/ Travel & Leisure

O’Leary: customers flock to Ryanair despite Which? surveys

Ryanair aircraft

In this guest post Ryanair’s chief exec Michael O’Leary argues that Which? surveys don’t reflect what customers want from an airline. What’s most important to you when you fly? Do you fly with Ryanair?

Each year Which? magazine publishes its airline survey, and each year Ryanair is ranked the least favourite airline, while BA is regularly touted as the most favoured by about 8,000 Which readers. So why then does the travelling public continue to flock to Ryanair, while deserting BA?

In the last five years Ryanair has grown from carrying 50m to over 80m customers annually, while BA’s traffic has fallen from over 35m in 2008 to under 30m in 2013. Are these millions of consumers wrong or is the Which? airline survey outdated and irrelevant?

Ryanair’s low fares revolution

Which? magazine provides a valuable and market leading consumer research and advocacy role. However its airline surveys have failed to move with the times or reflect the fundamental changes which Ryanair’s low fares revolution have created in UK and European short-haul air travel.

Back in the bad old days when Government protected flag carrier monopolies dominated air travel, air fares were rapaciously high, usually fixed by agreement between flag carriers, who ‘shared’ routes. There was so little price differentiation that surveys about seat width, in-flight meals and business class service bore some relevance for consumers. What most consumers wanted then was lower fares, more competition and choice without compromising safety or punctuality.

Since Ryanair began the low fares revolution in Europe in 1991, we have given the EU’s citizens exactly these choices, and they in turn have switched to us and other low fare airlines in their hundreds of millions. Last year alone, Ryanair carried over 81m customers, on Europe’s youngest airline fleet, with all leather seating at an average fare of just under £37, which generated savings of over £7bn compared to BA’s average short-haul fares. Yet, Which? magazine’s airline survey ludicrously claims that Ryanair is least favoured, while BA is most favoured.

Price and punctuality

The glaring omission from the Which? airline survey is any reference to price or punctuality, perhaps the two most important considerations in any consumer’s airline booking choice. If price and punctuality were the same for all airlines then it might be valid to survey seats, catering and other less critical considerations. But they are not. This is why I believe Which? should improve its airline survey, and make it more relevant by including (and weighting) its readers survey feedback by reference to price and punctuality and reducing its weighting of less relevant elements of the consumer flight choice.

By making this change, the Which? survey will begin to reflect the things that matter to real customers and will be a more useful survey to consumers.

Always getting better

I am the first to accept that Ryanair should not be exempt from criticism or challenged to improve aspects of our customer experience, while still offering the lowest fares on every route we fly. We recognise our past errors and we are learning from them. We are in year one of our ‘Always getting better’ program, which has delivered a host of improvements requested by our customers including allocated seats, a free 2nd carry-on bag, a 24 hour no quibble period to change booking errors, a dramatically easier to use website, a brilliant new app (with mobile boarding passes), new family and business products tailored to improve the experience of all our customers from booking to arrival.

We will continue to listen to our users so we can always get better while still delivering our industry beating low fares and on-time flights.

In Ryanair, we are humbly changing for the better. As we continue to grow rapidly by welcoming millions more customers, isn’t it time that the Which? airline surveys changed for the better too. Here’s hoping!

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary. All opinions expressed here are Michael’s own, not those of Which?. You can see our response to Michael O’Leary in the comments section below.


Thanks very much to Michael O’Leary for joining us on Which? Conversation – I’m interested to see whether you think price and punctuality are most important to you when you fly. We just want to respond to some of the points in Michael’s post, which we shared with him before publication.

We think Michael is referring to our customer service survey, rather than our airline survey. We agree that price and punctuality are a very important part of flying, which is why we include star ratings for ‘value for money’ and ‘punctuality of flight’ in our airline survey. Ryanair does well on both of these points.

Ryanair hasn’t always been bottom in our airline survey, for example in 2012 Thomas Cook Airlines came bottom. And British Airways has never come top – it’s usually middle of the table.

We think Michael is instead referring to our ‘best brands for customer service’ survey. This is where we pick 100 top brands and ask people to rate them on elements associated with customer service, including staff knowledge and staff attitude. Only five airlines were included in this survey and it was out of those that British Airways scored highest.

We also want to ensure that our airline survey reflects the things that matter to you, so every year we ask Which? members what they want us to rate airlines on and we tweak the survey based on this.

Just wanted to share that with you all. We look forward to hearing what’s most important to you when you fly.

S Davidson says:
11 September 2014

Whilest I would be glad to fly Ryanair if they were the cheapest and the flight times were suitable, I would never pay more and if another airline was quoting a similar price and schedule I would use them. This is where the Ryanair formula falls down in my opinion and means that Ryanair must keep their prices below the competition rather than just matching the cheapest competitor. It is hard to put your finger on it but some how the Ryanair experience falls short. But allowing the total price to be shown earlier during booking rather than having to wait till near the end would be a good start and providing seating whitest queuing to board the plane would be another


These are my priorities:

1. Orderly embarkation by calling groups of rows starting at the rear and moving forwards. No selfish queue jumping .
2. Strict regulation on carry-on luggage so that the overheads storage isn’t hogged by just a few passengers.
3. The ability to book for two or more people with the ability to only add ONE suitcase for one of the passengers, so as not to add a suitcase each.
4. Non reclining seats (I’m fed up being crushed by the thoughtless ignoramus in the seat ahead).


