ryanairfees.jpgIn general, I’m a BIG proponent of customer service, mainly because I think it is what people want, what they have a right to expect, and what I feel good about providing. BUT…

What if people want something else? What if they value low, low price far above service? Do not customers have a right to have things their way?

We are talking about Ryanair here, a discount airline famous in Europe for its awful service and incredibly low prices. (New York Times, August 1, 2009, “No Apologies From the Boss of a No-Frills Airline” 8/1/09.) Ryanair’s average price for an airplane ticket is $56. That’s right, $56. You are hard put to get a cab from Newark Airport into Manhattan for $56!

Ryanair promises 4 things and just 4 things (presumably safety is a regulatory given):
 – low fares
 – a good on-time record
 – few cancellations
 – few lost bags

Ryanair is almost proud of its lousy service, wearing it like a badge of honor: “Will we give you a refund on a nonrefundable ticket because your granny died unexpectedly? No! Go away. We’re not interested in your sob stories!” said Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary.

Evidently O’Leary walks his talk: “He stays in budget hotels. He always flies Ryanair, startling fellow passengers by taking their tickets at the gate and by boarding the plane last, where he invariably gets a middle seat. Executives bring in their own pens. To illustrate his commitment to that principle, Mr. O’Leary produced two pens from his pocket, both stolen from hotel rooms.” Even more astounding for a man who owns half a billion dollars of Ryanair stock, he has 3 children under 4 and no nanny.

How does Ryanair do a $56 ticket? In part by flying into little-used airports far from major metro centers: “from nowhere to nowhere.” Also, they “lard on” the fees: fees for checking bags, $21 for airport check in, $7 for on line check in. Since you can’t really use a ticket without checking in, is their average ticket price really $56? Ryanair even once floated the idea of charging for the use of bathrooms, theorizing that they would then only need one loo per plane. Saving money on less weight they could sell another seat or two. It was probably only a publicity stunt but with Ryanair, who knows?

Given that there are no free lunches in life, if you want to fly on the super cheap, you have to give up something. As long as people truly understand the bargain they are making (and regulations are strong enough to insure that corners are not cut on true safety concerns), then more power to yet another free-market choice. And the marketplace seems to love Ryanair, at least in these recessionary times: they are one of the few airlines to be posting a profit and passenger traffic is on track to be almost 20% above 2008.