Ryanair's makeover is only beginning, its Chief Marketing Officer reveals in an exclusive interview with Independent.ie Travel.
Next summer, Ryanair celebrates its 30 birthday.
It's hard to believe, but those 30 years have seen momentous changes – from 99p flights to Aer Lingus takeover attempts and an 'Always Getting Better' programme that surely ranks as one of the most dramatic customer service U-turns in aviation history.
But the airline is only getting started, says its Chief Marketing Officer, Kenny Jacobs. Here, he outlines Ryanair's vision for the next three years.
Will Ryanair offer transatlantic flights?
"Transatlantic is still very much in the business plan...
"The party line is that we still need those wide-body long-haul aircraft and we don’t expect we’ll get those any time soon. If someone cancels an order and some become available, however, then it’s possible that we could be doing transatlantic in about three years."
What would a transatlantic Ryanair service look like?
"We still plan to launch it under a separate brand – ‘brought to you by Ryanair’, as such – so that customers know they are getting the Ryanair approach, the low fares and straightforward service.
"We would like to do it at scale... We generally plan to do it ourselves and connect four airports in Europe with four airports in the US... It would be a new brand, but clear to customers that it is part of Ryanair group.”
Would it include a Business Class?
“Yes. We would probably have a greater level of distinction with the various types of seating arrangements on a transatlantic service than we would on European short-haul.
"It probably would not be the classic business and first class, however - more like transatlantic standard and premium... [that would] give you more legroom without necessarily paying for business class.”
Could we see a Business Class cabin on Ryanair's European flights?
"No. We’re pretty clear on that. We think we’re very democratic; we wouldn’t want to make a physical distinction with different colour headrests, or a dividing line between standard and business plus. That’s not what we’re about.
"We don’t see that, and we don’t see [business] lounges either.”
What are Ryanair's package holiday plans?
"It fits nicely... Two years ago, people would have said 'Gosh, I would never go on a Ryanair package holiday'. But now we have access to great accommodation options with Booking.com, so next in our thinking would be what type of package holiday can we offer.
"You can look at what Jet2 or Thomas Cook do. Ryanair holidays, or ‘XYZ Holidays brought to you by Ryanair' would be a very logical extension of our brand. It would include our flights, various types of accommodation... and we could look at the transfers to and from airports."
When will Ryanair package holidays launch?
"They could be a reality within a 12-18 month time-frame..."
Will you change the yellow interiors?
"That was one of the things on the top of my list when I joined Ryanair.
"We’ve looked at some new designs for the interiors. The yellow will change. The [new designs] are a bit more blue; they’re involving pictures of destinations and customers and crew - obviously with nice happy smiley-faces on nice looking destinations.
"So there’s a different look and feel that we’re planning to introduce next year. We’re pretty close to finalising that in the next couple of weeks, then we’ll go into production.
"It’s not cheap, but 89 million plus people will see it over a year, so I think it’s a good investment."
Any prospect of Wi-Fi on Ryanair?
"We want to do it, and we are going to do it. We’re probably going to do it within the next 18-24 months. But we want to find the right technology...
"Wi-Fi is one of those technologies that is more advanced in the US, because you have the Gogo network from the aircraft down to the ground.
"In Europe, it works by satellite so a) it’s not as good a service for customers using it on board and b) it’s more expensive. If you’re an airline you’ve got to install something at the top of the aircraft which introduces 0.3pc to 0.5pc drag, which adds millions to the fuel bill."
Will Wi-Fi be charged?
"Nope. We’d envisage that being a free service."
When will it roll out?
"We’ve started to talk to some of the more well-established Wi-Fi providers with a view to having a service up and running not in the next 12 months, but hopefully soon after."
Will these changes lead to higher fares?
“We’re forecasting that our fares will basically be flat year on year.
"Despite all the changes, in other words, we haven’t become more expensive... customers haven’t been paying for a ‘new’ Ryanair in their fees.
"The average fare will basically be flat while our competitors' fares get more expensive. We’re guiding an average fare of between €46 and €47 for 2014, which is a lot lower than the inflation we see across the industry.”
Have customer service improvements like allocated seating, a second free carry-on bag and Family Extra slowed turnaround times?
“No. Despite making all of these changes, we are still the most on-time airline in Europe.
"94pc of Ryaanir flights operated punctually in October."
Ryanair has been adding more primary airports to its schedule. Can we expect to see any more airports added in the coming months?
“We’ve added Warsaw, Athens, Lisbon, Glasgow international, Cologne/Bonn and Copenhagen recently, and half of our growth will be in primary airports over the next five years…”
"We’ll be disappointed not to add another primary airport this side of Christmas. We’ll probably be announcing that in the next week or so.”