It is important for me to admit at the start of this review that I have never been an advocate of Ryanair. Many have heard me state that I would rather swim than use the airline that has built a reputation over the years for putting the balance sheet a long way ahead of its customers interests. However, it is also true to say that up until recently, Ryanair has been one of the most successful airlines on the planet – despite its reputation. You can only be successful if you are able to offer your customers something that they are willing to pay for – and this has been the case with Ryanair. Consistently efficient with absolutely no frills – it seems as though millions of consumers have wanted to put up with whatever Ryanair has chosen to do to them in the name of ‘low cost’.
Recently though, Ryanair’s fortunes have taken a turn for the worst. Customers have been ‘fighting back’ against some of its perceived ‘draconian’ policies and procedures. The airline has recognised that it needs to change the way it interacts with its customers if it is to retain their business. A new advertising campaign highlights some of the changes – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelvideo/10754299/Ryanair-unveils-TV-advert-will-it-convince-you-to-fly-with-the-airline.html. So has Ryanair really changed? How does the experience stand up against other airlines?
Last week, the Golding family enjoyed a week of glorious sunshine in Lanzarote. Whilst I looked forward to our Easter sojourn, I was rather nervous about the prospect of being transported to our destination by the airline I said I would never fly with. When Naomi told me that they were (and I quote) ‘the best option’, I did shoot back a rather mangled expression. In this review of our Ryanair experience, I will endeavour to provide as balanced a report as possible – and hopefully describe why Ryanair was the ‘best option’ on this occasion.
|Date Review Conducted||12th and 19th April 2014|
|Flights Experienced||Liverpool to Lanzarote (Arecife) Return|
|CX Review Total Score||30/50|
The task of booking holidays in the Golding household is one performed by my extremely organised and efficient wife. Naomi has become an expert at finding the most suitable and economic vacation options for our family, and never ceases to amaze me in sourcing everything we need to create wonderfully memorable experiences. We do not fall into the category of consumer entitled ‘package holiday’ – that is really not our bag. As a result, Naomi compiles the various components that make up our end to end journey – from airport transfers, to flights, to car hire, to accommodation.
Lanzarote is one of our favourite destinations – almost guaranteed good weather, and plenty to entertain adults and children alike. Over the years we have travelled to Arecife airport using a variety of airlines – Thomson Fly, Thomas Cook, Monarch and Easyjet have all successfully taken us to and fro. I was fully expecting one of these carriers to fulfil the task once more. I was wrong. This Easter, we travelled with Ryanair – I never would have thought it possible. So why did Naomi convince me that Ryanair was the right choice? To find out, let me start with the review:
Accessibility – CX Review Score 4/10
In my review process, the definition of accessibility is ‘how easy was it for us to do what we wanted to do’ with the organisation we have chosen to transact with. I have awarded Ryanair 4 out of 10 for this category – and there is a lot to talk about. One of the changes the company has made recently is a revamping of their website – we cannot comment on the previous version of their internet portal – however, their web experience is ‘fine’ – not brilliant, but ‘fine’. It does what we needed it to do. Booking and checking in was ok. One of the biggest changes Ryanair have made is the glorious introduction of allocated seating! Gone is the awful rugby scrum of passengers fighting each other to get on the plane first to secure the seats of their choice. This was always one of my biggest issues with Ryanair. Getting on the plane is now no different to any other airline – in fact, I found it very ‘un-stressful’. I think they have been quite clever with the way they now handle wheeled cases as well – the first 90 passengers with wheeled cases can take them on the plane – after that, they put them in the hold for no extra charge – I may not be describing this particularly well, but I think it works – and no passenger struggled to find space for their hand baggage. Ryanair now also allow passengers to take two pieces of hand luggage on the plane – hurrah!
However, the biggest failing in the accessibility category was unfortunately experienced by us. When checking in online, customers can choose to book specific seats, or be allocated seats automatically. If you choose specific seats, you have to pay 10 or 15 Euros (per passenger) depending on where the seats are on the plane. As a family of five, we like to sit together, so we chose to book 5 of the 10 Euro seats. On the outbound flight, we did not have an issue with the seats we paid for. The way home was a different story. With three children, there is always a debate as to who gets the window seat. Jack (being the youngest member of the Golding family) always seems to negotiate the window seat in both directions. On the way home, he was very excited to be by the window again – or so he thought. As we arrived at our seats, we were greeted with one of only two rows on the plane that did not have a window. I cannot describe the distress that followed – if you have a six year old, you can probably imagine – the picture below says it all! With seats that are very close together, it did feel as though we were sitting in a blue and yellow cheese press. Whilst I cannot blame Ryanair for the design of Boeing aircraft, I can blame them for not highlighting the fact that the seats we PAID for did not have a window – all of their planes are identical – they should indicate on their website that there is no window when checking in.
There were other accessibility issues. Both of our flights were delayed. Ryanair claim that 91% of their flights were on time in February – as we experienced, it is not much fun being the other 9%. On the outbound flight, we boarded the plane on time. Despite that fact, we were advised that we had ‘missed our take off slot’ – I am not sure why or how. We were told by the pilot that we would have to wait 1 HOUR before being ‘pushed back’!!! We did not hear from the pilot again for 60 minutes – we did not hear from anyone in fact for that period. Stuck on a hot, stuffy plane with no communication was rather irritating. After an hour, the pilot decided to speak again, this time telling us that there had in fact been a technical fault, and that we had missed our slot again!! We waited another 25 minutes before being pushed back.
