Ryanair, the budget airline whose eccentric chief executive Michael O’Leary once said he would introduce “standing room only” flights if only it were legal, has completed its customer service U-turn with the introduction of its first business class seats.
The carrier announced yesterday that passengers flying “Business Plus” will be treated to priority boarding, an increased bag allowance of 20kg, fast-track security at certain airports and the option to change their flight up to 40 minutes before departure. Tickets start from £59.99.
However, suit-wearing executives expecting the red carpet treatment and a glass of champagne on arrival will be disappointed. The “premium seating” offered to business class passengers is merely the front, rear and middle exit rows of the plane, which offer slightly more legroom. Like the rest of those on board, they will have to pay for their food and drinks.
“We won’t be installing different seats, and we won’t be putting up a curtain,” said Kenny Jacobs, Ryanair’s chief marketing officer. “The premium seats will be the same standard seats, but those located at the very front and very back of the aircraft so business passengers can get on and off quickly.”
Business travellers will also need to be alert when they book their tickets or they could be stung with extra charges. If they forget to reserve their seat, for example, they will still have to fork out for the premium fare but will have to sit in economy. Misspelling their name will also incur a fee of up to £160.
The airline is hoping to increase its share of the business market, claiming that more than a quarter of its passengers are people travelling to or from work. Mr Jacobs said that modern business travellers cared less about “the lounge, free snacks and free drinks” and more about punctuality and reliability.
The move is the latest in a series of customer-friendly changes introduced by Ryanair, which has historically had a terrible reputation for customer service. In September last year Mr O’Leary decided to change tack, promising to “eliminate things that unnecessarily piss people off” after shareholders complained that its brash approach was hitting sales.
Since then Ryanair has introduced allocated seating, allowed passengers to have a free second carry-on bag, reduced the penalty charge for customers who fail to print out a boarding pass and has rebranded its website. Mr O’Leary has also assumed a lower profile, admitting that some of the airline’s “macho” and “abrupt” culture may have been down to his own “personal character deformities”.