/ 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 airline survey outdated and irrelevant?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.


Very Freq Flyer. – I agree with you about seats:
Short Haul absolutely no need for reclining seats;
I am more familiar with the Jet2 non-reclining shell like seats which have adequate padding but none of the bulk of reclining seats – definitely results in lots more usable space between rows.


Why has Ryanair introduced a second bag policy when it already struggles to fit one bag per passenger into overhead lockers? This new policy defies logic.

A size limit on cabin baggage is a good policy, but why have a weight limit (10kg) on cabin baggage? Other carriers like Easyjet and British Airways don’t impose such a weight limit. It makes no difference to the amount of fuel whether weight is carried in cabin baggage or as body weight or pockets of the passenger. For example, if I weigh 70kg and have 15kg in my 55x40x20cm case, why should I be a problem whereas another passenger who weighs 100kg and has 10kg in a 55x40x20cm case is not a problem?

On a positive note, well done to Ryanair for finally introducing mobile boarding passes and allocated seating.

Very Freq Flyer says:
17 September 2014

NFH – The second allowable Ryanair bag is actually a smaller one that must go under the seat in front. This is exactly the same as BA but BA now goes further. On all my BA flights over the past while a member of staff pre-boarding puts a yellow marker band around the handle of the smaller bag indicating that it must not be put in the overhead bins. I have seen people ignore this and cabin crew have come along to check and have removed the smaller bag from the bins.


I’ve never seen the logic in tagging baggage that isn’t allowed to go somewhere, unlike tagging baggage that is allowed to go somewhere. The former creates no incentive for the passenger to leave the tag on the bag, unlike the latter which does create an incentive to leave the tag on the bag.


Another problem with Ryanair is the default use of dynamic currency conversion, whereby the card payment is not transacted in the quoted fare currency but in the currency of the card’s country of issue. This means that instead of a potentially favourable exchange rate being applied by the card network (e.g. Visa or MasterCard), Ryanair’s unfavourable rate is used, adding an additional percentage profit for Ryanair. Although the customer can opt out of this, it is not obvious to the customer that it is happening because Ryanair does it by default without presenting the customer with a binary choice. This malpractice must stop.


Recently I booked a flight from Madrid to London. Website quoted me fares in euros. Just before payment, I compared RA credit card fees vs debit card foreign fees (levied by bank) and decided to use my Nationwide credit card which does not charge fees for transactions in euros. And … surprise surprise! AFTER I made the payment, I realised RA charged me in GBP and not euros, without telling me! Why they advertise fares in euros but charge me with GBP without telling me beforehand?! Around 6% hidden fee was charged by this conversion.


Firstly, humble is not the first word I would use to describe any output of Mr O’Leary. I naively thought that air travel was a service industry, RyanAir don’t agree. I have travelled with them, a long time ago, but would choose any other option except those with safety concerns, because they have reduced air travel to a cattle drive. Cabins stuffed full of luggage and empty holds seems stupid. The booking process is clearly meant to rip off the unwary, the turn round pressure means cabins don’t necessarily get cleaned out properly. They may now be attempting a bit of PR, pre booked seats is a good move, non-reclining seats on short haul get my vote, and the seat pitch is probably as good as other cheap operators and maybe BA and better than Thomas Cook. They still have some way to go to clean up their image for me, re-inforced when the chief exec. talked of charging for the loo, a proposal dropped I presume in the face of the hostility it probably received. Leather seating sounds good, it must have better cost/wear characteristics than other fabrics, unfortunately I have experienced rather tatty leather seats with another shorthaul operator. Meanwhile I will stick with any other available European option.


Michael O’Leary criticises Which? surveys, but I suspect that those who use them are more discerning than the general population.

From what I have read and been told by those who have used Ryanair, there is absolutely no chance that I would consider using the company.

Erik99 says:
24 September 2014

The main grievance I have with Ryanair is the way they play that dreadful fanfare as you land, boasting how much more punctual they are than other airlines. I can’t think how many times this has happened to me, when the flight that I booked (sometimes paying more to get a better departure time) had been put back by anything up to six hours, causing a lot of inconvenience, with no redress except the pointless offer of a refund if you don’t like the change.


For anyone who would like to learn what Ryanair inflicts on passengers, search for ‘Ryanair fanfare’ and pick one of the YouTube videos. Cringeworthy is something of an understatement. 🙁

I have never understood why companies feel the need to engage in childish self-promotion. My car shows ‘Welcome to Volkswagen’ on the display panel every time I turn the key. I suppose I should be grateful that there is no audible accompaniment.


