Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary’s hearts-and-minds mission to win back disenchanted travellers and deal with the budget airline’s image problem took a further step forward yesterday as it offered passengers an “early Christmas present” of reduced baggage charges.
The controversial excess baggage fee, where passengers pay €20 (£16) per kilo of luggage over the allotted weight limit, has been reduced to €10 from yesterday – still high, but more in line with its airline rivals.
The abrupt reversal of Ryanair’s hard-line stance on a raft of punitive fees, and a promise to improve customer service, follow two profit warnings in the past three months. A recent Which? survey found that the airline was distinguished by its “rude and unpleasant” staff and an “aggressive and hostile” attitude towards customers, and ranked it at the bottom of 100 UK brands in terms of customer service.
Mr O’Leary, who recently told shareholders that the company needed to “eliminate things that unnecessarily piss people off” and soften its macho image, has overseen a 20 per cent fall in the company’s share price in the past five months. The Irish businessman himself is not known for his restraint, describing customers who forget to print their own boarding passes as “idiots” and calling overweight passengers “fat bastards on board”.
The latest cut in charges came as a spokesman offered a “very sincere thank you” to its passengers. The company has also announced plans to improve its website, revamp its customer service on Twitter and introduce “quiet flights”, which will be in operation between 9pm and 8am, with minimal public announcements and dimmed cabin lights so passengers can sleep.
Ryanair’s efforts to make amends are part of a bid to cement its position against rival easyJet, which recently reported a 51 per cent increase in pre-tax profit. In contrast Ryanair is braced for a 10 per cent fall in fares over the winter amid tough competition, and told the City it would make an annual profit of between €500m and €520m – €80m less than it expected in September and its first fall in annual profits for five years. Mr O’Leary has said he plans to step down in the next three years.