RYANAIR is slashing charges for checking in bags at the airport and re-issuing boarding cards in an effort to appease passengers and tackle bitter criticism of its penalty fees.
So-called 'quiet flights' that will have fewer in-flight announcements and no annoying on-time arrival trumpet, as well as reduced fees and a 'grace' period for making free changes to bookings are all to be introduced, as the airline tries to win over customers in a new push to improve its image.
The changes are certain to be welcomed by passengers, especially those who have fallen foul of high fines for simple errors in the past.
Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary – who earlier this week took part in his first-ever live Twitter chat with customers – has admitted the airline needs to soften its image and be more responsive to urgent and sensitive customer situations.
The carrier was blasted last month after tragic Dublin surgeon Muhammad Taufiq al Sattar was charged €188 to change his flights to travel to the UK after his wife and children were killed in a Leicester house fire. Ryanair later apologised and refunded him the money.
The changes to the airline's policies announced yesterday include:
* Halving the cost of checking in a bag at the airport from €60 to €30.
* Fee for re-issuing a boarding card at the airport drops to €15 from €70.
* Passengers can make ticket changes for free within 24 hours of booking.
* One additional carry-on bag will be permitted – big enough for a bottle of wine.
* 'Quiet flights' in morning and evening with in-flight safety announcements only.
* 'Recaptcha' security feature on website to be removed next week.
Mr O'Leary said Ryanair was "actively listening and responding" to its customers as the airline drives growth that will see its passenger numbers rise to 110 million in the next five years from 80 million this year. Ryanair said it was reacting to feedback from its 'Tell MOL' customer feedback initiative on its website.
But in true Ryanair style, there will still be some caveats to the new policies. The price of re-issuing a boarding card will only apply where the customer has already checked in online. If they haven't, they'll still be stung with a €70 fee for getting it printed at the customer service desk.
And passengers who make it as far as the boarding gate only to realise that their carry-on bag is too big and that it will need to be checked in to the hold, will have to stump up €50. That compares to €60 at the moment.
The baggage fee changes come into effect on January 5, while the boarding card change comes into force on December 1.
Allowing passengers to change details, such as correcting names, spellings and routes, will come into effect on November 1. But only passengers who booked directly through the Ryanair website will be able to avail of the free 24-hour grace period.
Meanwhile, bleary-eyed early morning and evening fliers won't have to listen to Ryanair in-flight announcements any more.
The airline will operate so-called "quiet flights" from November 1. On flights before 8am and after 9pm, cabin lights will remain dimmed, while in-flight announcements will be limited to those concerning safety.
"We have to improve significantly those aspects of our customer service that irritate people," said Mr O'Leary at the airline's annual general meeting last month. "They irritate us as well."