Once again, I cannot comment on why the delays occurred – if there was indeed a technical fault, I am delighted that it was addressed. What I do take issue with is the complete lack of communication from either the pilot or the cabin crew – the latter of whom stood ‘chatting’ at the front of the plane throughout. We were also delayed by 45 minutes on the return journey – this was blamed on air traffic control issues over Spain. The delay meant that there was no time to re-stock the plane with food and drink. The crew was also lacking credit card machines – so unless you had cash, or had brought your own, you were not going to have any sustenance on the return flight.
Finally on the accessibility front, I must mention the interior of the aircraft – beyond Jack’s lack of window. There is not a lot of room in between seat rows. The seats do not have pockets on the back of them – which every other airline I have ever been on do – to put stuff in!! If there had been a pocket, most people would have had to bury their knees in them. The seats do not recline – a good thing in my book, or your nose would be pressed up against the seat in front!! Due to the lack of cleaning in between flights, the aircraft are not particularly clean – especially the tables. Our advice is to take anti bacterial wipes with you!
Range/Choice – CX Review Score 9/10
This category is a relatively easy one to describe and score. The choice of flight to your chosen destination is an important factor in the decision making process. On this front, Ryanair performed very well. Not only did they fly on our chosen days, their flight times were better than anyone else. They fly on a variety of days throughout the week, and flight times are reasonable – i.e. you do not have to arrive at your destination at 3am! We flew out at 2:30pm (although due to the delay we did not leave until 4pm), arriving in Lanzarote in time for dinner. On the way back, our flight was to leave at 7:25pm, arriving back in Liverpool at 11:30 pm. Due to the delay, we did not get in until a quarter past midnight. Ryanair also fly to Liverpool – another factor in our decision making – it is slightly closer to Chester, and a smaller airport – we prefer it to Manchester. So whilst not perfect, I have awarded Ryanair a score of 9 out of ten for Range/Choice on this occasion.
People – CX Review Score 3/10
Like my previous review for Currys PC World, I was less than impressed with Ryanair’s people. For clarity, I am only commenting on their people who fly and serve the aircraft itself – not the ground staff, as many of them work for outsourced organisations. I have awarded a score of 3 out of 10 for this category – largely because I felt as though the staff were completely disengaged from their customers.
On the outbound flight, the crew were quite frankly totally disinterested. During the delay they did not communicate with passengers at all. They rarely summoned up a smile. Their behaviour was robotic – not empathetic. I fly on a lot of aircraft – I have never been on one where the pilot says so little – you could almost have been forgiven for thinking the plane was flown on autopilot from beginning to end. It was clear that most of the passengers did not believe his explanations for the delays.
On the return journey, there was a slight improvement – one of the crew was particularly friendly. The lack of customer empathy was still evident though – rather than being welcomed on to the plane, the first thing the cabin crew manager said to me was that my duty free bag MUST go under the seat in front of me – not even a hello! The staff also looked rather ramshackle – with creased uniforms and non matching lanyards, they looked more motley crew then cabin crew. On arrival in to Liverpool, there was not even an apology for the delay. All in all, for a company that professes to provide the ‘best customer service’ I would suggest that Ryanair needs to invest significantly in developing its people – customer service is a lot more than just the functional things of on time flights, fewer cancellations and no lost bags!
Value – CX Review Score 10/10
When it comes to value, I cannot award Ryanair anything less than 10 out of 10. This was the key decision making factor for Naomi convincing me that they were ‘the best option’. At £800 less than any other airline – I repeat £800 cheaper – there really was very little debate to be had. The only thing that would have still made me think twice was the lack of allocated seating – but now they have sorted this, it was and is impossible for me to justify spending £800 on any other airline flying to this destination. Ryanair’s competitors are not worth £800 more. Quite simply, Ryanair was AMAZING value.
How did it make me feel? CX Review Score 4/10
So all things considered, how did my Ryanair experience make me feel. Being completely honest, it did not make me feel great – and my score of 4 out of 10 has nothing to do with my previous perception of the airline so many people love to hate. I did not enjoy the delays – being kept in the dark by uncommunicative, disinterested staff. The plane was cramped and uncomfortable – and do not get me started on the lack of window!! I will not look back with fondness on my experience – but it did what we needed it to do – and at a fraction of the price of anyone else.
Would I use them again? Yes
So here is the ‘killer question’ – will I use Ryanair again? The answer – which may surprise you – is YES. As I have already said, when it comes to value, on this occasion, Ryanair could not be beaten – in fact no one got within a country mile of them. Now they have changed some of their processes and procedures, much of the Ryanair experience is the same as any other airline. However, the weaknesses in the experience are an issue. I am not convinced that they truly understand what it means to be customer focussed, and the behaviour and attitude of their people underlines this. If I were faced with booking a flight in future and Ryanair’s prices were similar to a competitor, I would NOT choose Ryanair. If Ryanair genuinely want to continue changing and improving, it will not take a huge amount of effort or money to address the issues we experienced. If they do, they can really start to challenge anyone in an industry that continues to struggle to deliver consistently good customer experiences.