The tens of thousands of Ryanair passengers caught up in September’s carnage of the flight schedules all have their own stories of alarm, distress and financial loss.
Here is the account of Stephen Brown, from Cambridge, who was one of six gentlemen on their annual European cycle adventure, this year in Denmark and Sweden. But their Friday evening Ryanair flight from Copenhagen to Stansted was abruptly cancelled, with the next available flight on the Irish airline two days later.
“Due to family and business commitments we needed a quicker alternative, so we found six seats on a British Airways flight to Heathrow that evening," says Mr Brown.
“Ryanair have been quick in refunding the return flight and baggage cost of around £120 each, to us all.”
I hope the airline is also swift in paying out the €250 that it owes each of the party in EU-stipulated compensation. But Mr Brown has a different concern: “The cost we paid to get back on the same day with BA was £535 each, not including baggage, totalling over £3,000 for our group.”
He asks: “Are other airlines making hay out of Ryanair? We could have been a family of the same size rather than individuals, and therefore facing a prohibitive expense.
“For the cost of the one-way ticket for a journey of under two hours, we could have purchased a long-haul return ticket.”
They certainly could. British Airways has some impressive deals that will take you to the US and back in October for a lot less than £535 return.
“Can airlines charge what they like for the last few seats on a flight when they know that customers are facing a predicament and have limited options? Should BA be embarrassed about this? Your thoughts would be welcome."
Well, here they are. But I am not sure Mr Brown is going to like them.
UK travellers benefit from the most competitive aviation market in the world. Most of the time, this means that we pay less for flights of 600 miles (such as London-Copenhagen) or 6,000 miles (Manchester-Bangkok) than anyone else.
While British Airways might yearn to be a monopoly provider between Copenhagen and London, or wish for a return to the days when it held a cosy duopoly with the local carrier SAS, times have changed. Ryanair, easyJet and Norwegian all compete for customers on the route as well.
Last year and this, thousands of travellers have paid less than £10 each to go between London and Copenhagen. So I can understand how galling it is to be invited to cough up more than 50 times as much.
But that is all BA’s price was: an invitation.
Ryanair created the unfortunate situation. The solution it proposed to the group of cyclists would certainly have appealed to me: spend two days in the high-cost Danish capital at the airline’s expense, with a hotel room and three meals a day provided until the rescheduled flight back to Britain.
Mr Brown and friends had pressing reasons to be home, and British Airways was prepared to offer a solution.
BA has been selling Copenhagen-Heathrow tickets more or less since the dawn of time, and knows that there is an art to pricing them.
The lowest one-way fare on the route (at least which I have found checking a range of dates) is £65. For immediate departure in the next day or two, the price rises to £314. And for a Friday evening flight, when the airline anticipates a rush of late bookings, it chose to pitch the fare at £535. The fact that there were seven seats still unsold close to departure shows some shrewd revenue management by BA.
Flights bought at very short notice tend to be “distress purchases”, with buyers prepared to pay very high prices. Better that a few seats fly empty, the bean-counters believe, than that there are none available on the off-chance there is someone prepared to pay a fortune for an immediate departure. By putting tickets on the market at £535, British Airways is offering a scarce asset: a seat from Copenhagen to London on a Friday evening when Ryanair has just cancelled.
No one is compelled to buy it, and if you don’t like the price then an overnight stay should see the fare at least halve on other airlines.
The only fault I can detect, in fact, is Ryanair’s, for initially failing to offer to pay for flights on alternative airlines. But Mr Brown and his party have more than a sporting chance of reclaiming the cash from Ryanair, along with their compensation.
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