Well having worked within the aviation industry most of my career (but now retired) I believe they allow more time for the flight from A to B and that helps them be on time and fiddle the ‘On Time Results’


Why will it take it to the end of the YEAR to change the insurance ‘Opt out’ problem !!!!!
Are you us ‘Ryanair’ you have a VERY BAD computer programmer who can’t change it NOW ????
Or could it be you could make more money on this insurance error by then ????


Fact of life is that if you’re on a budget you’ll put up with poor service and sneaky extra costs if the overall package is cheap. Quite simply Ryanair although a rubbish company exists and succeeds because it’s cheap. Personally, if there is another airline going my way at the right time from the right airport and the ticket price is even a little higher I’d go with them. If there’s no other option I would use Ryanair but only as a last resort.


I have to fly a lot and frequently Ryanair has an A to B route that suits my needs. Where that is the case I don’t struggle to avoid them as I’ve seldom had a bad experience and when compared to other airlines I regularly use they actually come out a little above average overall.

On state of maintenance, cabin cleanliness, punctuality and care of my luggage on the few occasions when I’ve needed hold baggage they are fine and better than Whizz, Baltic, SAS and Finnair all of whom I now dislike flying with. They are consistently more punctual than BA in my experience and they don’t have the problem of the oaf in front reclining their seats simply because they don’t recline!

Many of the crews on routes I fly regularly are kindly and helpful though they need to get a grip on the ground agents who get them a bad reputation in places like East Midlands, Bayonne/Biarritz, Tallin and a few others – I think many ground agents feel that they can treat ‘no-frills’ passengers like cattle whenever they encounter them.

Ryanair and their ilk have thoroughly democratised air travel and for those of us who used to have expensive flights followed by long a long slog to our final destination it is almost all for the better. As with all ‘mass’ services it takes time to fight for service standards to be raised, Thomas Cook’s first ‘package’ travellers rode in open waggons to keep the fares down!

Big Bob's Bad Brother says:
27 December 2014

“Ryanair and their ilk have thoroughly democratised air travel”…

Yes, IF by that you mean, they have devalued the passenger experience back to the level of a herd of cattle; just the same way o’dreary remembers the Irish being treated like that on the Holyhead – Dun Laoghaire ferries of the 60’s & 70’s..! and YOU call that progress – don’t make me laugh.


No, by that I mean that there was actually no option but to pay through the nose to fly to a limited number of airports served by the ‘flag carrier’ airlines in their cosy cartel. It was firstly Laker, then Branson’s Virgin on the long haul and Ryanair and Easy Jet on the European routes that broke that cosy ‘oligopoly’.

Now I can get to the many smaller regional airports that are closer to where I work (or sometimes play) with many less changes of transport mode and at much lower cost.

If you were lucky to sit in wicker basket chairs sipping G&Ts as your flying boat took the leisurely route to Capetown then sure you would miss the ‘passenger experience’ as you put it. Most of us would have simply had to endure much worse and at much greater cost.

So what if it’s a ‘bus ride’ . . . I now have the option to earn my living or take my holidays all over the world and as I never had the luxury of your ‘passenger experience’ having done most of my travelling in your ‘good old days’ on dirty, slow and uncomfortable trains or in the guts of ‘troopers’. So, yes, the opening up of the market for us plebs is progress.

And YOU, don’t forget, still have the option of flying with the likes of Air France, BA or any of the other ‘flag carriers’ who lug the largely empty ‘business class’ sections of their cabins around the skies – but you will, of course, be expected to pay rather more and have much less of a choice of destination. It is not that the ‘passenger experience’ that you crave has gone, it is still there if you really want it, but that O’Leary and others have provided a service based on a different set of priorities.


And Freddie Laker – the great trans-atlantic flight innovator – was stitched up by British Airways’ lies and illegal practises. They were lightly punished, virtually getting off scot free. Laker never recovered but fortunately, Virgin Air arrived in the nick of time to fill the gap. Even then, BA tried illegally stealing Virgin customers.

And whilst on about airlines, has anyone had any ‘negative fuel adjustment’ refunds? With the drastic fall in crude prices, I would have expected it to feed through to ticket costs. After all, fuel is the airlines biggest cost by far.

Big Bobs Bad Brother says:
27 December 2014

“It is not that the ‘passenger experience’ that you crave has gone, it is still there if you really want it, but that O’Leary and others have provided a service based on a different set of priorities.”

Yes and I get that by purchasing a ticket with any other airline who tries to treat you as a human being not with scorn, ridicule and a snooty air of…if you don’t like it sod off (so I did)

If o’ dreary’s brand of “customer service” suits YOU all well and good – it doesn’t change the fact that he has lowered the customer service bar for EVERY air traveler since his model was introduced. Some legacy.