My choice of low-cost carrier is usually dictated by the flight schedules at the airports within easy reach as I am usually wantimg to join a land-based activity holiday.
I’ve flown Ryanair and not had problems but Customer Service is only tested when there are problems !
The introduction of a 24hr free error correction is a big plus; getting everything right on an online booking form is stressful and although I havent seen the new booking interface I hope it provides a full summary of everything on the last page before pressing the final “book” button.
Seat reservations were very welcome and an essential for me.
Would be nice to be able to share the luggage allowance between a couple or family on a single booking – Easyjet do ! Easy to adjust weights when travelling out but difficult on the way back.

I just wish the airlines could agree on a standard carry on luggage size and encourage the use of soft bags rather than rigid suitcases for handluggage.


I remember sitting in Dublin airport many years ago waiting for my Aer Lingus flight back to Leeds/Bradford when I was randomly asked by a researcher of my thoughts of a new low cost airline. I responded positively then and still believe Ryanair offers value for money. Stats are always a game but to me as a conscientious consumer I like to buy from a ethical company that also values it’s employees and suppliers, not always evident on some trade forums regarding MOL and Ryanair.

Jan Holden says:
11 September 2014

Until this year I positively chose not to fly with Ryanair having witnessed horrible queues at departure gates for their flights previously (when seating was not pre-allocated)
This year, with allocated seating & convenient flight times to my destination, I gave them a try.
I won’t be repeating the experience…
Bag drop at Manchester was a nightmare with about 8 flights departing over 90 minutes but only 3 desks open (the sole Ryanair representative present was unapologetic & said it was down to staff illness – as this was 6am on a Sunday I wasn’t impressed)
& for our return flight from Corfu, there were 2 passengers missing at the gate & we all had to wait way past departure time before the airline finally decided to remove their luggage & let us board
Never again, Michael O’Leary!


The difference in Michael’s view and Which is due to technical method of surverying.

I think Michael is correct to say Ryanair is becoming more popular. But being more popular does not necessarily translate to happier customers! And here is why the views are different: the sampling of Which survery is not representative of the whole society. Such sampling community share a few distinctive characteristics: they value quality of what they buy and/or consume, and they can afford the not-so-cheap Which monthly subscription. It makes them quite distinctive in the society and as such, the survey results can not be extended to the whole consumers.

But personally, I see the route to board a Ryanair plane a minefield: put your foot wrong and boom! You’re slapped with hefty unexpected charges by unforgiving staff. That punitive attitude against passenger is really annoying, and a bit of more good will gesture by Ryanair would go a long way.


Hi Roozbeh, thanks for your comment. I just wanted to point out that our ‘best brands for customer service’ survey is a survey of the general public, not just Which? members. You can find the latest survey here: http://www.which.co.uk/news/2014/09/npower-comes-last-in-which-customer-service-poll-379158/


I travel frequently to the Canaries and always do the comparisons between various airlines. Ryanair is rarely the cheapest but if it is by a small amount I would still choose another carrier. I too have witnessed the awful queues and people being offloaded or delayed because of technical problems. People seem to complain about hygiene issues too regarding toilets and indifferent staff are unconcerned. I did use Ryanair once but choose not to repeat the “experience’.

Big Bob's Bad Brother says:
13 September 2014

Ryanair have methodically bought ‘slots’ to popular destinations, once they have groups of POPULAR slots in the timetable they become ‘king’ and customers have little choice but to use them as there are only limited slots available for any other competitive airlines to buy and operate at a profit

The upshot of this is that, Ryanair can claim they are ‘popular’ and giving the customers what they want BY DEFAULT as their passenger numbers are rising, when in fact it’s simply due to diminishing competition caused by Ryanair owning the slots!


I only use them as they fly to the destination I want with little other choice available.
Their seats are uncomfortable for both the neck and lower spine leaving me in pain both during and after a flight.
With choice I would never use them again.


Me too. I nearly always fly on British Airways in business class, which costs me £25 each way using Avios. It is only on the rare occasion that British Airways doesn’t fly somewhere that I use Ryanair or a budget airline, for example the Baltic states.

Very Freq Flyer says:
16 September 2014

Looking at the comments here so far:
I have flown weekly with both Ryanair (for 8 years) and BA (for 3 years) so I think I’m reasonably qualified to comment. I would add that these comments refer only to short haul flights.

I don’t think it has been sharpened enough. Once my flight is chosen there should be an option to continue with Flight Only rather than be offered at least two more pages of options to click past.
Similarly during online check-in. I still have to opt out of addons to get to final check-in page. AND IT’S A BIG INCONVENIENCE TO HAVE TO PUT IN MY PASSPORT/DATE OF BIRTH DETAILS etc FOR EVERY FLIGHT. PLEASE GET RID OF THAT (Yes, I AM shouting, Michael)

Fares: I have yet to see a BA fare cheaper than Ryanair for where I want to go.

Yes, there are queues but you don’t have to join them. I never queue but I see people every flight getting up and queuing at the gate (BA and FR) for no good reason. It’s the same when the flights land. Up on their feet even though it could be 10 minutes (BA) before the doors even open. On one occasion it was 27 minutes (BA) and they all stood for that length of time, I kid you not. There’s something about airline passengers……….

Unforgiving staff:
I have never seen any unpleasant Ryanair staff. Not even once. I have seen one or two pig-ignorant Gate Agents who should never be allowed near people. Glad to see the one at an airport I use a lot has been removed for some time now.

Hefty unexpected charges:
Quite simply there is no such thing. If you bother to aquaint yourself with the T&C’s you will not experience this. Unfortunately a small number don’t and when they get charged they run to the ferociously anti-Ryanair Daily Mail proving they are even greater idiots.

Uncomfortable seats:
I have never found Ryanair (non-reclining) seats to be uncomfortable. With BA I have a huge chip on my shoulder regarding reclining seats. I seem to be always getting picked on by the passenger in front. BA PLEASE GET RID OF THEM (I AM shouting again). They are not necessary for short haul.