Always getting richer: that sums up life for Ryanair shareholders, not least the newly lovable chief executive, Michael O’Leary.
The Irish airline, which is the biggest budget carrier in Europe, announced higher-than-expected full-year profits of €867m (£619m) - an increase of two-thirds on the previous year.
The airline claims the improvement is a result of the “Always Getting Better” (AGB) programme, which has seen a range of customer-focused measures replacing the previous uncompromising, “take it or leave it” attitude to passengers.
Mr O’Leary said: “Our AGB programme is transforming our customer experience, our service, and the way we listen and respond to our customers.” The chief executive had previously acknowledged that Ryanair’s rules had “pissed people off”.
The change in attitude followed a patch of relatively poor results, during which its rival, easyJet, flourished with a range of innovations such as allocated seating.
Ryanair has followed suit. Since February 2014 it has offered passengers the chance to pay between £5 and £10 to reserve a seat on board - or to be allocated one free of charge within a week of departure.
The airline has also eased its once-draconian cabin-baggage rules. Previously, there were hard-line checks at the departure gate aimed at detecting any passenger with the temerity to want to bring a handbag as well as a small suitcase on board.
Travellers are now permitted to bring two bags on board, a more generous allowance than easyJet and most other budget airlines, as well as a relaxed attitude to enforcement.
These measures appear to have lured people who were previously reluctant to fly with the airline. Ryanair's average “load factor” - the percentage of seats filled - rose by 5 per cent to 88 per cent, approaching the levels achieved by easyJet.
With fuller planes, the incentive for passengers to pay for a specific seat and preferential boarding is stronger. Ryanair’s profits per passenger work out at almost £7 - coincidentally the same as the cost of reserving a standard seat, together with “Speedy Boarding”.
Ryanair, along with its low-cost competitors, is also benefitting from retrenchment among “full-service” airlines. Traditional carriers are cutting routes that are unprofitable as a result of their higher cost base. Between Edinburgh and London, Virgin Atlantic is ending its flights in the autumn, while Ryanair is increasing its services from three to five a day. By passenger numbers, Ryanair is the first- or second-largest airline in almost all the countries it serves, except for France and Germany.
Travel agenda - 8/05/2015
Travel agenda - 8/05/2015
1/8 Weed lead
The Barbados authorities have organised a clean-up to help clear the drifting seaweed that is blighting many of the island's beaches. The NationNews reports that the algae, which comes from the Sargasso Sea, has been piling up in much bigger quantities than usual. Other Caribbean islands are, so far, unaffected.
2/8 Economy plus
A new vessel, Baie de Seine, has joined the Brittany Ferries fleet, adding extra économie sailings to France and Spain. Along with sister ship Etretat, the line offers cheap, no-frills ferries from Portsmouth to Santander and Bilbao in Spain, and Le Havre in France.
3/8 Mex checks
Following last weekend's downing of an army helicopter by a drugs cartel in the Mexican state of Jalisco, the Foreign Office is warning of disturbances at locations including Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta. "Stay in the tourist areas if possible and follow local advice," says the new bulletin.
4/8 Plenty of isles
Plenty of isles
Lundy, Rocker, Dogger, Fair Isle is a new book celebrating Britain's islands – and one that was never really there. From abandoned St Kilda to Hy Brasil – a non-existent isle that for centuries appeared on maps – the entries include illustrations and quotes.
5/8 Knight riders
Disneyland Paris is the location for a new Star Wars Jedi Training Academy, scheduled to open on 11 July. Children aged seven to 12 will be able to wield a lightsaber to fend off Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers as they master the art of using the Force in their bid to become a Jedi Knight.
6/8 Brutal Paris
Paris's Centre Pompidou is currently showing a retrospective of the work of Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, aka Le Corbusier. The exhibition runs until 3 August and features more than 300 drawings, paintings, models and more by the controversial Brutalist architect.
7/8 West by NW
West by NW
Manchester gets reconnected with Los Angeles and Boston from next summer. Thomas Cook Airlines, which is becoming the leading transatlantic carrier from Britain's busiest airport outside London, will fly twice a week to LAX and the Massachusetts state capital from early May to late October 2016.
8/8 London live
At the top of the "walkie-talkie" skyscraper in the City of London – officially 20 Fenchurch Street – a Sky Garden gives spectacular capital views. Unlike the nearby Shard, access to it is free; you must, though, book in advance online, and bring identification.
The airline has a fleet of 320 aircraft, but is is chartering in six extra jets this summer in order to operate its planned schedule.
Average fares for this summer have not changed year-on-year, but travellers can look forward to lower fares this coming winter. Ryanair forecasts that October 2015 and March 2016, prices are expected to fall by around 6 per cent compared with the previous winter.
Partly the cheaper tickets will reflect the benefits of lower fuel prices, but there is also likely to be what Ryanair calls “irrational pricing” from competitors.
The big low-cost airlines - Ryanair, easyJet and Norwegian - are acquiring new aircraft and expanding relentlessly. They are also growing at airports that have previously been the preserve of traditional airlines: easyJet has recently opened a base at Amsterdam Schiphol.
As budget carriers adapt their business model to entice passengers from full-service airlines, incumbents typically sell tickets at below cost to try to maintain market share.
Ryanair has also weighed in on the debate about airport expansion in South East England. The Davies Commission is expected to recommend a new runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick next month, but the Irish carrier proposed a solution that is not on the table: “We believe that the market should be free to develop three new runways, one each at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted which is the only long term solution to the capacity crisis in the South East.”
Always getting richer: how Ryanair saw its profits soar
Relaxed baggage rules: disbanding the “gate Gestapo” who pounced on anyone whose cabin luggage was fractionally too big, appears to have reduced the resistance among some travellers to flying Ryanair.
Allocated seating: the previous boarding lottery, with the best seats going to those with the sharpest elbows, has been replaced by a more orderly system of pre-assigned seats.
Higher loads: Ryanair has only one size of plane, the 189-seat Boeing 737-800. On the average flight 166 seats are filled, eight more than a year ago.
Business-friendly: the airline is moving into “primary” airports - Glasgow instead of Prestwick, Brussels rather than Charleroi - as well as offering business-friendly ticketing.
Cheaper fuel: all airlines are benefitting from the slump in oil prices, together with the relative weakness of the US dollar in which fuel (and planes) are priced.Reuse content