Battle of the budget airlines heats up: Ryanair has easyJet in its sights

EasyJet posts record passenger figures, but the Irish airline is closing in.

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 04 Dec 2014

The war for control of the budget skies is showing no sign of abating. EasyJet broke its record for passenger numbers in August – carrying more than 6.6m passengers, up 8.4% from the previous year. Meanwhile its load factor, the measure of how full its flights are, rose 1.4 percentage points to 94.2%.

Given Ryanair's recent performances in terms of load factor, you'd be forgiven for thinking this would have left boss Michael O'Leary puncturing holes in the fuselage just with the force of his own swearing.

Indeed, in November he was open in admitting that easyJet 'wiped the floor with us' in terms of customer service. This was the year in which Which? readers ranked Ryanair as the worst brand for customer service, and profits fell for the first time in five years.

But Ryanair seems to have pulled out of the tailspin. The Irish airline reported on Wednesday that its load factor had jumped to 93% in August. The average aircraft was only 89% full this time last year.

Kenny Jacobs, Ryanair's chief marketing officer, attributed the increase in the carrier's August passenger numbers in part to an 'improving customer experience'.

O'Leary is apparently also keeping a much lower profile now. Whether those equate to the same thing, that's not for us to say. Yet O'Leary has himself promised that the airline would no longer 'unnecessarily piss people off'. Brilliant. This is the man who once proposed that anyone forgetting to print their boarding pass should pay a €60 fee for 'being so stupid'.

So he's swapped the hidden charges, for which the airline had become famous, for fully allocated seating, extra hand-luggage provision, reduced charges and loosened booking conditions. Ryanair has also just launched its business class service, as well as 'premium' seats with extra legroom and priority boarding. Ryanair even has a mobile app now, and is extending its service to cover more city-centre airports.

O'Leary broke with the low-profile idea recently to take part in the ice bucket challenge, after being nominated by Patrick Kennedy, CEO of Paddy Power. Naturally he didn't do things by halves – he endured 13 buckets, and then of course tried to lob an ice bucket at the crowd. So maybe that needlessly pissing people off thing is only for paying customers...

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