This week in London, FTE’s Assistant Editor, Amy Hanna, met one-to-one with Ryanair’s eclectic CEO Michael O’Leary, boss of “Europe’s only ultra-Low Cost Airline”, to get the latest thinking on the up in the air, on the ground, stripped-back passenger experience from the world’s most succeeding airline executive.
FTE: You’ve caused outrage by raising checked bag charges again. Rather than focusing on improving the passenger experience, are you simply profiteering?
MOL: It’s the opposite of profiteering. We hate checked bags, we don’t make enough money from them, and we want to see no bags checked at all one day. If we had not introduced hold baggage charges around five years ago our 81 million passengers would now be carrying 64 million bags – instead it’s around 24 million, about 20%. I’d like to see this go down to 10% short term. People have always travelled with too much stuff – we all know our wives take too many outfits. Now even Mrs O’Leary travels with just one 10kg carry-on bag. We no longer wait at check-in desks or hang around at carousels. It’s brilliant, and we’re helping to save polar bears.
FTE: If you don’t want passengers to check-in bags, how about allowing them to buy extra carry-on bags?
MOL: No. Not interested. We don’t know how you could do it, how it would be cheaply policed. I can see huge problems affecting our turnaround times.
FTE: You say you are carrying more and more business passengers, so are you planning to fit Wi-Fi to give passenger access to the Internet in the air?
MOL: It’s a bit like bags – right now it’s hard to make money from this service, but it’s a European problem. But it will get better and we are absolutely looking at introducing Wi-Fi onboard at some point. Right now the CAPEX per aircraft is €300-€400,000. But in Europe the roaming charges are just too high because the communications infrastructure just does not exist. Maybe it will reduce in two or three years, and when it does it will be the next, great ancillary revenue opportunity. But we’re only going to start addressing that when it gets cheaper.
FTE: So you are in discussions about it then?
MOL: There’s not exactly a lot to discuss at the moment – we’re waiting for the new technology.
FTE: But what if Ryanair ever moves into long haul fleet…
MOL: Oh, on long haul it’s a given revenue opportunity – we’ll have Wi-Fi onboard.
FTE: You were pretty much the first airline to move to online check-in, making it more or less compulsory by levying huge charges for those who didn’t check-in online. So why have you stopped short of other innovations like mobile QR boarding passes, which passengers seem to want?
MOL: Because it won’t save money. If it does we’ll do it. We’ve moved everything to the web – you can check in online. We’re not doing mobile check-in. Ryanair is a dream self-service airline – if you’ve got a 10kg bag carry-on bag, a credit card, and a pulse, you’re our dream passenger.
FTE: I sense a paradox – on the one hand you led the online revolution, on the other you completely eschew other opportunities and channels. You don’t like social media for instance, even though it’s a very popular communication channel among travellers…
MOL: Yes, we’re last in the rankings for using social media, but we carry more passengers and make more money than anyone else. That’s all that interests my shareholders – and presumably we’re doing what the customers want.
FTE: So, when are you taking the revolution to the rest of the world and moving into long haul?
MOL: We are still planning to fly to the US, as long as we can get the long-haul aircraft cheaply, but at the moment they are proving unobtainable.