Tuesday 15 October 2019

Will business travellers take the Ryanair choice to fly?

Ryanair’s Kenny Jacobs. Photo: Bloomberg
Ryanair’s Kenny Jacobs. Photo: Bloomberg

Mark Evans

Think business class and the mind turns to Middle Eastern or Asian carriers with premium bedding, gargantuan airport lounges and haute cuisine in the cabin.

Ryanair doesn't automatically come to mind as a corporate traveller's choice. But, almost five years after the low-cost carrier dipped its toe in the market with its Business Plus option, featuring fast-track security and check-in bag (but standard seats) - Ryanair chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs says it's a player in the market.

"SMEs, in particular come on and book directly with us. But if you take businesses in Ireland, even large businesses, if you want to fly from Ireland to Europe, 75pc of the fights are Ryanair so you're flying with us anyway," Jacobs told this column.

And he said it's not just to secondary airports around the continent: "We've added more and more primary airports - ones like Frankfurt and Schiphol, so pretty much ever airport except Charles De Gaulle and Heathrow are now covered."

He believes the idea of leisure travellers being price-focused and the corporates being spendthrifts is wide of the mark. "The biggest thing they [business people] want is still price and the second-biggest thing is punctuality. Third-biggest thing they want is connectivity through airports, so that's modern day business travel in our view."

Now the airline is pinning its hopes of further expansion in the market with Ryanair Choice - what looks like a loyalty scheme, but he stresses that it's not. "It's €199 for the full year and you'll get fast track, priority boarding and a seat at the back - so a lot of business travellers are looking at that," he says.

"Those are the essentials - you buy that product once and you don't need to think about 'what do I need to add to every single booking'."

Ryanair wouldn't be Ryanair without getting a few digs in: "Other low-cost carriers have done something similar to that, but I'd be keen to point out it's not a loyalty scheme. You won't get a lounge, you won't get a tag for your Tiffany bag but I think modern business travellers would definitely use it. Our average fare is €35 so by the time you buy that for the year and one fare it's still probably less than an Aer Lingus fare to Heathrow."

The feeling is that Jacobs would like to see his airline dominating the short-hop European market, but connecting - known as interlining - to Aer Lingus flights for inbound and outbound from North America.

However, full connectivity is still an issue, even on Ryanair's own services. Point to point is fine, but flying, say from Seville to Dublin via Barcelona (this I know from grim experience last week) means checking your baggage to the transit airport, collecting it on the carousel, and going through the whole process of security and bag check-in all over again for your last flight. It's definitely a negative if you're on business.

But Jacobs believes that punctuality is the real winning issue - and the airline is obsessive about it, and it still grates with them that the punctuality rate for last year was 78pc.

He maintains that the dip wasn't down to the airline's own strikes, saying that 98pc of flights operated even during the Dublin disputes. He's pointing the finger at staffing levels in air traffic control in Europe, and also the strikes that are a feature of the summer rush.

"What caused punctuality for the whole industry last year was staff shortages so we're pushing the Germans, French, Italians and the Brits in particular to sort out their operations."

And he's flagging that "consumers should be ready for another summer of disruptions".

"If you're travelling from Dublin to Alicante, sat on the aircraft and the pilot comes on and says there's' an airspace restriction, people are saying 'what the f*** is that'?"

He reveals: "It's costing us 5pc, with some airlines it's over 10pc."

The Ryanair view is radical - a pan-European control system, so if the French went on strikes, British staff, for instance, could take over the running of their airspace. One thing is certain: it's an issue that's not going away any time soon.

But he is happy with Dublin Airport, saying it's where people want to fly, and believes that getting the second runway up and running quickly - "show Heathrow how to do it" - is critical, while other improvements can wait.

There is one caveat: it's got to be low-cost: "We've seen some numbers significantly north of the original budget, and Ireland has enough to deal with, with the children's hospital overrun."

Sunday Indo Business

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