If Ryanair had made a New Year’s resolution to be marginally less belligerent this year (unlikely, we know), it didn’t last long. On the first working day of 2010, it’s become embroiled in a war of words with Office of Fair Trading boss John Fingleton, after he told the Independent that some of Ryanair’s extra fees for booking online were ‘puerile’. The carrier rushed out a statement insisting angrily that his comments were ‘disappointing and wrong’ – even suggesting Fingleton was trying to distract attention from his failure to clamp down on the likes of BAA. Some things never change...
Fingleton’s ire was specifically directed at the fees levied by Ryanair for paying by card online. Since you can technically avoid it by using Ryanair’s ‘recommended Mastercard debit cards’, the carrier claims the charge is optional – but since hardly anyone has these bizarre (and pricey) pre-paid cards, says Fingleton, it’s effectively compulsory for most travellers. ‘It's almost like taunting consumers and pointing out: 'Oh well, we know this is completely outside the spirit of the law, but we think it's within the narrow letter of the law',’ he told the Indie. ‘On some level it's quite puerile, almost childish.’
Naturally, Ryanair didn't take this lying down. The carrier angrily retorted that its service was ‘not for the overpaid John Fingletons of this world but for the everyday Joe Bloggs’, insisting that all its non-discretionary charges are included in the advertised prices, and that this payment handling charge is strictly optional. It also denied outright Fingleton’s claim that its insurance works on an opt-out basis, while bemoaning the fact that it was being singled (or should that be fingled?) out for criticism when all the airlines operate in much the same way. The OFT should concentrate on addressing BA’s ‘unfair fuel surcharges’ or BAA’s ‘monopoly pricing’ instead, it helpfully suggested.
Ryanair may be technically right on all of the above, but Fingleton has a point: charging £5 per person per flight to book with a standard debit card (when it costs only a fraction of that to process the transaction) is pretty outrageous. Ryanair’s explosive growth shows that passengers appreciate being able to opt out of certain charges if it means lower fares (baggage, for example), but this particular one doesn’t win it any friends.
Then again, as it’s proved on countless occasions in the past, Ryanair isn’t in the business of making friends – particularly in high places. Fingleton is unlikely to be the last person in authority to feel the Irish carrier's wrath in 2010.
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