When you saw the title of this entry, you probably thought this would be another rant about the discomforts of flying on a low-cost airline, didn’t you? Well, it’s not. I write this full of admiration for the brilliance and sheer chutzpah of Ryanair’s approach.
Ryanair must be one of the seven capitalist wonders of the world. Their ability to make money, while offering incredibly cheap flights, is nothing short of miraculous. They can literally charge nothing – absolutely nothing – and still make money!
How do they do it? A combination of strategies, none of which have much to do with the actual flight itself.
Note: This article was written back in 2008. The prices quoted here have changed: some have gone up and some down. Nevertheless, I think the thoughts I expressed here still apply.
How Ryanair makes money
When you book the flight on-line, you are asked to consider how much luggage you need. If you want to take luggage, you’re limited to 15 kilos, and still have to pay €10 plus €5 more for baggage handling. Additional bags? €20. And if you check in luggage, you can’t check in on-line, so there’s a €5 charge just to check in.
If you’re flying for just a weekend – and their low prices make that an increasingly tempting suggestion – perhaps you could manage with just your carry-on bag (maximum 10 kilos). Then you could check in on-line before the flight (no charge) and not have to wait in any lines at all at the airport. Sounds good! But if you forget to check in on-line… €5 charge at the airport to check in!
There are no assigned seats, but do you want to be one of the first to board? €4 each way to get preferential boarding. People willingly pony up for the privilege. Never mind that easily half of the passengers has paid for preferential boarding, so is it really preferential?
Time to board the flight: no jetway. You have to walk across the tarmac and climb the stairs to the plane. Both the front and rear door are open to make the boarding as quick as possible and keep their turnaround time low.
On the flight
The inside of the plane looks like no other: the seats are the standard shape of airplane seats, but appear seamless. That means they’re easier to clean than normal seats, which means a quicker turnaround and lower maintenance costs. There’s no seat pocket or tray table either, which means no cleaning of spills on trays or trash in pockets. The emergency instructions are embedded in the back of each seat, meaning that it’s what you look at throughout the flight. Again, lower costs.
As you would expect, any food or drink on board costs money; a cup of tea costs €3. The flight attendants do their best to sell as much as they can: not only food but also all sorts of other gimmicks, even lottery tickets!
Ryanair even sells advertising space: just like on a bus, there is a row of small billboards on the luggage rack doors.
When you land, both the front and rear doors are opened, allowing everyone to get out faster. And remember they have very limited carry-on luggage, so there’s less of the usual fussing and unpacking from the overhead racks than on the full service carriers.
Why do we put up with long lines, cattle car treatment, paying extra to board sooner, €3 tea, and all of the other discomforts? Because the flight is cheap! Ryanair has made an art of finding out exactly where the line is between passengers who put up with discomfort and passengers who are so fed up they won’t fly with them anymore. And, in my view, that’s pure brilliance.
You can read my revised thoughts on Ryanair from a few years later in Flying Ryanair … again.