A year since its customer service makeover began, Ryanair is almost unrecognisable from the airline of yore... Almost.
Just over a year ago, Ryanair was issuing profit warnings.
A survey by consumer magazine ‘Which?’ had seen its customer service pilloried. It was the airline people loved to hate (when they weren't jostling for its seats), led by a combative CEO who threatened to charge people £1 to use his toilets.
12 months later, it has changed utterly. Ryanair has rebranded itself as a family and business-friendly airline and, this year, it expects to carry 89 million passengers, making at least €750 million profit in the process.
Here are 10 changes that made it all happen:
Remember this old thing?
For years, Ryanair.com was the butt of holidaymakers’ jokes (and the source of much frustration), as we fought for cheap flights through a garish beast of an online booking system.
Last November, Ryanair took everyone by surprise with a relatively seamless shift to a slick and easy-to-navigate website. There's still an annoying 'Don't Insure Me' box to tick, but you can now book a flight in just five clicks.
This policy shift cannot be underestimated.
The sight of passengers struggling to cram handbags, laptops and airport shopping into carry-on cases, arguing with gate staff as they went, was one of the most dispiriting in modern air travel.
"That scene created a lot of anxiety between customers and Ryanair," agrees Kenny Jacobs, the airline's Chief Marketing Officer. "It has now been removed... If anything, we probably now have one of the more liberal baggage policies of all carriers in Europe.”
A year ago, it wouldn’t have surprised me if Ryanair carried infants in the hold.
Its new ‘Family Extra’ service, however, offers 50pc reductions on bag fees, allocated seating and insurance for children. It also includes a free 5kg infant bag allowance, with two free pieces of infant equipment such as a buggy or car seat. You get 20pc off a third family flight, too.
And yes, it will even warm your baby's bottle.
“It takes the scrum away from the boarding gate," Kenny Jacobs admits.
Passengers still queue to board today (mostly to ensure their carry-on bags get a space in the crowded overhead bins), but at least they are now guaranteed allocated seats - a major boon for families.
Launched last July, the new Ryanair app has made a huge difference to mobile-savvy travellers, placing the airline's booking process in the palm of your hand.
Customers can now log in with a 'My Ryanair' profile, make bookings, choose seats, manage bookings and baggage and check-in without paper boarding passes.
The app is available for iPhone and Android and, crucially, it works.
This October, Ryanair extended its partnership with Lavazza, the Italian coffee brand, to serve customers "authentic" coffee thanks to a brand new cup design (thankfully not quite as big as the one pictured above).
While the design isn't everyone's cup of... erm, tea ("you need a degree in engineering to work the cup," as one Independent.ie reader tweeted), the coffee is certainly an improvement.
There’s no blue curtain separating Business Plus passengers from the rabble, but this service was a cleverly-pitched play for valuable business traffic jetting around Europe
For €69.99, passengers get premium seats, priority boarding, a 20kg bag allowance and fast-track security at several European airports (including Dublin) among other perks.
For years a symbol of the airline’s trashy approach (although raising many thousands of euro for charity), Ryanair finally axed its annual collection of bikini-clad crew-members this October.
2015 charity options will be unveiled soon.
Ryanair issued its first tweet on September 13th of last year. "PS: There's no charge for following us," it noted playfully.
Embracing Twitter symbolised Ryanair's ongoing shift from a customer-thwarting airline into a (relatively) accessible one. The @Ryanair Twitter account now has over 110,000 followers, and has even invited them to #ASKMOL (i.e. ask Michael O’Leary) questions in frequently hilarious online Q&As.
The Ryanair of old was famously hostile to travel agents ("Take the f**kers out and shoot them," as Michael O'Leary once put it), axing its third-party relationships completely in 2004.
Well, guess what? This year, it signed major global distribution deals with TravelPort and Amadeus - computer reservation specialists to whom around 90pc of European travel agents are affiliated.
Ryanair is very definitely back on the grid.
PS. And five things we’d still like to see change:
1. €20 Infant fee
Ryanair isn’t alone in charging a fee to carry infants (who don’t get a seat for the privilege), but axing this fee would surely win it major bonus points with parents.
2. Those yellow interiors
Michael O’Leary and Kenny Jacobs have both hinted that Ryanair is open to changing its garish yellow colouring. Could it happen? For the sake of our eyesight, we hope so!
3. Hiking baggage fees at ‘peak’ travel time
Every June, Ryanair (and Aer Lingus, for that matter) raise their baggage fees for the busy summer period. The lowest baggage rate, for a bag of 15kg or less, rises from €15 in ‘low season’ to €25 for ‘high season’.
4. The €160 name change fee
Seriously? €160 to change as little as single letter in your name? In fairness, you can save €50 by changing your name online (for a fee of €110), and the airline has introduced a 24-hour grace period after booking to correct minor mistakes. But still. €160?
5. That annoying trumpet
Love it or hate it, the clarion call to celebrate yet another on-time arrival is as Ryanair as Michael O'Leary. The airline is experimenting with new sound effects, but they're still about as endearing as a 5am wake-up call.