual booking-in and waiting régime, a scramble to find a seat (which will be at least grubby, and possibly even insanitary), persistent advertising (scratch-cards, even!) at full volume on the PA, bottles of tap-water at four times the UK price of petrol, and a baggage nightmare. For a further sample of horrors, try here.

The coincidence of separate news-stories assisted this meditation. Yesterday, the Times had a front-page story, by Ben Webster, on the pressure the company puts on its staff:

Ryanair is threatening to sack pilots after being criticised by air accident investigators over a series of dangerous approaches to airports. In the latest incident to emerge, an aircraft flew so low over rooftops that it triggered two warnings in the cockpit and sixteen complaints from alarmed residents.

It was the third serious incident in less than a year, and the fourth in two years, involving a Ryanair jet approaching an airport too fast or at the wrong height and being forced to abort landing.

All Ryanair staff are under pressure to meet turnaround times of only 25 minutes, the tightest in the industry, and pilot unions say that this can lead to mistakes.

Notice, no mention of the occasion of 29th March 2006 when an Eirjet/Ryanair flight managed to land six miles adrift at the wrong (and long disused) airfield!

The second, from Tuesday, by Joe Bolger and also in the Times, noted the quarterly profits report by the company:

The introduction of charges for passengers checking in their bags helped Ryanair to boost profits by 30 per cent in its third quarter, as greater revenues from passengers helped to offset higher fuel costs.

The Irish budget carrier said yesterday that net profits had risen to €47.7 million (£31.4 million) in the three months to December 31 as fuel surcharges levied by larger rivals allowed the group to nudge up fares.

Ryanair’s average fare rose by 7 per cent to £28, despite a warning last year that average fares could dip by a tenth in the year’s second half. Costs rose 14 per cent, largely on a 52 per cent increase in the cost of fuel.

The truth is that Ryanair's headline prices, loudly touted by the crudest of advertising, are so inflated by barely-hidden extras that they exceed other airlines, even the fares of regular scheduled providers. And, for all of Chairman O'Leary's plain-speaking, many of these charges amount to dodgy doo-dah. Anyone doubting that can refer to a piece by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph, last summer:

The low-cost carrier has been accused of systematically inflating charges added to ticket prices for flights from airports including Dublin, Treviso, Charleroi, Rome, Pisa and Alghero, a practice that may breach EU law...

Michael O’Leary
Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, which insists its high fees reflect the costs set by airports
At Brussels/Charleroi, Ryan-air charges a government tax of €7 (£4.85) and a passenger service charge of €2 on top of the ticket price plus a separate insurance and wheelchair levy of €5.24 that it adds to all routes. In fact, there is no government tax.

At Dublin airport, Ryanair imposes a "passenger service charge" of €15.40 (non-refundable), yet the official "passenger service charge" is €2.90. The airport does bill Ryanair a €3.90 fee for security to cover police costs, but Ireland has no government departure tax.

The Dublin authorities said there were other charges, such as runway, parking and airbridge fees, but described these as the basic costs of running an airline, which did not in any case add up to €15.40. "This is clear mislabelling. Ryanair is putting profit in its charges," said an Irish official.

"Ho, hum", says Malcolm, trying to work out how a "breach of EU law" and "clear mislabelling" differ from fraud. He suggests that capitalism of this kind amounts to institutionalised mugging; and Ryanair's "customer care" does just that with a minimum of politesse.

The New York Times' offshoot has Damian Corrigan (a re-import from Oz, but don't hold that against him) doing a direct comparison between EasyJet and Ryanair. He focuses on the London-Barcelona route and shows that, in practice, Ryanair is a third more expensive. And, with Ryanair, one arrives about 60 miles away from Barcelona, at Reus, near Tarragona. Reus has only a single public transport link to Barcelona, a bus service specific to Ryanair flights, which takes about 90 minutes.

It can only be low thresholds of expectation that prevents the generality taking their custom elsewhere.

Malcolm knows that his opinion of Ryanair is not unique. Google "hate ryanair" and you find going on for a quarter of a million "hits". Years ago, Malcolm used occasionally to frequent the Sir Richard Steele, that Victorian drinking hole in Haverstock Hill. It had a poster, suitably illustrated, with the slogan: A million flies can't be wrong — Eat Shit. Agree with that, says Malcolm, and you'll just lurve the Ryanair experience. Sphere: Related Content

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