Friendly face a huge success for Ryanair, says Michael O’Leary

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary admits the airline would have ditched its cold and inflexible approach years ago if they had realised the positive spin-offs.

Friendly face a huge success for Ryanair, says Michael O’Leary

Ryanair expects to carry 100m passengers in its current financial year, with Mr O’Leary admitting: “We’ve moved from being cheap and nasty to cheap and cheerful.”

Mr O’Leary says he has backed up the softer strategy with a passenger charter, adding: “If I’d known it would work so well, I’d have done it years ago.”

Crews and passengers are happier now, with a 5% increase in load factor, Mr O’Leary told flightglobal.com interviewer David Learmount.

Ryanair is looking to expand its present fleet of 309 Boeing 737-800s to 550 aircraft, carrying 160m passengers, by 2024. It still has 170 new 800s on order, and 100 of the new 737 Max on firm order — for delivery from 2019 — with the same number again on option.

However, Mr O’Leary admitted Ryanair has got things wrong too. He said the rigid one-bag-per-passenger policy, as well as strict adherence to precise bag size, was disruptive to the boarding process, even though it had the beneficial side-effect of radically changing passenger behaviour. Now, only 20% of passengers want to check a bag in.

Extortionate penalties for failing to check in in advance, or for losing a boarding card have been dropped.

Mr O’Leary said a major part of expansion plans is to set up Ryanair operations at Europe’s “major bases”, undercutting EasyJet and legacy carriers in their home territory. Ryanair’s average fare is €46, he said, but passengers pay an average of €40 on top of that for the new ‘Business Plus’ service.

O’Leary said the only out-of-bounds airports for Ryanair in Europe are London Heathow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, and Frankfurt Main, because they are too expensive and inefficient. Ryanair is now — or will soon be — at Brussels Zaventem, Cologne, Copenhagen, and Lisbon, and the CEO says the carrier “will be at all the others within five years”.

Mr O’Leary also revealed that Ryanair has a pair of Learjets on standby daily in Dublin and Bergamo to ferry mechanical or engineering assistance to any of its 309-strong fleet around Europe.

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