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 airline survey outdated and irrelevant?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.