Ryanair is overhauling its complicated and expensive baggage charging policy in one of the biggest changes at the airline since it started handing out seat numbers.
The initiative is part of the Irish airline’s rehabilitation, which began in 2013 when, in the face of falling profits, its outspoken chief executive, Michael O’Leary, announced that the airline would stop trying to “unnecessarily piss people off”.
Ryanair hopes that its image will be further enhanced by the introduction of new-look cabins with bigger windows and an extra inch of legroom, courtesy of the new Boeing 737-800s joining its fleet. The neutral colour scheme dispenses with the trademark bright yellow overhead lockers and bulkheads of old, and adds less harsh LED lighting.
O’Leary conceded that the airline had placed “overzealous” restrictions on baggage in the past and that offering the cheapest fares was no longer enough in a competitive market.
“My approach was, you’re getting the lowest fare, an on-time flight, we won’t cancel and we won’t lose your bags. Now shut up, sit down and don’t complain,” he said. “That’s been transformed.”
Ryanair is making its baggage policy simpler by cutting the number of payment options from 108 to six, although some people will end up paying more. The no-frills airline currently charges different fees for each checked-in bag depending on whether it weighs up to 15kg or 20kg, whether it is the passenger’s first or second bag, and whether the flight is in high or low season.
This year, it will launch a “rate my flight” function on its mobile app, where customers can leave instant feedback on their flight experience, and an Amazon-style one tap payment for its phone app, enabling customers to pay for services such as express security checks and upgrades.
Ebullient from Saturday’s Grand National win with Rule The World, O’Leary said he he’d been swallowing “big doses of humility” since the business embarked on the “always getting better” plan two years ago. At that time, with customers defecting to rival carriers Aer Lingus and easyJet, it introduced allocated seating for the first time and ended the tyranny of limiting passengers to one carry-on bag.
“We had locked ourselves into a position of ‘We’re cheaper, nastier and we don’t care’,” he said. “But there were millions of passengers saying ‘I don’t care how cheap you are’.”
The airline’s new approach to customer service seems to be paying off: at its half year results, Ryanair said pre-tax profits for the six months to the end of September rose by 37% to €1.09bn (£870m). Its share price has increased to more than €13 from €6.50 in late 2014.
The airline’s existing baggage policy had been described as “anti-family” due to the escalating cost of stowing luggage in the hold. But O’Leary denied that this was the case. “The purpose of the bag fee was never to penalise people,” he said. “It was to incentivise people to travel with less checked bags.”
The majority of passengers checking in bags do so in high season, meaning that they will pay a lower price under the changes, Ryanair said. Passengers will still have to pay more on longer routes, such as London to the Canary Islands. O’Leary said the airline was considering introducing a flat fee of “probably” £30, with the company expected to spell out the details next month.
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