Friday, 5 March 2010

Ryanair, cheap or expensive?

By Gabriel Fraga de Cal

Does cheap really come at a price when it comes to flying? Gabriel Fraga de Cal delivers some thoughts on Ryanair.

Low cost airlines have changed the way we think of flying. I still remember those free sandwiches and drinks, just for the sake of flying; but that’s a thing of the past. Today you can fly from London to Rome for 4 euro, but don’t even think of asking the flight attendants for a glass of water. Are cheap and expensive two overlapping concepts when flying today?

Back in the past –not that far back actually- we used to purchase plane tickets through a travelling agent. At the present time this job has almost vanished, we book flights at home. The web has played a key role in what some people call 'the travel revolution'. Ryanair is the leading low cost airline in Europe, and sometimes I wonder how they manage to be profitable by selling such cheap tickets. Well, some facts can explain the low cost business; basically it is matter of reducing costs to the extreme.

It might be noted that, when buying a plane ticket at a bargain prize, the taxes applied to it are generally pricier than the ticket itself. According to an article published in The Guardian “… the airline [Ryanair] claims that the card charges when booking flights are not a revenue stream for the company but are spent on its website”. Taking into account that 75% of the costumers buy their tickets online their website must be one the most expensive of the Net.

According to El Mundo, Ryanair, by trying to find new ways to reduce costs, pushes their planes, crew, and flying procedures to the limit. It is said that the Irish company commits many irregularities when it comes to security measures, however, none has proven that travelling with Ryanair is more dangerous than with any other company.

There are different kind of fees costumers should be aware of when buying a ticket with Ryanair. Here we list some of them:

1- Check in taxes: if online 5 euro, by a traveling agency 10.
2- Ticket proceedings taxes: 5 euro.
3- Babies fee (below 2 years old): 20 euro.
4- Boarding priority taxes 4-5 euro.
5- Luggage: maximum allowance of two bags of 15 kilos each. One bag is 15 euro online and 35 by traveling agency. Second bag prize goes up to 35 and 75 euro respectively.
6- Luggage excess surcharges: 20 euro per kilo exceeded. Five more kilos would be then translated into 100 euro.
7- Tax applied if passengers need to issue their boarding pass at the airport counter: 40 euro for a paper sheet.
8- Rebooking: online 25 euro, by agency 55.
9- And last but not least, taxes applied when changing passenger’s name: 100-150 euro.

This is just a summary of Ryanair terms of conditions’ small print. Many criticize the company for all these sudden charges and also for the way passengers are treated in comparison with the non-low cost companies.

“… once I have paid, BA [British Airways] will on the whole treat me as a customer, while Ryanair will be trying to pick my pocket at every turn, even – it is still a possibility – when I am in the toilet” wrote Steve Mann from the Financial Times.

In fact Ryanair has been looking at the possibility to charge costumers for using the toilet during fights. This measure hasn’t been approved yet, but it hasn’t been ruled out either. Rumour has it that they have also considered to extra-charge obese passengers –I guess this borders discrimination. One of the most revolutionary findings of Ryanair 'reducing-costs-intelligence-agency' has been removing the head-pillow. It was seen as an unnecessary luxurious item whose absence happened to be very beneficial to the airline’s budget.

Ryanair has been recently nominated by the Spanish Costumers Defense Asociation, FACUA, as one of the worst firms of the year – Aircomet, Telef√≥nica Movistar, Vodafone and Orange appear to be their partners in crime. This is of course the costumers’ point of view whose anger is 'remarkably' focused on mobile phones and low cost aircraft companies.

Despite all this criticism Ryanair happens to be a very efficient company which is even famous for punctuality. Many people still chose it because it is cheap. However, and as we all know, cheap is sometimes a synonym of expensive. For example, I am flying myself with them this week; it was the cheapest option I found –and I’m not trying to excuse myself. My flight takes off ridiculously early in the morning and only my laptop is coming with me – I don’t want to take the risk of facing any of the levies listed earlier. But in conclusion that is the key question; you need to know who you are flying with and carefully read the small print.

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