Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

There's so much more to Ryanair than pick-pocketing

Visionary: Michael O'Leary
Simon Calder

Favourite country: Scotland. Favourite airport: Singapore. Favourite city: Vancouver. So far, so very predictable. But, occasionally, I am asked for my favourite airline. The response is often taken as affectation: Ryanair.

Yes, the airline whose boss, Michael O'Leary, is delivering "customer service" in the shape of ever-steeper fees for checked-in baggage – and even talking now of charging for cabin luggage.

There is plenty not to like about the Ryanair experience. I resent the way that the booking process seems constructed as traps for the unwary – now with a new twist.

For before you can even start surveying fares and times, you have to sit through an advertisement at the "security check" stage, where you also have to tap in a code to prove you are a human being, rather than an automated screen-scraper algorithm.

Michael O'Leary sees the internet as the first opportunity to flog "ancillaries", starting with £1.69 for a text confirmation of booking.

But why pretend to offer me a "discount" for paying with a debit card, rather than portraying the reality that Ryanair – like its rivals – levies a credit card surcharge?

And, if I want to buy overpriced travel insurance, I'll ask for it.

But the airline's website requires me to know that I have to scroll down beyond Slovakia on a drop-down list in order to select "Travel without insure".

In the (perhaps unlikely) event that you successfully buy a flight without unwittingly picking up a host of unnecessary extras, your problems are only just beginning.

Both Ryanair and easyJet instruct passengers they must print out a boarding pass in advance.

But, if you fail to do so, then easyJet will issue one free of charge. Ryanair will ask for £70.

The airline insists that these are purely to encourage every passenger to toe the line, keeping it running at peak efficiency.

But they also have the effect of helping Ryanair to extract an average £6 profit per passenger.

So, how can I possibly admire an airline that makes travel so uncomfortable? Because Ryanair does something so important that its sins should be forgiven it.

The Irish carrier delivers safe and punctual air travel at average fares below the norm and, therefore, enfranchises a mass of travellers previously confined to overnight bus journeys.

Michael O'Leary did not re-invent Ryanair as an ultra-low-cost carrier to unify Europe, but that's what he's done – much more successfully than any EU initiative.

Even if you are one of the many people who say, "I'd never fly Ryanair", every air traveller in Europe benefits from its existence.

While O'Leary's claim to be in competition with BA is bluster, the downward pressure on airfares has forced all over-priced "flag carriers" to treat their passengers with more respect.

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